Buyers Get More Transparency on Inventory and Measurement at This Year's Upfronts

Publishers are agreeing to share more signals, but there is still too little data

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While the writers strike is dampening this year’s splashy TV upfronts, media buyers have reason to celebrate. Buyers in the connected TV space tell Adweek they are finally getting more detailed information about what shows their clients’ ads are running on.

Advertiser dollars are following audiences who are watching more content on streaming television, but the process of buying connected TV still differs significantly from linear TV. And broadcasters have been reticent to share too much information with the buy side because of concerns that buyers will cherry-pick inventory, as well as privacy and regulatory issues.

When Omnicom Media Group launched its CTV standardization initiative in October 2021 aimed at helping buyers receive more consistent and complete data from publishers, six major media companies were not providing signals across 10 variables around topics of inventory, audience and fraud.

By August 2022, Disney, AMC, Paramount, Warner Brothers, NBCU and Fox were providing signals for at least one variable, though none was providing signals for all.

“There was always going to be an endpoint where the partners knew that they had to share,” said Britt Travis, co-lead of video investment at pharmaceutical-focused agency Eversana Intouch, who added that that roughly 75% of publishers are agreeing to share more signals than last year.

“People aren’t flat out saying ‘no’ anymore,” Travis added.

While publishers and buyers are no longer in a standoff, data is still lacking. For example, Method Media Intelligence, a measurement-focused ad-tech firm, measured around 693 million impressions in the first quarter of 2023, and found that 39% of them either had no device information or an invalid device listed in log files, meaning it’s possible buyers paid high CPMs expecting their ad to be delivered on a TV, when it was really shown on a phone or laptop, according to CEO Shailin Dhar.

What advertisers know about content

While knowing which inventory ads run against has been an ask of advertisers for years, measuring audience size remains an even more thorny, technical challenge.

“The lowest hanging fruit is inventory,” said Ryan Eusanio, managing director of digital activation at Omnicom Media Group. “Even just understanding at a household level who we reached is not quite as low hanging fruit.”

NBCU and Paramount have been giving buyers more data about which shows their ads air on, according to Eusanio and a second ad buyer who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive industry relations. NBCU confirmed to Adweek that it provides transparent post-campaign show-level insights and reporting for top-performing titles.

Travis said more publishers have been willing to share when ads air on a streamer’s most popular shows, though exact details need to be ironed out, and most publishers will only provide this information after the ad airs. Buyers don’t typically have content information in the ad buying process, Eusanio said.

Moreover, publishers are only likely to get this kind of information when they buy directly from publishers and not through resellers, like Roku and Amazon, which may not have gotten rights from the publisher to share this information, the ad buyer source said.

Illustrating this, Amazon told Adweek that publishers only provide advertisers with show-level reporting using Amazon’s demand-side platform via direct deals. Similarly, publishers available via Roku’s DSP OneView can share show-level data with advertisers dependent on deal type, according to a source familiar with Roku. Buyers can also learn the top shows and genres their ads aired against when they purchase inventory from the Roku Channel, the tech company’s free, ad-supported channel.

“I still think as a buyer, we should know the shows we’re running on,” the buyer source said, even when purchasing inventory non-directly.

Knowing this data is important because no brand wants their ad to appear in unsavory environments. Buyers have inadvertently purchased airtime in news programs questioning pandemic science, Adweek has previously reported, and a fifth of a sample of 100 kids shows had ads that violated FTC rules, regulations and recommendations, a GumGum study found.

More consistent currency

In addition to providing more data about inventory, six major media companies agreed to implement the IAB’s open measurement SDK, which would allow third-party viewability and verification measurement, between October 2021 and August 2022, according to Omnicom Media Group’s data.

Moreover, more publishers have implemented multiple measurement providers, from VideoAmp to iSpot.TV to Nielsen, Eusanio said. With Nielsen’s status as the default measurement provider now uncertain, the industry is working to adopt a patchwork of solutions.

Each measurement company reports different data in different ways, making it helpful for buyers if a publisher partners with more measurement firms so that there can be more data, and that data can be more consistent across partners, according to Eusanio.

“They all suck equally in different ways,” said the anonymous ad buyer source. “Nielsen has its issue, iSpot has these issues. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to one.”

Of course, for all the strides made, there is a risk that publishers just seek to placate buyers with the signals shared already, and the process stops toward fuller transparency.

“I think for right now we can’t sit on our laurels,” Travis said. “We do need to understand what information they’re giving us and what else we need.”

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