Defining Measurable Units Can Solve the CTV Identity Crisis

By Jessica Hindlian

This year, the TV industry has an opportunity to unlock the identity crisis, writing a new story based on data transparency and proving value for both the buy and sell sides.

Industry players such as NBCU, the Video Advertising Bureau, Warner Media, and others have taken steps toward resolving identity in the advanced TV ecosystem. But with privacy changes piling up and TV content consumption becoming even more fragmented, 2022 will bring about a more universal effort to clearly define measurable units, such as households, individuals, and devices, and resolve the identities of the audiences tied to them.

Here is why identity resolution on CTV is so challenging, what advertisers and publishers can do to better define measurable units and resolve the identity problem, and how advertisers, publishers, and even consumers will benefit from forthcoming changes.

The Trouble with Identity Resolution on CTV

Identity resolution did not exist in TV even a few years ago. The reason it has become so critical is that advertisers and publishers need a way to unify households, individuals, and devices as consumption fragments across screens and platforms.

This is a challenge for the entire TV ecosystem, not to mention for the whole of digital advertising, but it is especially pronounced in CTV because CTV is the channel where linear meets digital, where communal streaming happens and measurement on the individual level becomes much more difficult.

Advertisers and publishers must be able to measure CTV consumption down to the individual. That means they need to be able to deduplicate audiences. If they cannot do that, they cannot control for frequency, reach, and other issues of calibration that degrade not only the advertiser's dollar but also the quality of the end user's experience.

What's more, advertisers and publishers need to be able to resolve identity and measure TV viewership in a universal manner — but in the wake of Nielsen's fall from the position of universal TV currency, there is no such standard.

What's the solution? For the time being, the whole ecosystem is cobbling together solutions to the CTV identity resolution problem by working with many different identity providers. The problem is that the identity graphs those providers furnish are black boxes; there is little transparency as to the provenance of the data they provide. This introduces two issues that the TV industry can no longer accept.

First, there is no universal standard, making measurement challenging across platforms, channels, and devices. Second, the consumer is disintermediated from data collection and use, a situation that will not fly given stronger privacy standards.

The Path to Measurable Units and Identity Resolution

The only path out of the identity resolution and privacy quagmire goes through first-party data. Publishers need massive stores of first-party data that allow them to develop unified views of individual TV consumption across devices. This is why a major player like NBCU is rolling out a first-party identity platform replete with 150 million consumer IDs. Smaller publishers will need to partner with larger ones, relying on second-party data to fill the gaps.

On the buy side, advertisers will need to amass their own first-party data ecosystems and increase partnerships to ensure they can develop unified views of audiences across channels and devices. For example, let's say Target uses a first-party cookie to identify a visitor to its website. Target will need to partner with a company like Comscore to link its first-party cookie data to an identity graph that can resolve IDs from exposed audiences' devices at the household and individual levels. The retailer may then need to partner with publishers to complete the puzzle and enable cross-channel targeting and measurement.

In addition to first-party data and second-party data partnerships, advertisers and publishers need to create standardized definitions of measurable units, agreeing on what a household, individual, and device look like.

The same aforementioned process of privacy-compliant data sharing and first-party data-driven identity resolution should help the buy and sell sides reach those standards. Identity and measurement providers can help by allowing publishers to assign specific IDs to impressions. Without a first-party data-driven approach to that problem, transparency cannot materialize.

Benefits for Advertisers, Publishers, and Consumers

A hard look at the state of identity resolution on CTV — and, for that matter, in the rest of the converged TV ecosystem — reveals that advertisers and publishers have settled for suboptimal solutions. Identity resolution at present disintermediates the consumer from data collection and use, and it often rests on the amalgamation of many different data points that add up to a less than resolute vision of performance.

With a focus on first-party data, privacy-compliant data sharing, and standardized measurable units, the TV industry can do better. Advertisers will be more confident about whom they are reaching and how.

Publishers will be able to prove the value of their inventory. And consumers will be more confident that brands and publishers are using their data with permission. Everybody can benefit, but the industry will only get there if the buy and sell sides collectively stop settling for the imprecise and privacy-unsafe status quo.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jessica Hindlian is the SVP of identity and partnerships at TVSquared by Innovid.