How ad platforms are inflating streaming TV performance

The rise of streaming television has threatened to dethrone Nielsen as the standard-bearer for how every single agency and advertiser measured a TV campaign — creating an even playing field for all parties involved. Now, there are too many new players — such as Samba TV, VideoAmp, Comscore and more — for the industry to boast consensus and uniformity, despite providing better measurement. The net result: streaming ad providers operate under very few guidelines and even less oversight when measuring the impact of streaming ad spend.

This is hurting brands. While the dialogue has focused chiefly on fraud and brand safety, an even more common cheat is hidden in plain sight. Among CTV ad providers, there is a tremendous temptation to make the ROI on CTV look better than it really is (and definitely better than linear). After all, when the numbers look good, there’s a higher chance for a happy advertiser.

How platforms are measuring the impact of streaming ad spend

It’s simple to overstate the impact of a streaming TV campaign, particularly when other channels, such as digital display, are lumped into the CTV mix.

For instance, streaming TV ad platform A and streaming TV ad platform B each have a budget of approximately $100,000. Ad platform A allocates 100% of media spend towards streaming ads. Ad platform B, on the other hand, allocates 25% of media spend towards display ads — which are significantly cheaper than streaming ads — across other devices.

Platform A achieves 2.9 million impressions, entirely across TV, with a CPM of $35. Platform B earns 10.5 million impressions, including 2.1 million TV and 8.3 million display impressions, for a $10 CPM.

At first glance, Platform B appears to be the winner — it has more impressions served, lower CPM and a better ROAS for the same ballpark $100,000 budget. The problem is that 80% of those impressions are display ads, leaving Platform B with fewer CTV impressions than Platform A.

Once a significant number of those display ads are served across all devices in the household, Platform B will start taking credit for those actions, responses and website visits regardless of those display ads’ impact on the buyer’s journey.

This happens with view-through measurement methodology, which matches the impression’s IP address with the response’s IP address over a specified period. Using this methodology, a brand’s streaming TV campaign receives credit simply if the responding IP delivered an impression, regardless of whether any other paid media influenced that user. This is the most generous approach to attribution — especially compared to incremental methodology.

When advertisers log into ad platforms, they’ll often see options like audience extension and multi-touch. While each of these capabilities sounds appealing, they all represent ways in which ad platforms mix different ad placements with the goal of driving apparently stronger performance. What they don’t do is drive actual business outcomes.

Why incrementality resolves issues with improper view-through measurement

In the above example, ROAS will look stronger on Platform B’s dashboard than on Platform A’s. That’s because the results shown in the dashboard are not the actual business outcomes — they’re results that would have been generated anyway. 

When measurement providers lump display ads into premium CTV ads, the existing problem with view-through attribution is magnified to a much higher level. On average, a household has more than 20 devices. Now imagine cheap display ads being served across all those devices. With current view-through methods, including running display ads across those devices, streaming TV campaigns get credit for impressions never served on TV.  

Unlike view-through, in incrementality, a marketing channel is only assigned credit if it was the sole reason for an action, such as a sale. With some providers, incrementality measurement for CTV is baked into the platform. However, nothing stops players in the CTV landscape from conflating streaming numbers. At this stage in the industry’s evolution, providers can largely determine how they want to track and present results to advertisers. 

If a CTV provider, such as Platform B, provides numbers almost too good to be true, it’s critical for advertisers to consider the possibility of inflated performance. Providers who break things up in the most granular way possible are best positioned to help advertisers build long-term success through greater understanding.

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