CTV Quality Management – Frequency Capping, Content Object & Ad Formats

On April 13, 2022 ad tech matters, ctv, iab tech lab

If you’ve been regularly reviewing our quarterly expenditure reports, you’ll know that CTV continues to be the advertising hero product here in Australia. Brands are following the engaged audiences increasingly consuming on-demand, high-quality long-form digital video content on their large TV screens in ‘lean-back’ environments.

The attraction of this product type is uniquely appealing to the dichotomous wallets of both traditional TV buyers and digital natives seeking engaged & authenticated audiences consuming content on bigger screens at scale, combined with the programmatic benefits of audience targeting, campaign management, dynamic creative and data-driven measurement.

When CTV first burst on the scene, there was enormous promise in the opportunity to replicate and improve upon the linear advertising break experience. The advantages of programmatic digital were at the forefront, but some of the very basics of linear TV ads have become an operational headache – such as providing competitive separation and limiting the same ad playing more than once within the same break. Ensuring that buyers and sellers have the full suite of controls and flexibility in delivering a quality of advertising experience for consumers on bigger screens via programmatic CTV that can more than match linear is essential – and there has been some recent negative feedback in this regard.

Hence we felt compelled to provide some recommendations and best practices to try and assist, including related updates from IAB Tech Lab that we feel deserve greater awareness – as they have been incredibly focused on supporting the industry recently in this important area of growth.

We’ve split this into several areas – frequency management, content signals, ad formats and ads.txt & app-ads.txt management. We hope that you find this useful…

Frequency Management

Frequency capping is the most basic, universal control for digital advertising and has, since ad servers were first built, been a key delivery tool for optimising both the user experience and advertising effectiveness. Overexposed ads are a basic unforgivable sin for everyone with an operational slant.

In terms of optimal frequency management there are three basic considerations, two general and one specific to CTV:

  1. Operational best practices
  2. Identifiers (IFA)
  3. Podded bidding

Operational Best Practices:
Traditionally basic capping involves three core variables – all of which can be combined, or run exclusively with other targeting attributes and are interchangeable:

  • Numeric limit on the number of times an ad is delivered
  • A delivery criteria at which the ad should be limited (per creative, per line-item, per campaign, per advertiser)
  • A time-frame (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, user session, campaign lifetime)

There are a number of other targeting variables which can also be experimented with – such as day-parting, operating systems and devices. Most delivery platforms will have pre-determined settings which can be used depending upon your campaign goals (e.g. CPA, CPC or CTR) but manually tweaking and optimising is often required. For example, some fairly common approaches traditionally for display have always been 3×24 (3 ads per 24hrs), or 1×4 (1 ad every 4 hours), 1×24 for prospecting campaigns & smaller personal devices, and perhaps 1 per week (or even lifetime) for reach campaigns as they are less reliant on performance metrics and outcomes.

The complexity increases dramatically as you try to optimise across campaigns, environments and devices. Plus there can be commercial or performance related pressures brought to bear upon overwhelmed delivery teams that may result in chaotic delivery, some poor practices and ultimately negative consumer experiences. The other layer of complexity comes with any limitations from the buyers delivery contractual requirements and/or limitations through the third-party ad code that is shared and through which campaigns are independently tracked & measured. The conflicts and friction here are both human and operational – will simply require clear communication, transparency on both sides and operational know-how in order to minimise any issues.

An identifier (IFA):
The basic delivery mechanics for programmatic CTV are important to also understand however, and cookies have been the champion here for the last 20-25 years as they are so easy to use and ubiquitous as a user identifier (whilst also being a little leaky and unreliable) which for OpenRTB is known as an Identifier for Advertising (IFA). Regardless of what’s happening in the future with the limitations of third-party cookies for campaign management – the majority of CTV advertising delivered these days is via SSAI (server-side ad insertion) technology, which is cookie-less. SSAI inserts personalised ads and stitches them seamlessly into a single stream so that a client media player on the user device no longer has to make ad server calls in order to deliver an ad, which is ideal for mid-roll, live streaming, and broadcast scenarios such as a news or sporting event where the latency of loading and unloading a player/ad on the client can cause errors and result in a poor user experience.

Identifying unique users for frequency capping via SSAI is therefore reliant upon user logins and publisher-provided identifiers. Any IFA must be a unique value and never be (or be based on) a hardware-specific ID such as MAC address or IMEI – and must never contain any Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Examples of these include publisher provided IDs (PPID), SSP provided IDs (SSPID), Apple IDs (IDFA), Microsoft IDs (MSAI) and shorter-lived session IDs (SESSIONID). Any manufacturer’s operating system providing a method for managing the IFA must ensure that the user has a common mechanism for managing the identifier for advertising across different apps and provide a documented and supported application programming interface (API) for publishers to read the IFA and adhere to users’ privacy preferences.

Also mandatory within the protocols is the provisioning of an IFA type (ifa_type) so that measurement platforms can identify the source of the IFA and also the Limit Ad Tracking (lmt**) variable as a signal for user opt-outs.

