Solving OTT Challenges
for Advertisers


July 23, 2020

In the words of Paris Hilton, “That’s hot.”

Programmatic OTT advertising might be the hottest commodity in the digital marketing industry heading into 2020, with some experts predicting total revenues doubling from 2018 to 2020. We’ve all likely felt the shift from linear to streaming in our own homes, thanks to major players like Hulu, Roku, Amazon Fire, and Apple TV leading the charge and carrying the banner for the “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers.”

The appeal of leveraging programmatic bidding, targeting, and attribution capabilities to an advertising format (linear TV) that traditionally has limited or no access to those benefits cannot be understated. As more eyeballs are turning to streaming OTT to consume their favorite content, the advertising dollars are following.

However, if the OTT landscape was in its infancy in 2018, it’s still only a toddler heading into 2020, despite the rapid growth and scale. This is problematic as an industry because a wide disparity of definitions, transparency, and understanding permeates the ecosystem. Compared to its programmatic ancestors in display, video, and even the younger location-based targeting, OTT has a long way to go with regard to the standardization of terms, methods, and understanding. This problem is especially concerning for the local advertiser, who may be getting inundated with any number of agencies or solutions claiming to provide inexpensive OTT solutions, all of which are different from each other and not always explained with enough transparency to truly understand what the offering actually is.

As the buy-side of the industry looks to scale this highly sought after inventory, standardized definitions will need to be adopted, and we’ll be looking to the leaders in the space to guide those definitions. Here are a few key definitions/distinctions to understand when thinking about and purchasing OTT inventory, and are aligned with how one of the aforementioned leaders, The TradeDesk, sees it:


This is an umbrella term used to describe all things video that are delivered to television-related content publishers and distributors anywhere that is not over-the-air or through a cable box, i.e. streaming online.


This is a specific device type. Whereas desktop, mobile, and tablet are device types, so too is connected TV. This includes smart TVs that have online connectivity built-in and devices (Roku, Fire, Apple TV, Playstation, etc.) that enable offline televisions to connect to the web. CTV represents the most sought after sub-set of OTT, as content is deliberately viewed on an actual television screen in a format that doesn’t allow for channel surfing but does allow the content to be consumed at the leisure of the viewer. With the right programmatic levers, granular geography, reach, frequency, day-parting, and many other targeting capabilities can also be applied to the audience. This “addressability” is extremely valuable and is the main differentiator to its linear counterpart.


This is a specific inventory type, and represents episodic, or long-form, content. Think of this as on-demand or streaming shows or programming longer than 30 minutes, akin to a standard television time-slot with commercial breaks before, during, and after the show. This inventory can be consumed on Connected TVs, Desktops, and Mobile devices. For example, a streaming football game on WatchESPN would be considered FEP, but would only be CTV if watched on a television vs. a laptop or phone.


This is the gray area that currently plagues the OTT ecosystem perhaps most egregiously. This represents all other OTT content and inventory that is not covered in the definitions above. This could be premium, television-related content on short-form videos (less than the traditional 30 minutes), and it could just mean pre-roll video, depending on who you’re working with. After all, every moving picture on a screen is like TV, right? So if it’s also streaming, one could argue that this is “over the top.”

* Not a TradeDesk definition, but a term we see used frequently elsewhere.

The problem

Here’s the problem—each specific execution tied to the definitions above comes with a wildly different set of capabilities, and perhaps more importantly, cost. If you’re buying OTT at a fixed CPM, what are you actually buying? If it’s mostly the relatively inexpensive “Digital Programming,” you might be buying something far less valuable than what you’re paying for. Transparency in reporting and execution could not be more important than it is with OTT.

The industry hasn’t yet standardized its definitions, and the onus falls on the advertisers and agencies to understand exactly the value of what they are buying.


Ask your agency to define OTT as they see it and execute upon it. Make sure you get granular reporting down to the impression that shows inventory/PMP, domain, and app-level data. Know your device and inventory types. If your agency or demand partner can’t share this with you, they’ve probably got something to hide.

Working with a transparent demand-side partner who helps advertisers understand the complexities and nuances of the OTT space is crucial, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Understanding the platforms and technologies leveraged to execute these OTT buys is equally as important.

Four technological considerations when choosing an OTT execution partner


Large brands and agencies have the buying leverage to work directly with the Hulu’s and Disney’s of the world, but small to medium-sized businesses will have a hard time getting in the door to any of these. This is where a programmatic solution can help, granting access to the best inventory without climbing over the high barriers of entry.

The simplest way to centralize and aggregate the fragmented OTT space is through a DSP (Demand Side Platform) that consolidates and seeks out as much quality inventory as possible. For example, one of the only places to buy premium Amazon Fire inventory outside of Amazon’s own DSP is the TradeDesk, who also has access to a plethora of other sources just as recognizable.


Make sure you know the inventory quality controls your partner has access to. Look for name-brand inventory and third party, pre-bid options such as WhiteOps, Integral Ad Science, Peer39, etc. to pre-screen bids (this can be limited on CTV devices) and eliminate purchasing inventory on suspicious domains, apps, and IP addresses shown, in the past, to be susceptible to bot/fraud traffic. A good demand-side partner will also be monitoring your campaign for suspicious activity in-house.


Understand the specific methodology leveraged to target an audience or show attribution. Day Parting, Frequency capping, and inventory selectivity options should all be available. Be especially wary of location-based targeting or attribution that uses bidstream data, which has been well documented as low-quality to the point that some experts argue cannot be relied on for location-based advertising purposes at all. If location-based targeting smaller than a zip code is going to be part of the mix, make sure the location data (i.e. Device ID and Lat/Long) is sourced through much more precise and reliable mobile-app SDKs, for example.


With the demand for premium CTV inventory ever-increasing, bids are rising and advertisers are frequently pre-empted from their desired placements- a problem linear TV advertisers are all too familiar with. With dynamic pricing, the demand partner can increase bids when they need to, as well as take advantage of the decreases in demand/cost when inventory can be purchased much more affordably. As well, if the scarcity of the premium inventory inflates the cost beyond the budget of the advertiser, budgets can dynamically shift to FEP, Short-form, or Premium Pre-roll as a way not to leave money on the table and target the “next most” desirable inventory.


The fragmentation of definitions, inventory sources, and transparency across demand-side partners in the nascent OTT landscape is problematic. Until these are standardized and/or centralized by the programmatic advertising industry as a whole, advertisers will be required to perform their own reconnaissance within the context of whoever they choose to work with to understand what they are actually buying. Only then can they evaluate the return on their marketing dollars.

As most advertisers are busy trying to grow their own business vs. researching the complexities of programmatic OTT advertising, working with a transparent and flexible partner who has access to industry-leading technology and experience leveraging that technology will be critical.

If you’re looking for an OTT execution partner, contact us today.

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