Digital vs traditional TV ads: dazzling data and double standards

Rob Gallagher/Ovum
21 Dec 2015

“The youth of today – they’ve just got no respect!” That timeless expression sums up some delegates’ feelings about YouTube, Facebook Video, and other upstarts at the recent Future of TV Advertising Summit. While some might be tempted to reply “Get with the program, granddad!” both the younger and older generation would do well to learn from each other.

The summit’s program was a pretty accurate representation of where the TV and video advertising business is today. A good proportion focused on moves by broadcasters and pay-TV operators to make their services more targeted, measurable, and efficient.

Traditional TV continues to attract the majority of viewers and ad spend. A smaller slice addressed the digital platforms, which are attracting a growing number of consumers, but a smaller amount of revenue per viewer.

And then there were the buyers – brands such as Unilever and agencies such as Starcom MediaVest Group – which are interested in buying all forms of TV and video advertising. They just want to know what kind of audience each form will deliver, with a number of speakers calling for a single standard for measuring all kinds of video viewing.

It’s a tall order. “Video” now includes traditional and streaming broadcast TV, on-demand TV shows and movies, YouTube, Facebook, personal live streaming, self-destructing Snapchat messages, six-second Vine loops, one-second Instagram “Boomerangs,” and – arguably – even animated GIFs.

New forms will no doubt continue to emerge, given the ease with which apps can be created and consumers reached via increasingly available broadband and smart devices.

You might think online services have the upper hand when it comes to measurement. Their owners should be able to tell advertisers what each user has been watching, down to the millisecond and over time. Broadcast TV, in contrast, has typically been measured using panels, with the viewing habits of a few thousand homes extrapolated to the millions that make up each nation.

And the numbers that online services report are dazzling. Facebook claims that videos on its platform were attracting over 8 billion views every day, up from 4 billion in April. And this week, Snapchat revealed that its daily video views had passed 6 billion, compared with 2 billion in May.

But digital is not exactly the more trusted or valued medium. Advertisers are concerned that many online videos might not have been “viewed” in any meaningful sense. A video ad might, for example, have loaded at the bottom of a page or a separate tab of a browser without a user ever scrolling down to see it.

Some views might not have been generated by humans at all, but by automated software programs, known as “bots,” created to defraud the advertising system. Panelists seemed to agree that the extent of such “ad fraud” will remain pretty much unknowable, given that it’s a cat-and-mouse game of criminality and policing.

Panel-based systems, for all their shortcomings, are operated and audited by third-party bodies like the Broadcasters’ Audience Review Board (BARB) in the UK. At the summit, Sky’s Jeff Eales said BARB’s viewing estimates were remarkably similar to the data returned by the 3 million set-top boxes that measure viewing for its AdSmart targeted advertising platform.

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