Any limitations in an IFA being made available, or being seamlessly recognised by the SSAI technologies delivering campaigns will result in obvious operational headaches – particularly as open market bidding proliferates and programmatic CTV supply and demand becomes more democratic.

Having the right partnerships in place, technology set-up and fulfilling the requirements of the OpenRTB protocols are all non-negotiable necessities. If short cuts are made here then issues will arise, particularly in the medium-longer term as this operationally remains a key capability fundamental to campaign management, targeting and measurement – and is only going to require more effort for everyone moving forwards.

Podded Bidding:
CTV ad auctions initially replicated the same simple mechanics as standard programmatic buying, whereby one request was issued for one ad slot and the highest bid then fills the slot – with operational teams trying their best to frequency cap using the aforementioned standards tools and identifiers.

Supply partners quickly started to offer inventory as podded requests, with multiple impression objects within the impression array of the video object. This enabled buyers to de-duplicate their demand before sending it back to Publishers, who would then in turn attempt to de-duplicate the demand sources, before finally showing the resulting ad break to their users. However, this process is still reliant upon slot-based targeting where demand partners can only fill the pod with any available individual slots, rather then being also to seamlessly review the full pods, times and opportunities on offer.

What had been missing (until now) from the operational flow was the option to seamlessly include a podded request/response, which is the key feature of the IAB Tech Lab’s latest version (2.6) of the OpenRTB protocols. These dramatically enhance the programmatic buying of CTV inventory by comprehensively enabling structured, dynamic and hybrid ad pods. As a result, media owners will now be enabled to better monetise their CTV commercial breaks by allowing their advertising clients to place multiple ad requests within one bid request and have greater flexibility in the number of ad slots and their length.

A key feature here is also the provisionment ‘CPM per second’ floors via the new ‘mincpmpersec’ parameter. This allows buyers to signal what their floor rate is for every second of air time. Unlike display, video ads are sold with time as a major variable, so enabling this as a variable provides greater control and flexibility to buyers and the ability to access more comprehensive range of CTV inventory.

The addition of ad pods in CTV brings ad buying in line with the way traditional linear TV advertising is bought and sold, and a summary of the three types of ad pods is below.

Structured Pod: The seller offers a fully defined pod structure; the number of ad slots, their slot in the ad pod, and duration is predefined and static.

Dynamic Pod: The seller offers a pod structure where the number of ads and the duration of each ad in the break is indeterminate, but the total duration and maximum number of ads are constrained. In other words, the total duration of the pod is known, but the number and duration of the individual ads within the break may not be defined ahead of time. This allows bidders more flexibility to optimise their selection of ads across the demand on their platform.

Hybrid Pod: The seller offers a pod structure containing both structured and dynamic components. In other words, the ad pod is composed of some combination of ad slots with predetermined durations, and ad slots constrained by a total duration and also a maximum number of ads.

These evolved standards can support more innovative and commercial opportunities for both buyers and sellers through these improved capabilities in CTV advertising, as well as providing additional layers of safety and transparency.

We recommend that our members:

  • Support their delivery teams to competently manage and optimise the operational requirements.
  • Work closely with commercial partners and have clear communications channels with their ops teams.
  • Work closely with best-in-class tech vendors and ensure that they are adopting the latest IAB Tech Lab protocols & standards.

To fully review the new ORTB protocols click here, and to read a related article by Jill Wittkopp from IAB Tech Lab click here

For a really excellent supportive article on the new protocols by James Wilhite (VP of Product at Publica) simply click here

Content Object

At last week’s IAB Digital AdOps event we were delighted to see PubMatic bring up the topic of the Content Object, also a key part of the IAB Tech Lab’s OpenRTB protocols.

The Content Object helps provide more detailed content-level metadata to CTV supply, describing in greater detail the actual video content rather than its more generic environment. This can be shared almost universally across buyers, sellers and tech partners allowing more traditional media buyers to be more comfortable as a result of greater transparency and using a similar approach to that they use for linear TV.

The varying types of content metadata (22 in total) include genre, rating, and duration and an example can be seen below from an opportunity to advertise beside a typical auto review:

• Content Categories: Automotive/Convertible (8), Auto Type/Performance Cars(16)
• Content Channel: Editorial/Professional (1001)
• Content Type: Review (1021)
• Content Media Format: Mixed (1026)
• Content Language: en (1068)
• Content Source: Professionally Produced (1215)

With broad adoption of this video content metadata would give buyers more control over the content they align their ads with and the audiences they reach – enabling media owners to access demand for contextual audiences, streamline curation, and ensure ads served align with their content to ensure a better consumer experience. The consistent adoption of there parameters and an industry-wide push to standardise the metadata will create network effects for publishers, support transparent contextual targeting and reporting, and improve access to curated premium video audiences for buyers.

Additionally, several different content fields are also now communicated via extensions in both version OpenRTB 2.5 and OpenRTB 2.6 to promote ‘Content Channel’ and ‘Content Network’ – two of the more commonly used content extensions.

