How Amagi’s addressing transparency issues for FAST advertising

One challenge for advertising on quickly growing free ad-supported streaming TV(FAST) services, as detailed in a recent report by analysts at TVREV, is a lack of transparency. That includes the ability (or lack thereof) to know which programs ads are running against. Another challenge is buying across the vast array of available platforms, which have varying curated channels.

Amagi, a technology vendor and one of the major players in the FAST space in helping companies to spin up, distribute and monetize FAST content, is working to address shortcomings in the ecosystem, in part through its Ads Plus product. The main aim of Ads Plus is to enable Amagi’s content partners, owners and publishers to monetize their ad inventory. The product, which it claims is one of the largest first-party ad platforms in the CTV space, is essentially a FAST SSP (supply-side platform), according to  Amagi co-founder and CRO Srinivasan KA, supporting over 700 content brands on more than 2,000 channels, and delivering over 50 billion ad impressions.

Amagi touts the supply of premium CTV inventory as catering to needs of both buyers and sellers by providing a unified CTV ad marketplace, in part helped by the vendor’s role as a provider of playout services and advanced ad insertion tech. Although Ads Plus launched almost a year and a half ago, it’s a relatively new product and the company recently expanded its team –  including last March bringing on James Smith, former head of enterprise entertainment and streaming TV business for Facebook/Meta’s global marketing group, to drive ad sales efforts at Amagi as EVP of Programmatic & Ad Sales.

In an interview with Fierce Video, KA explained that as a major vendor in the FAST ecosystem, a very large amount of inventory passes through the company’s ad insertion systems, and the ability to aggregate much of that enables it to provide better ad sell-through for customers.

Some of Amagi’s clients include NBCUniversal, ABS-CBN, AccuWeather, beIn Sports, Cinedigm, CuriosityStream, Fox Networks, Fremantle, FuboTV, Tastemade, Vizio, Samsung TV Plus, Cox Media Group, among others. Crackle Plus is one customer that tapped Amagi last year to boost its direct and programmatic ad sales via Ads Plus.

One of the key advantages, according to KA, is its position “closest to the stream,” meaning the vendor’s proximity to content through its role as a provider of cloud playout services as well as SSAI (server-side ad insertion) capabilities.

“If you look at traditional SSP platforms, typically they are separated from the content and the consumption,” he noted. In those set-ups parties are primarily siloed and have little to no visibility such as into what content is getting played, or what a user is watching before or after an ad – only seeing a unit of an ad request coming in. “They’re trying to match that to whatever advertiser demand would be there and throw back an ad.”

Whereas in Amagi’s case, thanks to its cloud-based playout system where it actually hosts content, the vendor has “tremendous visibility” into what content is being played.

“We have built-in AI, ML-based mechanism to extract metadata so that we can actually have a scene-by-scene or frame-by-frame metadata and we can use that to target advertising better to the content,” KA said.  

Contextual targeting the future of FAST advertising?

This approach of aligning ads with content to target viewers is where KA envisions CTV advertising is headed.

“Given the GDPR and privacy constraints that we are seeing the market, we believe content-based targeting, rather than audience-based targeting will be the future,” he told Fierce.

To that end he sees providing the contextual metadata for content and leveraging that for targeting as a huge value-add.

Since on many platforms Amagi also provides server-side ad insertion (SSAI), the company can also generate insights into consumption, such as how and how many users are watching a given genre or specific content. This helps provide better planning tools for advertisers in terms of helping figure out which channels they should be targeting for campaigns.

While genres may not be exactly the same as program and schedule-level detail that advertisers are use to and at least one agency exec has said is needed in streaming, it could be one way to help advertisers feel more comfortable shifting dollars to FASTs. 

KA also noted that Amagi “works across pretty much every single platform that’s out there,” meaning its able to provide a comprehensive suite as well as diversity of streaming and FAST platforms to ensure its able to reach consumers across services. That could be particularly useful as KA estimated seeing five to six new platforms joining the FAST ecosystem and around 20-30 new television networks getting added to FASTs each month. And with a large list of content partners, it also can provide various sets of genres to target against based on advertisers needs, across sports, news, movies, music, kids shows and so on.

As for advertisers knowing where ads are going, on the SSAI he said, “we’re able to provide a tremendous level of transparency in terms of where their content is placed.”

Amagi can also provide competitive separation to ensure ads aren’t next to that of a rival’s, he noted, along with frequency capping so consumers don’t experience the pain point of seeing the same commercial over and over again.

The combined trio of playout, SSAI and a FAST SSP is where KA sees Amagi bringing more value than what comes with any of the three elements separately.  

Amagi isn’t the only one that sees a content-based targeting future for CTV. Contextual advertising as a key answer for the FAST space was another finding from a report by analysts at TVREV, which see the method as the potential solution to many of the woes (such as reach, privacy, and transparency to name a few) currently facing advertising on FASTs – particularly big brands “with nine-figure TV budgets.”

In terms of reach, report authors Alan Wolk and Mike Shields wrote that advertisers are frustrated at the inability to buy across multiple FASTs in the same way they can purchase across multiple TV networks – largely because different FAST services each have distinct linear channels.

The report used the example of an advertiser looking to reach science fiction fans, with the ability to buy NBCUniversal’s SyFy network across hundreds of traditional MVPDs – but not the case with FASTs, which will each have their own curated science fiction channels with different content offerings.

“Allowing for a contextual buy against ‘science fiction content’ will allow an advertiser to reach a sizable audience across multiple FAST and SVOD services,” wrote Wolk and Shields. “In addition, they will be able to make use of KPIs that show they’ve reached everyone who is watching the TV, not just the one person in their target demo, thus making it much easier to achieve the sort of massive reach that big brands are looking for when the add TV to their media mix.”

TVREV also noted contextual advertising removes a lot of privacy issues by targeting based on content on the screen, rather than who is watching.

“This allows advertisers to reach a broader audience and to avoid all of the issues involved in trying to activate digital-style targeting on TV,” the report continued.

While TVREV’s in-depth report laid out many challenges facing advertising on FASTs, the research firm anticipates FAST’s share of TV ad spend will outpace that of cable, broadcast or SVOD by 2025 – and further grow to capture a 42% share of total TV ad spend, or $42.6 billion, by 2027.

In terms of making money, KA said through its FAST SSP, Amagi typically takes a percentage and shares it back with the content owners, who it also provides tech solutions to. And in some cases he said the vendor is able to write a check back to the content owner that’s “much more than the technology cost.”

“So we pretty much end up underwriting their entire technology cost and giving them more, as part of the solution,” he commented.