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In-depth: Is OTT advertising suffering in the absence of third-party measurement?

The OTT industry in India is highly fragmented and every platform has its own metrics to define the success of campaigns, which is giving marketers a very opaque picture of their ROI. Is the lack of an independent digital measurement currency hurting the growth of the OTT advertising industry? BestMediaInfo.com analyses

Advertisers are likely to become sceptical of spending on OTT platforms as they feel pumping in money in the absence of any credible third-party measurement may not justify their investments, experts have warned. 

The 2019 BCG-CII report recently highlighted that the advertisers understand and appreciate the manifold advantages — better targeting, lesser wastage, ability to drive brand-building through interactive experiences, among others, when it comes to digital advertising. But the questions on effectiveness and efficacy still remain in the absence of transparent and verifiable data and their concerns are getting louder.

It warned that possible challenging environment ahead might impact the status quo and lead to tough decisions.

Though there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of OTT viewers in India, the AVOD model may not be able to capture the growth part in the long run if the industry doesn’t arrive at an independent measurement currency, the experts said.

“The problem is that there is no common currency when it comes to digital video platforms. In the absence of BARC or any common currency, you will have to go with what the media platform is giving you in terms of numbers. That is where the challenge is,” said Darshan Bhatt, Director, GoQuest Digital Studios.

Currently, most OTT players, barring Netflix and Amazon, are majorly dependent on the AVOD model. But there has been a steep increase in SVOD revenue, which is growing faster than AVOD.

“The thing brands and advertisers are looking at, which unfortunately is currently not there in the digital ecosystem, is a third-party measurement platform.  Just like you have BARC for TV, you don't have a third-party measurement equivalent that can exactly measure digital content or what is the reach, watch time, views, etc., across different platforms,” said Akash Banerji, Business Head, Voot Advertising Video Platform.

India has more than 35 OTT platforms.

Advertising-led platforms are a Rs 4,500-crore industry compared to Rs 1,500 crore for subscription services. But the latter is growing faster.

Experts say if OTT players want AVOD advertising to keep growing and expand equally as the OTT market in India, they must share more consumer insights and metrics with brands. BARC had earlier proposed a mechanism called Ekam as an independent digital currency. But that project seems to have gone in the cold storage given that the likes of Google did not want to be a part of it wholeheartedly. 

“We are asking the industry body to implement the third-party audience measurement,” said Banerji. However, smaller players may not want that as they go to advertisers and make certain claims. Once the numbers are out, their position could weaken, Banerji added. 

Can sharing first-party data be an interim solution?

Banerji of Voot said his platform allows advertisers to have third-party tracking, which assures their monies are reaching the right audience.

“There are platforms like ours that enable advertisers to put a lot of third-party trackers. There are third-party trackers like Nielsen. These help the advertisers know how many impressions were delivered, the reach of the campaign and the accuracy of consumer profiles,” he said.

Voot has an audience management platform called MAVRIC, which creates data on the kinds of ads and categories users engage with, their fashion sense and their presence on certain devices.

In the absence of an industry-level measurement agency, what OTT players can do is share user metrics in a transparent way so that brands do not hesitate to put their monies on the platform.

However, experts say that in the days of data privacy, it would be impossible for streaming apps to share more with brands. The entire OTT ecosystem is based on data-driven insights.

Also, the reliability of that data could be in question since it has not been audited by a third party. Experts say larger platforms wouldn’t have any problem as they mostly have third-party checks in place.

Varun Duggirala, Co-founder, Glitch, said, “The success of OTT platforms depends on not just the content they create but how their algorithm uses user data to deliver the right kind of content to the right consumer. In this case, two points become crucial, the privacy of user data and the algorithm itself.”

“So, when an OTT platform reveals data to a brand then they are in essence doing so after considering both the privacy issues as well as making sure they don’t reveal any of their algorithm, which in most cases is a core company secret and defines their ‘secret sauce’ so to speak. This is why user data isn’t shared with Parties outside the OTTs themselves,” he added.

Bhatt of GoQuest Digital Studios said the data is guarded because of privacy and security concerns. “So, in the case of TV, you're actually putting a device into somebody's TV. When it comes to digital, how would you measure it? If you do it, it is invasion of privacy,” he said.

Experts say data is the only asset of platforms in the digital world and they may not want to share deep data.

“In OTT platforms, they have their own tracking matrices which they implement, and they feel since they have invested a lot of time to get that kind of followership or viewership, that is the only and major asset for them. They hesitate to give that to brands. Even though some OTT platforms and YouTube channels creators have started to share data with brands, they do not want to reveal all,” said a senior executive at a top media agency.


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