Biggest marketer challenge for ads on streaming? Transparency for brand safety, says Omnicom exec

The streaming industry is hoping to capitalize on an advertising opportunity as marketers and brands (along with their dollars) want to follow viewers who continue to increasingly consume video outside of traditional pay TV. But as traditional TV viewership declines and becomes less of a vehicle for advertisers, the streaming ecosystem still has challenges that pose barriers to investment, according to Omnicom Media Group’s Kelly Metz.

During a panel discussion Tuesday at Advertising Week, there were players in the ad-supported video space represented, including leaders from Fox’s free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) platform Tubi, Hearst Television, and TelevisaUnivision’s ViX. They are taking various approaches, be it the linear-like channel guide experience of FASTs, lean-in on-demand viewing with AVOD, or as the case with several others, a mix of both.

Representing an agency perspective, Metz, managing director of Advanced TV Activation at Omnicom, said the biggest challenge preventing more investment in ad-supported streaming is transparency about where ads are actually running.

“The beauty of traditional linear television was we knew where we were running, it was on a schedule, we could see the programs, we understood exactly what we were buying on behalf of our advertisers,” Metz said Wednesday. “And therefore, it was a very trusted, brand-safe environment.”

In the streaming world, there is a vast amount of content available across a variety of platforms – something Metz called a real challenge.

“We do need that same level of transparency and trust, and we’re not getting it,” she noted.

At the core it’s about the consumer experience, she said, and ensuring ads are in the right environment, as many of Omnicom’s advertisers have rules as to where they can’t be placed.

“The way the ads are being sold and packaged, we do not have the visibility we need, we do not have the trust that we need across these different environments,” Metz commented, while also adding a warning for the industry.

“If we can’t enable that same experience in the streaming world, it’s a miss for our industry and you will see real problems,” she said. “Because I do have brand safety tools elsewhere that compete with all the gentlemen up here,” referring to other panelists.

Specifically, Metz said she needs brand safe visibility into program-level detail across every environment. It’s a problem that Metz believes needs to be worked on at an industry level, and something she said every programmer needs to think about and start delivering on, as some are already doing it.

“I know it’s possible, therefore it’s my expectation for every single programmer in this space,” she continued.

Still, Metz does see benefit in the free ad-supported landscape – specifically due to tonnage, or scale.

“When I look at the streaming universe we have a limited number of ad impressions and I need reach at a price that makes sense,” she said. “Everyone needs a FAST platform, there needs to be an equivalent to broadcast in the streaming world, so I embrace it for scale and what that can deliver across the consumer landscape in the United States.”

But the reality, she added, is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a FAST platform ad-supported on-demand – instead, it’s about who is in front of the screen and ensuring a good ad experience both for consumers and one that makes sense for its advertisers.

Privacy remains a sticky issue

As for transparency that advertisers crave, Mark Rotblat, chief revenue officer at Tubi, suggested the sticky issue stems from privacy-related rules.

“The situation is that program-level transparency in television is possible because it’s not matched to any individual identifiers,” he said. This is different in the digital or streaming space, where viewing is tied to device IDs and IP address, which he said can be a real problem, particularly with an array of different distribution points and methods – with different platforms and apps needing consent and to abide by certain rules.

As Metz pointed to the sheer volume of content available, Rotblat noted that Tubi has over 45,000 titles – an amount that for most of its buyers could be overwhelming.

“We know the majority of our buyers, if we were to give them everything, they really wouldn’t know what to do with it,” he asserted. “They’re already strapped buying teams, it’s not the same as ‘this program is running from this time to this time on this network.”

Long-term, he believes there are ways that will enable more privacy-safe and compliant methods, but short-term Tubi has turned to creating a campaign insight product. He said this provides more transparency beyond genres in terms of types of content, but without matching the IP address to what a specific viewer is watching at a certain time.

“That’s our approach right now and we’ve gotten a lot of interest because that’s more than what most are able to do,” he said, while still acknowledging that it’s an important problem.

Looking at FASTs specifically, Rotblat said it’s “a little more complicated” as FAST channels can be distributed to many different apps that themselves have different ad experiences, with content bundled and packaged a bit differently than a pure play AVOD app.

Tubi is one of the media-owned FAST platforms, alongside Paramount-owned Pluto TV, Comcast’s Xumo, and NBCUniversal’s Peacock. There are also platform players like Roku’s The Roku Channel and Amazon’s Freevee, as well as smart TV OEMs Samsung, LG, and Vizio. Not to mention several independent publisher apps and FAST channels that own and operate their own channels or distribute on other platforms. Major SVOD players Netflix and Disney are also jumping into the ad-supported space this year with respective new tiers of on-demand content that include ads.

Rafael Urbina, GM and EVP of AVOD Streaming for TelevisaUnivision and ViX, said that in an effort to give advertisers more insights and understand the audience better, the company has been working to build the first Hispanic household graph to understand its entire audience of streaming and addressable TV.

Working with partners and MVPDS, he said it covers about 85% of Hispanic households and tens of millions of devices.

The company matches that against their behavior and consumption on TelevisaUnivsion’s streaming services, but has to balance that with privacy concerns.

“We match that against their behavior and consumption on our streaming platforms,” Urbina said. “We have to balance that with privacy concerns.”

Add to that the fact that in most cases, he said, they’re reaching these consumers through platforms that have their own privacy rules that TelevisaUnivsion must abide by.

“So what I can do on iOS or TV OS is really in the hands of Apple, what I can do with Roku is different,” he said, highlighting how it varies by platform.

Although Metz highlighted remaining challenges for ad buying on streaming, she expects to see an acceleration in industry efforts over the next year on privacy-safe data environments. Metz would like to be able to manage buying elements in the context of scheduled viewing and on-demand viewing, rather than terms like FAST and VOD.

“But to do that I’m going to need a lot of work from the industry and a lot of help because I’m going to need viewership data from all my streaming partners so I can really plan and execute,” she continued.

Earlier this week there was some movement by OpenAP (owned by major media companies Fox, NBCUniversal, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery) – which welcomed Snowflake Ventures as an investor and minority owner. A main aspect of the investment is to bolster OpenAP’s cross platform clean room product Data Hub, to create an environment to easily measure and distribute consumer data in a privacy-safe environment.