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Tech companies, cross-industry groups and trade bodies are all trying to figure out connected TV’s teething problems.

Last year, advertisers spent an estimated $10.3 billion in connected TV programmatic display ads, an 82% increase from 2020, according to eMarketer.

Yet for such a big chunk of change, advertisers often don’t know much about the shows or other ads their spots are running against, which can lead to ad frequency issues, wasted budgets and—at worst—fraud. With a fragmented landscape of sellers, advertisers are buying with inconsistent visibility.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Tech Lab is taking a stab at addressing some of the challenges of transacting CTV programmatically with OpenRTB 2.6, a new set of standards released in Dec. 2021. Public comment is closing today, Monday, Feb. 7. RTB stands for real-time bidding, the instantaneous trading process advertisers use online to buy from publishers in digital auctions.

“Our objective for OpenRTB and CTV is to make the transition of ad spend from linear TV to CTV as seamless as possible—by developing the standard to bring ad buying of CTV inventory in line with the way traditional TV advertising is bought and sold,” said Shailley Singh, senior vice president, product at IAB Tech Lab, “with the added benefit of flexibility enabled by digital real-time ad bidding.”

The standardization of buying inventory can help connected TV keep its edge over linear TV, said Kevin Cahn, associate vice president at Kepler.

“CTV—for all of the wonderful targeting and measurement [capabilities]—struggles to replicate some of the nuances of the linear space,” he said.

Bringing greater transparency to inventory
“The biggest problem in connected TV is program level transparency,” said Brad Stockton, svp of U.S. national video innovation at Dentsu. “In linear TV, I know every spot that ran down to the program and the second.”

Advertisers want to be able to have as much information about the content they’re bidding against, especially the TV show itself, said Ryan Eusanio, managing director of digital activation at Omnicom Media Group, who in October 2021, wrote a call to action for CTV standards. Whereas this is the norm in linear TV, CTV publishers and content networks either don’t have the capability or the willingness, concerned that it might hurt sales.

“The TV world has existed for a very, very long time,” selling ads against shows, Eusanio said. “I don’t necessarily believe [CTV] sellers when they say this is going to kill [their] business.”

OpenRTB 2.6 helps ameliorate this problem by providing technical, standardized language for ad-tech servers to specify the network (i.e. ABC) and channel (i.e. WABC) of the inventory. There is also standardization language around variables such as series, episode and season. However, OpenRTB 2.6 does not require content producers to add these descriptors.

“Everything we’re talking about here is an optional field. [It’s] not going to force a seller who doesn’t want to provide that information,” Eusanio said.

IAB’s Singh said ad buyers can fix this problem by only working with sellers who adhere to industry standards. “OpenRTB 2.6 allows for more granular information about the inventory and buyers should ask for that,” she said.

Standardizing ad breaks
CTV ad buyers not only struggle to learn about the TV content their ads run next to but also what else is in the ad break.

David Mirsky, group director at Media Kitchen, said if a brand wanted to take up multiple slots in the same ad break, they’d have to coordinate directly with the publisher rather than bid programmatically.

OpenRTB 2.6 works to solve this problem with pod bidding (where pod is another word for an ad break). The new standards let advertisers request multiple ad slots in a single bid request, Singh said. It also gives sellers language to specify the kind of inventory in a pod, such as the number of slots in a break and the length of each segment in the pod.

“OpenRTB [opens] a new creative sandbox,” Mirsky said.

Pod bidding makes the process of buying a CTV ad more akin to how it was in the linear TV world—as CTV ads have more often sold by the spot—and gives marketers a richer collection of data points, Eusanio said.

Despite these improved tools and standards, there isn’t a protocol around competitive separation or guardrails that prevent ads from competitors appearing next to each other in a single pod. Buyers like Eusanio are providing feedback to the IAB to suggest this tweak.

But advertisers still want a better way to track audiences
OpenRTB 2.6 also does not cover the thorny identity issue, one of the biggest headaches for advertisers trying to identify their audience and avoid duplication across the fractured ecosystem of CTV providers.

“The biggest struggle—when it comes to branding campaigns where TV plays such a strong role—is establishing reach and frequency,” Mirsky said.

The IAB is working on several initiatives to solve challenges in CTV ad buying. For identity, the Open Measurement Software Development Kit offers common code and libraries to facilitate third-party viewability and verification measurement for ads on web video and mobile.

Even though identity may not be in the scope of OpenRTB 2.6, it’s critical trade bodies like the IAB provide a comprehensive solution.

“It is something that needs to be solved and we would like the IAB to address this,” Eusanio said.