In CTV, having the channel and network information available at the time of bid request is very valuable to buyers, as passing the actual channel that the user is watching along with the network that owns the channel, bid requests in OpenRTB can now have the necessary information for buyers to make the most optimal decision for their brands.

We recommend that our members:

  • That are publishers commit to ensuring CMS and AdServer compatibility, standardise the metadata based upon the IAB Content Taxonomy and starting passing these signals onto SSP partners.
  • That are DSPs prioritise the work on development roadmaps to update their tech with the related targeting capabilities, enabling them to seamlessly ingest content object into the bidder.
  • Evangelise the benefits and help drive pan-industry adoption and collaborative testing with consistent nomenclature based upon the IAB Tech Lab’s Content Taxonomy.

To review the latest version of the IAB Tech Lab’s Content Taxonomy click here

Ad Formats & ads.txt

Ensuring adherence to optimal ad formats and creative best practices is always key to delivering an optimal seamless experience for all involved – and should never be overlooked. Also, ensuring that any suppliers of CTV inventory are following the latest guidance in relation to maintaining ads.txt & app-ads.txt files will provide full transparency over who is authorised to sell CTV inventory and help protect against counterfeit fraud.

Ad Formats:
IAB Tech Lab’s recently ad format guidelines for digital video and CTV is a superb guide, designed to help publishers, ad networks, exchanges and server-side ad insertion (SSAI) platforms communicate a baseline technical standard for the creative files needed to serve ads on their platforms.

This also benefits publishers by reducing one of the barriers to selling digital video and CTV inventory because it defines ad file requirements for cross-screen campaigns, helping scale both buying and selling programmatically in the Digital Video and CTV space.

Some examples of key considerations are:

  • Creative file submission: Defines communicating general submission guidelines for the creative such as ad duration, aspect ratio, and details of any engagement events.
  • Mezzanine file: The mezzanine file is a raw source file that publishers can use to encode the ad at the required quality level for the content stream. This original file is too big to serve but contains the quality necessary to encode the appropriate version for a viewer’s environment. The mezzanine file is vital to ad-stitching services commonly used with online television networks. Ad-serving vendors (3rd party) can also use the mezzanine file to transcode all the necessary files to meet varying publisher requirements.
  • Encoding ready-to-serve files: Since the mezzanine file is too big to serve, guidelines are provided for transcoding smaller, ready-to-serve files at low, medium, and high resolutions to match to environments where screen size or connection speeds may be limited. Deciding on the appropriate bitrate to use depends on the resolution where the video ad plays. In general, the higher the resolution, the higher the bitrate should be for optimal quality playback.
  • Nonlinear and companion ads: Nonlinear ads, the small video or animated overlays, are becoming more common in CTV. Guidelines for dimensions and placement, duration, engagement, and controls are provided. Similar guidelines are provided for companion ads that display outside the player, such as when the player is embedded in a webpage.

Linear video ads are the ads, typically in video format, that interrupt streaming video content much like a TV commercial. They can play before (pre-roll), during (mid-roll), or after (post-roll) the streaming content. Linear ad formats can be accompanied by a companion ad, or they can include an interactive component.

Nonlinear video ads are typically served as images that “overlay” the video content. The ad runs concurrently with the streaming content so the user sees the ad while also viewing the content without interruption.

Companion ads are ads that are served along with linear or nonlinear ads in the form of text, static image display ads, rich media, or skins that wrap around the video experience.

The ads.txt & app-ads.txt standard:
The Connected TV market introduces a much higher occurrence of complex commercial relationships because the inventory is often shared by multiple entities and reduces the clarity over the various relationships and genuine supply source. To support these scenarios IAB Tech Lab have been incrementally evolving this standard for CTV and via the latest standards (v1.1) now also include the features below:

  • The ownerdomain value is used to specify the domain of the business that owns the website that the ad is being served on. This helps to connect the seller domain for publisher entries in sellers.json files, which has previously been hard to programmatically validate resulting in mismatched seller domains, especially when an entity owns multiple publisher properties.
  • The managerdomain enables the publisher to declare the primary or exclusive monetization partner of that sites inventory. This new addition to ads.txt will help to level the supply path optimization (SPO) playing field for small to medium publishers. This is because publishers that outsource yield management, and transact under their manager’s seller ids are automatically made to appear as though they have multiple hops to access their inventory; this is a challenge when SPO’s focus on buying from the fewest number of hops in the supply chain to access inventory. The addition of the Manager Domain in ads.txt will helps buyers know that even with multiple hops, this may be the most optimal route to access that publisher’s inventory.

We recommend that our members:

  • Review the IAB Tech Lab’s Digital Video and CTV Ad Format Guidelines available here
  • Regularly review the latest IAB Tech Lab programmatic standards for buyers, sellers & ad-tech vendors and ensure they are all competently maintaining all required files.
  • Review the most cutting-edge IAB Tech Lab standards to protect CTV advertising from fraud called ads.cert

To review the latest IAB Tech Lab ads.txt and app-ads.txt standards click here

To read an explainer about IAB Tech Lab’s ads.cert standard simply click here