The issue isn’t getting data out, it’s getting creative assets in
*This article was originally published in Broadcasting & Cable.
“Today, the explosion of over-the-top (OTT) is giving rise to the opposite kind of walled garden, and to a whole new level of complexity on the sell side as ad ops teams try to match ads to content over an ever-more-fragmented roster of serving points (OTT, VOD, CTV, digital and linear TV).” -Bunker Sessions, Extreme Reach
Today’s programmers might find it amusing, at least in an ironic way, that in the Persian language of Farsi, the word for paradise and walled garden are one and the same. There aren’t many ad ops teams who would claim that the status quo in creative asset management qualifies as anything close to paradise. Because among the many challenges facing programmers and ad ops teams in our content-everywhere world is the proliferation of walled gardens and the difficulties they pose for ad trafficking and distribution.
The good news is that content companies and technology vendors have been working together to create best-in-class approaches for resolving some of the most intractable ad execution workflow issues. The OpenAP consortium and Project OAR, for example, are partnerships among TV companies to bring standardization to audience segmentation and addressable TV, respectively, to help streamline the campaign supply chain. The better news is that by transforming just a few elements of campaign planning and execution, publishers and programmers will be able to better monetize their premium content across every platform.
OTT Brings More Choice but More Complexity
But before we get to where we are going, let’s look at where we’ve been. Walled gardens have been a fixture in the communications world since the 1970s, when the term was used to describe a closed telecom system. In the wake of the digital revolution, walled gardens have come to mean the big ad platforms like Facebook, Amazon and Google and the tight control they exercise over their huge data stores. These data-controlling walled gardens let ad campaigns in but don’t let data out.
Today, the explosion of over-the-top (OTT) is giving rise to the opposite kind of walled garden, and to a whole new level of complexity on the sell side as ad ops teams try to match ads to content over an ever-more-fragmented roster of serving points (OTT, VOD, CTV, digital and linear TV). Doing so is extraordinarily complicated in part because the legacy workflows built for TV just don’t work in a cross-screen environment. As a result, programmers have been building their own siloed solutions that essentially act as reverse walled gardens that prevent ads from being efficiently distributed and trafficked.
This state of affairs creates redundancies for brands, agencies, programmers and MVPDs because it multiplies the number of requests for the same creative assets. And, all the exchanges of creative assets that occur between receipt from the buy-side and serving the ad can create too many missed opportunities for optimizing the campaign. The buy side, for example, misses the chance to get in front of key audiences and the sell side loses the opportunity to monetize content.
Perfection Required for Protection
It’s not all bad of course. MVPDs wouldn’t be building reverse walled gardens if they didn’t serve a critical purpose. In this case, operational walled gardens achieve a number of important benefits including safeguarding the user experience and at the same time ensuring the essential protection of all parties involved in this newly complex OTT era: the content creator, the programmer/distributor and the advertiser.
Getting the maximum value from OTT and VOD inventory, which can be hundreds of dollars per impression, requires perfection in ad quality. Anything less than pristine ads causes a cascade of problems: the service provider will lose advertisers, shows, viewers and valuation faster than you can change the channel. To eliminate the risk, MVPDs erect walls, creating their own operational walled gardens. Ads get assembled in the garden, using assets that must first meet specific technical specifications before they can come through the gate. And then those ads must comply with formatting requirements unique for each platform before they go out.
With the stakes increasing in direct proportion to CPMs, the industry is pulling together to highlight the inadequacies of the status quo and to develop solutions that resolve them. At present, action has coalesced around the three tech stacks supporting cross-screen ad campaigns: 1) campaign management, including Ad Decisioning System and programmatic; 2) reporting/ attribution/verification; and 3) asset trafficking and serving.
Standardization initiatives like OpenAP and Project OAR will bring new efficiencies into campaign planning by improving audience segmentation and targeting along with programmatic buying. Measurement across screens and channels has always been tricky, but efforts by Nielsen and others to introduce new tools and approaches should begin helping brands and agencies to better gauge and quantify the impact of specific campaigns.
Ad serving can be simplified by capitalizing on existing innovations such as Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) tags. These identifiers streamline ad trafficking by utilizing the original Ad-ID tag through point solutions and reverse walled gardens. Unifying inventory across all dynamic ad insertion opportunities will allow for faster ad serving into environments that have been difficult to serve into and monetize.
While not simple, the challenges of walled gardens and inefficient workflows are solvable and great progress is being made. In today’s fast-moving, ever-more fragmented media landscape, the stakes are just too high not to start investing in them and reaping the rewards of a more streamlined, standardized campaign management and execution. In connecting the buy and sell sides all the rest will flow more easily.