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In the midst of adtech’s reckoning over data privacy, the world of connected television (CTV) and over-the-top (OTT) media is turning to new ad targeting methods. One of those methods, contextual advertising, offers much more than an acceptable privacy workaround – it promises valuable, largely untapped insights that can improve advertising effectiveness, writes Alex Knudsen, Amobee’s vice-president of solutions engineering.

The conversation around contextual targeting for connected television (CTV) is picking up steam as the adtech world focuses on navigating new privacy rules introduced both by big tech companies including Google and Apple as well as lawmakers across the country.

But we’re missing the forest for the trees. Contextual advertising for CTV isn’t a privacy workaround – it’s an opportunity to leverage content data and use those insights to build a sustainable, healthier and more effective ecosystem.

Balancing ad targeting and data sovereignty

During the past year we have seen a dramatic acceleration of CTV adoption, both in terms of shifting consumer behaviors and the television industry’s commitment to a new model. But now we need to tackle a key business question: how will we strike the right balance between targeting and data sovereignty?

Recent history looms large here, especially from the vantage point of the television industry. Television looks at the open web and worries that the rise of programmatic targeting will lead to middlemen such as Google and Facebook swallowing a significant portion of their CPMs. That kind of winner-take-all scenario is bad for television, for consumers and, ultimately, for advertisers too, because it undermines the health and sustainability of the ecosystem – not to mention the business model that provides us programming we love.

Instead of replicating the mistakes of the open web, we have an opportunity to strike a balance between granular targeting and data sovereignty, especially in an environment where publishers need to balance the needs of their consumers with the needs of their advertisers.

An example of this interplay is when a network wants to provide a cohort-based, media measurement solution that helps advertisers understand the effectiveness of their buys while also protecting customer data. This is a pivot from one-to-one audience data of the open web toward a model in which content information enriches publisher cohorts for the purpose of planning and real-time decision making.

Content information, explained

Historically, linear TV advertisers have used and continue to use content information in the form of show titles and content type (e.g. drama, sitcom, sports) along with panel data to index audiences. But it’s important to dig into the weeds on this in order to understand the untapped value of content information.

For all the technology involved in the CTV and over-the-top (OTT) media space, very little information about the content is actually passed along to the advertiser. In many cases, CTV/OTT buyers don’t even see which shows and networks their media buys run against – even though IP television (IPTV) actually has huge, untapped capabilities for collecting and passing content information in real-time.

What kinds of information are we talking about? Along with genres and show titles, broadcasters can pass along the metadata outlined by standard-setting industry body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). They can also go deeper – for example, they can leverage closed captioning data to apply keywords.

Ultimately, there are hundreds of valuable signals, many largely untapped, that can be collected from content and passed along to advertisers. These signals tell advertisers a lot about audience cohorts, but they can also be used to align ads with particular content genres, as well as with specific moments within a show. In this scenario, the broadcaster maintains data sovereignty while giving the advertiser plenty of data for targeting.

Future-proofing our industry

In a future where networks want to offer measurement at the cohort level, an ecosystem that provides privacy-compliant data that enables better outcomes will thrive. But building that future on a foundation of audience data puts our industry on shaky ground because it diverts our attention toward privacy workarounds – an endless regulatory maze that adtech will never escape.

By focusing instead on a foundation built on content information, we build on advertising’s original premise of content as proxy for audiences. That model works, both logically and practically, because it marries audiences to the content they consume. But as content scales and technology advances, subsequent iterations of content information solutions will become more powerful because content-based insights have so much room to grow from advertising’s original premise.

Ultimately, we need to pivot now for two reasons. First of all, it takes time to build new systems, and starting now means we won’t be left empty-handed when privacy rules and regulations change. Second, the sooner we get into the habit of using content information, the sooner we’ll see innovation dividends that come from automation and machine learning. As the data sets of content information scale, the value of those dividends will increase exponentially. That’s why we can’t afford to miss this opportunity.

Either we lose ourselves in the endless maze of privacy workarounds or we future-proof television by making sure that our ecosystem embraces sustainable, healthy priorities that meet the needs of all stakeholders.

Alex Knudsen is vice-president of solutions engineering at Amobee.