• Convergent TV’s Promise Lies in the Balance of Contextual and Audience Targeting

    Given the current regulatory climate around consumer privacy, many ad industry observers are anticipating a broad move away from audience-based targeting in the digital space, with contextual targeting increasingly being presented as the primary alternative. While this shift might seem logical on the surface, the binary thinking represented in the audience-versus-contextual debate is problematic, particularly as the thinking expands out to emerging channels like Convergent TV.

    How We Got Here and Where We’re Going
    In the digital display world, pivots back to contextual targeting represent a simple correction of a pendulum that swung too far in favor of audience-based targeting over the past decade using tactics like cookie tracking. But certainly audience-based targeting isn’t going away, nor is it decreasing in importance.

    After all, particularly in closed ecosystems and logged-in environments, permission-based, privacy-compliant audience targeting is very possible and beneficial. However, there’s no doubt that context is also an important part of the equation when it comes to reaching the right consumers in the right mindsets. It’s not an either - or scenario — it’s yes-and.

    In the convergent TV space, which is commonly referenced as the next big area where we’ll see the principles of online digital advertising take root, it’s important to note — and dispel — this sort of binary audience - versus -context thinking up front. Here’s why.

    Why Convergent TV is Different
    Much of the hype around the digital transformation in TV has to date centered around how audience targeting – whether it’s addressable or data-driven – can lead to greater precision. Less attention has been given to other signals, like context such as the network, program, daypart, pod position, etc. However, both audience and contextual targeting have huge benefits for advertisers, and success in convergent TV is going to require a smart blend of both.

    Traditional linear TV buying has always been a mixture of contextual and audience targeting, based on generally known viewer attributes for certain programming. The overlay of digital capabilities supercharges the audience element of this, but it does so in a way that’s quite distinct from on the web. The ways in which audience data is obtained and deployed by convergent TV content providers with premium, logged-in environments is quite different from the use of third-party cookies on the open web.

    However, despite the strong—and privacy-regulation-compliant—audience capabilities associated with convergent TV, it would be folly for advertisers to let their strategies swing too far in favor of audience, as they did on the open web. Convergent TV will thrive not just because of new audience targeting capabilities, but because of the rich signals from the content itself and the nature of the viewing experience.

    The experience of watching premium video is too immersive and personal to not be contextually driven at some level. Targeting ads to an individual without giving thought to the mindset they’re in when watching a program can lead to seriously jarring mismatches in tone. Although consumers have become accustomed to “The Pants That Stalked You” in their online experiences, that doesn’t mean they’ll be OK with it if that experience extends to the big screen in their living rooms.

    Also, as is not the case with other forms of media, TV is a communal experience that can reach multiple individuals at once. Hyper-personalization of ads on a TV simply won’t have the same effect as it does on personal devices. A more elegant solution is aligning brands with content through formats like the shoppable ads recently rolled out by NBCUniversal.

    As the pendulum swings back toward contextual targeting in online media, we should keep a close eye on the pendulum over in convergent TV. While privacy-compliant audience targeting on immersive big-screen content is an intoxicating opportunity, it’s not the only vector through which advertisers should be making their buys. Convergent TV’s success depends on balancing context with audience signals — not over - prioritizing one over the other.