• Research: CTV Ad Frequency Problem is “Highly Exaggerated”

    At VideoNuze’s Connected TV Advertising Summit last month, one of the issues most often raised by speakers was frequency. Sometimes speakers articulated the issue through their lens as an industry participant; other times it was from their own personal experience. For example, in our final session of the conference, Cara Lewis, EVP, Head of US Investment for Amplifi USA / Dentsu spoke about her experience streaming during the miserably cold Memorial Day weekend (slightly edited for clarity):

    “Frequency is definitely an issue. And I can tell you just for myself and my viewing experience this weekend, it was extremely rainy. And I watched a lot of CTV and I kept on seeing the same commercial over and over again, which is completely frustrating because I'm being told as somebody who's buying these ads that we have a frequency cap. Maybe those advertisers didn’t have one, but if they did what I saw was well over what I know our advertisers put in as a frequency cap.”  

    My experience mirrors Cara’s, as I mentioned in Q&A after moderating a CTV session at Pubmatic’s ENVISION conference two weeks ago. As VideoNuze readers know, I watch a lot of professional golf, on Golf Channel, NBC and CBS, most often on my Roku devices and using YouTube TV. It is mind-boggling how often the same ads are repeated. Admittedly I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is a CTV frequency issue. It could have much more to do with the TV network, the rights of tournament sponsors, faulty legacy TV system frequency capping, shortage of available campaigns, etc. Who knows.

    Regardless of the root cause, as Cara said, as a viewer it’s frustrating and diminishes the experience (and because I’m never able to fully take my industry analyst hat off, even on weekends, I can’t stop thinking “really, where IS all this great adtech that I write about each week?”)

    Having said all of that, a new report from Innovid and the ANA, “Decoding CTV Measurement,” asserts that the frequency problem is actually both “highly exaggerated” and likely only limited to very particular situations. Innovid and ANA studied 35 campaigns from 20 big advertisers, representing $35 million in ad spend across 169 publishers and 25+ connected device types.

    The research found average campaign frequency of 4.6 across all of the campaigns, meaning the number of times a single household was exposed during the campaign for a single or set of campaigns. The report goes a step further to analyze the campaigns by three buckets: Light Frequency (1-2 exposures), Medium Frequency (3-9 exposures) and Heavy Frequency (10+ exposures). The report found that on average, 85% of the campaigns analyzed fell into bucket one, light frequency, with 14% in bucket two, medium and just 1% in bucket three, heavy.

    The report’s conclusion is that these minority of instances of over frequency are most likely to happen when viewers consume content that was sold by multiple inventory partners (i.e. if viewers watch more than one AVOD service with inventory from multiple partners). This was the case when looking at both daily and weekly averages. So while frequency capping is hopefully happening within a publisher, if it’s not happening across publishers (much less across DSPs and SSPs), over frequency is bound to happen.

    The data provides a useful way for participants to benchmark their campaigns. Two lingering questions I had though:

    1) Elsewhere the report found a 32% average publisher rate of duplication within a given campaign. Unique reach is something many AVOD/FAST providers have touted, which has always surprised me a little. Are there really that many unique viewer segments such that so many streaming services can claim unduplicated reach? For instance and coincidentally, Tubi disclosed back in January that 68% of its viewers can’t be reached by other streaming services.

    So the question is how feasible is it to run massively scaled CTV campaigns before duplication, and hence frequency, become issues? The report notes that the average campaign used just 10 publisher partners and achieved reach of only 13% of the 75 million U.S. CTV homes. Yes, that means there’s a lot of headroom to grow, as the report says…but doesn’t basic math suggest that duplication and frequency have to start creeping in at some point? But when? At 20% reach? 30% reach? I don’t know the answer, but even with CTV consumption going through the roof, it seems inevitable.

    2) While the report substantiates that the small pockets of frequency are most likely due to consuming across streaming services, I’m still wondering why over frequency is such an issue in my Saturday and Sunday afternoon golf viewing? To repeat, I don’t even know if it’s a CTV issue or something completely unrelated. But it’s not a multiple streaming service or broadcaster issue that’s for sure because I’m only watching on one TV network. Also for sure, if I see Rickie Fowler in one more Rocket Mortgage ad, I’m going to pull my remaining hair out.

    One other thing I’ll add: if this is NOT a CTV-related issue then that would mean that after 75+ years of broadcasting, TV networks still have not fully figured out frequency. That in turn means CTV has a mile-wide opportunity to deliver new value to advertisers when its frequency issue (perceived, real or combination of the two) is fully resolved.

    Overall, the new Innovid-ANA is a very important contribution to helping the industry get a better handle not just on frequency but on reach, fragmentation and ROI of CTV ads (I’m not going to delve into any of the report’s findings on those topics out of respect for TL;DR). Of course I'm hugely optimistic about CTV advertising, but I’m also a big believer that myth-busting is critical to helping CTV grow and achieve its full potential, with full transparency. So kudos to Innovid and ANA for tackling these very important topics and presenting their findings, along with case study examples, in a report that should be must-reading for anyone with a stake in CTV’s future.

    Download the full report.