We're not Facebook, OTT ad execs emphasize

Viewers like to complain about their privacy, but they’ve been griping for a lot longer about all the ads they see. Advances in advertising technology may give them a trade they’d take in over-the-top video: fewer ads for only a little more of their data.

At a panel Wednesday morning during FierceVideo’s OTT Blitz Week, adtech executives offered their own pitches for where addressable ads are heading on OTT services and where they might take viewers.

“It allows us to talk to different audiences in different places with different demographics,” Denise Colella, senior vice president for advanced advertising products and strategy at NBCUniversal, told moderator Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TV[R]EV.

She cited how that enabled NBCU to optimize public-service announcements about combatting the coronavirus pandemic to such demographics as at-risk senior citizens, millennials and parents of younger kids.

“Addressable really allowed us to isolate those groups in society and speak to them in the right way,” she said.

In the context of regular advertising, Colella pointed to how NBCU is using viewer data to make ads more efficient and therefore less frequent on its Peacock streaming service.

“By the use of data, it would allow us to reduce the amount of ad time,” she said.

Frank Sinton, president and founder of the ad-management firm Beachfront, reiterated that efficiency upgrade.

“There’s going to be less ads, and the ads will get better,” he said. Plus, applying viewing analytics allows for more sensitive adjustment of the ad load—as he put it, “you have a binge watcher, can you show them less ads over time?”

The advertisers don’t have to be limited to the traditional occupants of 30-second ad breaks on nationwide programming.

“We’ve leaned in heavily to local resellers,” said Reed Barker, head of advertising at the linear OTT service Philo. He said farming out of addressable ad sales to companies with local reps helped bring in the likes of “the local Chevy dealer” that otherwise might remain stuck on local cable ads.

Philo, Barker added, doesn’t have the technical debt of cable hardware—what he called “the particular peculiarities of each individual cable operator.”

The panelists pushed back on the notion that addressable advertising on OTT — based on Automated Content Recognition (ACR) of what’s streaming — would require the same extensive data collection as done on the web and social media.

“Television is still a mass medium,” said Ed Knudson, vice president for product and strategy at the video-on-demand adtech firm Canoe Ventures. “With addressability, it’s more important to address messages to audiences than individuals.”

Noting that the California Consumer Privacy Act’s required opt-outs from tracking had drawn “a relatively minor number of people,” he added that contextual cues from the currently-viewed program alone can allow effective personalization.

He compared that unfavorably to the hyper-personalization of ads on Facebook, which he called “creepy” when they mention topics he’s just discussed with somebody in the room.

(Facebook has denied that allegation of surreptitious listening, and recent security changes to Android and iOS have made it impossible).

Steve Silvestri, vice president of advanced advertising at Discovery, urged viewers to give credit to the TV industry for not being like social and web firms. “The TV industry above all is very judicious about the folks that are enabling the data.”

Sinton picked up that theme from him. “I feel like TV is less affected by these newer regulations than, say the personalized advertising you might see on Facebook and whatnot,” he said. “We’re in good shape if we continue to focus on more generalized targeting.”