When will DRMetrix monitor over-the-top (OTT) or connected television (CTV) campaigns?

This topic gets a lot of attention these days.  DRMetrix clients often ask, “When will DRMetrix monitor over-the-top (OTT) or connected television (CTV) campaigns?”.  At the moment, we can only reply, “We don’t know” but we hope this blog post will provide some clarity and perspective on the topic.

As the evolution of the smart TV has taken root, the hope has been that these, and other smart devices such as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, etc., would be able to use automated content recognition (ACR) technology to track and confirm ad delivery at the consumer glass or device level.  Unfortunately, each OTT provider is currently operating within their own walled garden.  That is to say, that they have imposed contractual requirements that prohibit the use of automated content recognition (ACR) technology, which is required for ad monitoring.

There are a couple of basic requirements for ACR ad monitoring to work:

  1.  The smart TV or device needs a reference database of commercial fingerprints to be able to recognize specific commercials.
  2.  The smart TV or device needs to be running ACR technology to be able to compare live audio or video data against this database to find commercial matches.

Requirement 1 refers to “Ad Discovery” where technology attempts to detect ad breaks and looks for unknown ad content.  Today, human operators need to review unknown content to discover new ads from which to create unique ACR fingerprints.  When a new ad is identified, it must also be properly associated to the advertiser, brand, industry category, etc.  If advertisers decide to run unique ads for OTT and CTV campaigns, it would be difficult for companies like DRMetrix to gain access to these commercials in advance for fingerprinting purposes.   That said, it would be feasible for DRMetrix to detect OTT and/or CTV airings for existing national ads that we already have in our database.

Requirement 2 is reliant on requirement 1.  Additionally, the consumer owned smart TV or smart devices would have to be running ACR technology as this is what enables the recognition of unique ads.  Here is where the OTT companies have effectively created their “walled garden” model.  The smart TV and smart device manufacturers have to negotiate with the OTT companies in order to carry their apps.  This is currently playing out between Roku and Google’s Youtube TV where recently both parties have been unable to come to terms where Roku is willing to continue carrying the Youtube TV app.  Historically, the OTT companies have made it a requirement, as part of their contractual negotiations, that the smart devices must turn off their ACR capability once a consumer launches the OTT’s company’s app.  If the device manufacturer doesn’t agree, then they are not allowed to carry the app.  This is a struggle between opposing interests with consumers caught in the middle.  Unfortunately, this means that the smart TV or smart device is unable to use ACR (point #2 above) as a method of detecting ads being delivered to consumers through their devices.  This is a big challenge currently which is only dwarfed by the issue of consumer privacy with many consumers turning off the ACR features of their smart TV or smart device by simply opting out.  Some consumers don’t want their electronic devices spying on them and reporting to third parties the programming and commercials they are watching.  Both of these issues make point #2 above impossible which is the only way these devices can report on the commercials that are being delivered to individual consumers.

These are some of the issues that frustrate the monitoring of OTT campaigns.  CTV campaigns are somewhat similar in that they are targeted to specific consumers where one encounters the issues of ad discovery (requirement 1) and ACR ad recognition (requirement 2).  It has been difficult to determine upon ad recognition whether said ad is being inserted as part of a CTV campaign vs. a local cable or regional ad insertion.  There may be ways to solve these problems but it would require working with individual smart TV and/or smart device companies each of which would only provide a partial view of the marketplace.  The limiting factors are the scale that any one smart TV or smart device manufacturer has as well as how many of their users have not opted out of the ACR ad monitoring features.  Because there hasn’t been enough consolidation in the marketplace to date, the costs of collaborating with various smart TV and/or smart device companies continues to be cost prohibitive.  Of course, this may change in the future.

At DRMetrix, we have talked about subscribing to a variety of services and doing ad discovery and ACR ad recognition off of the OTT streams.  The problem is, DRMetrix would be one consumer of many and the ads we would see and report on would be of limited value.  For example, we could report those commercials that we discover running on our individual OTT streams but we would not be able to report on the size, scale, airings, or ad expenditures of various OTT campaigns.  As we would love your feedback on this issue, please consider leaving us a comment or question!

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