'It's a complex ecosystem': Ad-tech firms promise OTT advertisers granular measurement, but marketers say there are holes in their pitches

'It's a complex ecosystem': Ad-tech firms promise OTT advertisers granular measurement, but marketers say there are holes in their pitches

hulu handmaid's tale


Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale"

  • A number of ad-tech companies are rolling out new measurement products they say can help marketers see if their OTT ads led to a sale.
  • These companies pull data from smart TV manufacturers and cable boxes, then match it with third-party stats to determine if someone purchased a product or went to a store after seeing TV ads.
  • Marketers' challenge is finding enough scale to measure the growing number of OTT platforms and streaming services. Vizio-owned Inscape is one of the largest sources of smart TV data and reports that it covers 10 million US smart TVs, but eMarketer reports that 46 million US households used a smart TV last year.

As more people ditch traditional TV for OTT viewing, marketers are following by advertising in streaming TV apps. One of the areas they're most interested in is knowing if seeing video ads led people to take real-world actions like visiting a store and making a purchase, but marketers are finding it hard to measure the whole ecosystem.

Media sellers and brands have a lot at stake in solving attribution. Networks like NBCUniversal have long tried to convince marketers that TV commercials work as well as digital ads in getting someone to buy a product. And brands want to buy and measure TV ads like digital ads but say it's hard to do it fast enough and with enough specificity. Digital ads typically use a metric called last-click attribution that credits the media seller with a sale when consumers click through on a digital ad, which doesn't factor in other ads like TV commercials that consumers may have seen before they clicked on a digital ad.

Read more: Ad-tech companies are moving full speed ahead to chase OTT ad dollars. Here are the 13 companies poised to win the most.

Ad-tech firms including Samba TV, Alphonso and Data Plus Math cull data from smart TV sets, set-top boxes and OTT apps to track the number of people who tune into a show and watch commercials. Then they match data with third-party data to see if someone went to a store or purchased a product after seeing a commercial.

Advertisers say it's difficult to find a measurement company to track the entire OTT universe, though.

Vizio-owned Inscape, for example, is one of the largest sources of smart TV data available to several ad-tech companies, but it represents a small portion of smart TVs. Inscape recently reported that it has data from more than 10 million smart TVs in the US. But according to eMarketer, 46 million US households used a smart TV monthly last year.

Meanwhile, Samba TV and Alphonso have their own technology that is built into smart TVs. Samba TV says that its technology is built into 20 million opted-in smart TVs in the US while Alphonso reports that it has access to 34 million households.

"Everything is so new that everybody is on a journey - nobody has cracked the nut yet on being the 'be everything to be all,'" said Lisa Giacosa, EVP and global managing director, head of data technology, analytics and insights at Spark Foundry. "With walled gardens and multiple different platforms being required to collaborate, it's a difficult infrastructure to put together."

Marketers get different results from similar companies

One challenge of figuring out attribution is that ad-tech firms' footprints don't overlap, leading advertisers to use several ad-tech companies to measure a single campaign. Spark Foundry, for example, recently worked with analytics firms and competitors Samba TV and Alphonso to measure how many people saw a TV show because both companies track different devices. The agency also used Roku to measure streams of the TV show.

"They all came back with slightly different results," Giacosa said. "Once all these companies start to break down their barriers and work together, we're going to be in a better space."

Using multiple ad-tech vendors to measure OTT is similar to how advertisers have used panels for decades to measure TV advertising. Agencies want to be able to compare the performance of OTT ads against all of their ads, though.

Chris Wexler, SVP and executive director of media and analytics at Cramer‑Krasselt, said measurement companies' data is limited to specific geographies and smart TV manufacturers.

To get around this, Cramer-Krasselt built its own analytics platform. The platform pulls in third-party data sources that it uses to serve ads, then performs correlation analysis to determine brand awareness and sales. Wexler said that the process allows the agency to compare the performance of its OTT campaigns with digital and radio campaigns.

"We're looking forward to having a deeper level of data visibility at some point but right now there are so many platforms for OTT that it's hard to find an easy way to normalize data - it's a complex ecosystem," Wexler said.