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Agencies Are Starting to Experiment with CTV-First YouTube Campaigns

Tim Cross  08 December, 2020

As advertisers and agencies look for ways to capitalise on the connected TV opportunity, YouTube offers one fairly straightforward way in.

YouTube viewing via smart TVs or connected devices has shot up over the past few years. YouTube doesn’t break out all of its viewership data, but it said at its Newfronts pitch to advertisers in June that live YouTube viewing on TV screens was up 250 percent year-on-year.

One of YouTube’s strengths is that inventory can be bought using tools that agencies and advertisers are already familiar with. YouTube’s CTV inventory can be bought via DV360 and Adwords, just like other YouTube inventory. In fact, advertisers might even be buying CTV inventory without realising it, as if the campaign isn’t specifically targeted at certain devices, YouTube will split clients’ buys across different devices in order to maximise their reach (or another specified metric).

But as YouTube CTV viewing has grown, Google has released a steady stream of new ad tools to help advertisers plan campaigns specifically for the big screen. And those VAN spoke with said that as enthusiasm for CTV grows, they’re increasingly experimenting with these tools to get the most out of CTV.

Back in 2018, Google released the ability to target connected TV devices specifically, either weighting campaigns more heavily towards CTV or running solely on the big screen.

Will McMahon, video strategy director at Spark Foundry, said that his team still tends to let YouTube allocate spend across devices in whatever way works out most efficiently, rather than targeting CTV alone. But the agency will skew campaigns towards CTV in the right circumstances.

“We still get advertisers that take TV creatives and put them on YouTube,” he said. “And while we don’t necessarily recommend that as a general approach, the ability to buy CTV specifically means that we can run those campaigns in an environment that’s more friendly towards that creative. That’s when those tools [those that enable CTV-only buys] really come in handy.”

And Kishan Parmar, display partner at Amplifi, said brands he works with are increasingly interested in exploring YouTube’s capabilities on the big screen.

“CTV in general is a big talking point in the industry at the moment,” he said. “And YouTube is probably more known to advertisers and agencies than the newer VOD platforms that are being talked about.”

In the early days of CTV, Parmar said his clients were somewhat perplexed by the idea of YouTube being watched in the living room.

“I had some clients who asked for that inventory to be removed, because they didn’t understand the concept of people using the YouTube app on their TV. And it was only a small piece of inventory back then,” he said. “But fast forward to now, it’s much better understood. And some of our clients are wanting to test running YouTube campaigns solely via CTV.”

Catering to TV-Style Buys

Targeting and measurement on CTV are essentially the same as targeting on other platforms, since YouTube is using logged on user data. Buyers can see how a campaign has performed across different devices, and can drive more money towards CTV if it’s performing well for their chosen metrics.

So planning a CTV campaign is often essentially the same as planning any other YouTube campaign – and an agency would usually only choose to skew towards CTV in the first place if the data showed that’s where their audience could be found.

Amplifi’s Parmar however said that clients might want to gear campaigns towards CTV depending on the KPIs they’re targeting.

“View through rates are usually either on a par or stronger than than desktop and mobile,” he said. “And it’s definitely the strongest performing device across quite a few of my clients right now.” Parmar said users may be less likely to skip ads on a TV set, since skipping is harder to do via a remote control, and this can boost view through rates overall.

And while users are logged in, these login details aren’t necessarily reflective of who is actually watching on the TV set. This poses problems not only for audience targeting, but for measurement and attribution too.

“With TVs, you never know how many people are watching,” said Spark Foundry’s McMahon. “That means that you can’t necessarily directly correlate sales very well.”

McMahon said this aligns with advertisers’ broader issues around measurement and attribution in a cookie-free world, and that some might turn to tools like econometrics to help tackle the issue.

One other potential solution is to use content targeting, rather than granular audience targeting. YouTube does, after all, host a lot of content from mainstream broadcasters. And giving buyers the ability to buy ads alongside this premium content specifically could be attractive.

YouTube launched ‘YouTube Select’ (a rebranding of its YouTube Preferred product) earlier this year to cater to this. YouTube Select offers packages of curated content based on specific categories, like sport, entertainment, or beauty. And buyers can choose to run CTV-only campaigns through YouTube Select.

But if advertisers want more granular control over the content they want to advertise next to (for example, specifically targeting talk show clips on YouTube), they need to work with third-party providers to whitelist that content.

“A lot of those tools are more focused on providing brand safety and brand suitability,” said McMahon. “But I’m sure if we asked them to start segmenting based on things like overall video length, to target only longer premium clips, we could put something bespoke together.”

Spend Shift Towards CTV Inevitable

Alongside these TV-style buys, there’s some appetite from the buy-side for more TV-style ad formats too.

YouTube has vocally moved away from unskippable thirty-second spots. But McMahon said YouTube might attract more spend by allowing longer ads on the big screen.

“I don’t see it changing any time soon, as YouTube have been very public in saying ads over 20 second must be skippable,” said Spark Foundry’s McMahon. “But I think if YouTube’s connected TV viewing goes the way that they want it to, and people start watching longer content which is a bit more broadcast style, then there’s potentially an avenue for longer ads. And that’s when we’d probably start shifting towards those channel targeted buys.”

Amplifi’s Parmar meanwhile said that better measurement across screens would boost YouTube’s CTV proposition. “It would be great if there was some insight we can get from Google and measurement companies like BARB, where you can see who you’ve reached on linear TV, and then see which YouTube channels or videos index best against that audience.” We’ve started to see steps in this direction – US measurement company Nielsen announced in October it will begin measuring YouTube CTV viewing in the first half of next year.

But both buyers agreed that regardless of how YouTube’s CTV tools develop, ad spend on YouTube CTV inventory will inevitably climb in the coming years, simply because of changing consumption patterns. Unless, that is, if CTV’s popularity drives up CPMs, making it less efficient overall.

“It might be in the future that because CTV is getting a lot of attention, CPMs jump up significantly,” said Spark Foundry’s McMahon. “And that could drive down the cost efficiency of YouTube CTV inventory. So we’ll have to see how it develops.”

“But for the time being, CTV viewing on YouTube is still growing, so ad spend is too, and it’s nice to have that balance for the time being,” he said.

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