Contextual Targeting: TV Advertising's Next-Level Move

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Modern TV advertising is in a growth phase

As the landscape shifts from broadcast and cable to a new world of AVOD and FASTs, advertisers are faced with equally new challenges. MVPDs across the board are contending with ever-evolving viewer habits, high churn, a complex marketplace, messy data reporting, and tighter restrictions around user privacy. One rare strategy that could help navigate all the above is Contextual targeting.

Contextual targeting takes a different approach to serving ads to an audience. Instead of relying on the digital currency of individual-level data about behaviour or demographics or “interests,” contextual targeting places ads in alignment with the actual video content being watched. (Think: ads for Comic-Con being shown during Battlestar Galactica reruns.)

More User Privacy, with Common-Sense Targeting

Contextual targeting offers that rare blend that appeals to both advertisers and viewers. Because it is pegged to content, and not user-level data, it doesn’t leverage user information or “track” their activity beyond their consumption of content in-platform, which is a remarkably noninvasive approach in the modern media environment. On the advertiser’s side, it also offers brand safety and inherent content alignment, along with a higher probability of a receptive audience.

TV Advertising, Built for TV

In some ways, the quest to compete with digital by imitating digital has led to more confusion than there needs to be in TV advertising. Consider the use of individual-level data for targeting. That makes sense in a (soon-to-be-obsolete) world of cookies and identifiers that can pinpoint my personal browsing activity and clicks. However, my TV screen is watched by my husband, my nephews, my dog sitters, and my overnight guests. It’s a household-level entertainment device, with household-level activity. Much ink has been spilled on ways around this, but no clear solution has yet been presented. As an alternative, contextual targeting seems refreshingly straightforward.

More importantly, contextual targeting has another, more intangible alignment with the nature of TV. Our televisions are inherently storytelling vehicles, and our experience with them is more immersive than digital displays or Google searches. This makes advertising on TV screens a powerful long-term strategy, whose unique strengths in fostering brand trust and recollection can’t be easily replicated by digital channels. (We’ve heard ad nauseum the truism that TV jingles stick with us for years, while the ad we saw for three seconds on Facebook is forgotten in half that time.) Contextual advertising takes advantage of this strength by making the entire viewing experience a more cohesive, relevant and impactful experience for viewers.

Putting it into practice

Like most things, the simplicity of the “contextual” concept belies the complexity of execution. Contextual targeting relies on aligning video content with ad content. What signals does one use to make that alignment? Genre labels are so broad as to be functionally useless for this level of codification, and content often blurs lines (is Game of Thrones fantasy? Drama? Romance? Political Thriller?)

For once, the current environment presents the TV world with a stroke of good luck. Recent advancements in AI and technology have made the technical requirements for sophisticated contextual advertising a reality. Computer vision models can be implemented to analyse and sort images and video in seconds, allowing for effective brand safety measures and relevant ad placements. Using this capacity to share more information about the content where ads are running will encourage advertisers to increase OTT/CTV spending, making it a win-win for both video publishers and streaming services.

In short, media providers should consider moving away from trying to replicate digital practices, and embrace TV's unique role and usage through contextual targeting. With its potential to circumvent privacy concerns, offer brand safety and simplicity, and take advantage of TV's emotional power, contextual advertising is a promising contender in the upcoming years.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Waymark. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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