The ‘Identity Crisis’ in Video Advertising
The video industry, in keeping with its tradition of storytelling, loves to summarize epochal industry dynamics into short catchphrases. First, when streaming video was in its infancy, cable TV executives bemoaned trading “digital pennies for analog dollars”. Next, as upstarts and progressive studios launched free streaming websites, there was a race to “capture eyeballs”. As desktop and mobile viewership increased, the emphasis turned to data driven user monetization and a realization that “identity is the currency” of all digital advertising. As video viewing gets increasingly fragmented across many streaming devices and users have greatly heightened privacy concerns (I’m happy to take forward the series of pithy sayings with a lazy pun), the video industry now has a big “identity crisis”.
Identity as a Currency
It is easy to get lost in the complexities of the digital advertising value chain. Efforts to illuminate the landscape have left people with blurred vision. But suffice to say that as advertising dollars flow from consumer brands to buy eyeballs from content publishers, there is a critical step to convert those dollars into digital identities. A digital identity associates various online behaviors with a digital identifier. Cookies are commonly used digital identifiers that track web user behaviors. The most popular, and now notorious, cookie is the Facebook (FB) cookie. Given that every moment of our lives is documented in great detail on social media, the FB cookie has a rich set of associated user intents that are valuable in targeted advertising. Consumer brands convert their ad dollars into desired FB cookies. Similarly, content publishers have worked with Facebook to convert their eyeballs into FB cookies. The FB cookie is one of the most powerful currencies in digital advertising.
The rise of the mobile app world weakened various web currencies, including FB cookie, a bit. Mobile apps do not support cookies and instead require the usage of a user controlled “Mobile Advertising Identifier” (MAID) as the digital identity. But many vendors in the advertising ecosystem quickly built currency exchanges to convert web cookies into MAIDs. The large mobile app user base of Facebook helped it to easily build its own currency exchange. Advertising dollars easily got converted into FB cookies which got exchanged into MAIDs and reached the desired eyeballs.
Another Device, Another Currency
Today, there is a proliferation of app based streaming devices. Users can watch streaming videos in their homes on tens of different types of devices including mobile phones like Android and iPhone, streaming boxes like Roku, FireTV, AppleTV etc., game consoles like XBOX and Playstation, smart TVs like Samsung TV, Vizio TV, LG TV etc. Each of these devices has its own unique identifier for advertising. The iPhone has an identifier called ‘ID For Advertisers’ (IDFA). The Android phone has an identifier called ‘Android Advertising ID’ (AAID). The Roku has an identifier called ‘Roku ID for Advertising’ (RIDA). The XBOX has an identifier called ‘Microsoft Advertising ID’ and so on. And the currency exchanges that used to convert digital identifiers like cookies into device specific advertising identifiers are not working well for streaming devices anymore. The lack of a strong installed app base on all these devices is making it difficult (for FB and others) to effectively convert the device specific advertising identifiers into their preferred currency.
Privacy First Era
More importantly, the digital identity currencies have not entirely been used in a privacy friendly manner. The Device Advertising Identifiers were introduced precisely to give users better control over their privacy. Users expect to reset or completely disable these identifiers any time and all advertising vendors need to comply with these settings. Privacy legislation like GDPR in Europe and calls by some US companies to create similar federal legislation are aimed at ensuring strong compliance with these privacy settings. However, even with these controls, a recent study has shown that only 27% of the users feel that they are in control of their data. The broader user misgivings about lack of control on their own data are well-founded. Some currency exchanges that convert digital identifiers tend to operate in the grey areas between the letter and the spirit of the privacy legislation.
IP is not ID
The most common way the currency exchanges work is to use the IP address of the home as a common identifier for conversion. I.e., an iPhone and a Roku making ad requests from the same home will most likely have the same IP address even if they have different device advertising identifiers. So it is possible for ad vendors to ignore the advertising identifier and simply target the user based on the IP address. However, the user has no control over their IP address and cannot reset it. This is not what the user expects and is arguably not in compliance with privacy laws. Recent reports indicate that streaming devices like Roku are beginning to shut down such behavior.
In fact, the privacy laws go further to state that both device advertising identifiers and IP addresses are critical personal data and the user needs to provide explicit consent and also have the capability to withdraw consent to use them. And data vendors are being forced to make business changes to be in compliance with newly enforced privacy legislation.
Wasting a Good Crisis
The larger point here is that many incumbents are grudgingly putting lipstick on their data practices. And there is a clear opportunity for upstarts to proactively offer solutions that are manifold privacy friendly. For example, Apple now lets its users instantly download and erase all their user data. This may seem like a small step but users can gradually expect to have much more detailed visibility and stronger controls over all their data and privacy. In the video world, the starting step is stronger adherence to privacy requirements of individual device advertising identifiers. But the larger steps are to proactively create a single virtualized identifier for the home or user that is robustly mapped to all their devices and does not rely on IP address. Complete user visibility and control over this unified home or user ID is a possible solution.
Think “Inside The Home”
Vizbee is addressing this ‘identity crisis’ in the video world with unique ‘inside the home’ technology and product offerings.
First, Vizbee’s technology embedded in publisher mobile apps enables users to automatically detect all the streaming devices and smart TVs in their vicinity on the same WiFi. The mobile app user can then automatically install CTV apps, seamlessly sign in and cast any videos to the nearby devices – all with a single tap on the mobile device. The experience is completely seamless and enables the user to combine the best discovery features of their mobile phones and the great viewing experience of their big screen TVs. By enabling direct communication within a home between the mobile and connected TV apps, Vizbee is also able to establish a direct mapping between the advertising identifiers of various devices. Also, since Vizbee is embedded within a publisher app, explicit user consent is obtained and a mapping of the advertising identifiers is done within the publisher scope without linkage with any other 3rd party data.
Overall, the resolution of this OTT identity crisis in a privacy friendly manner is a key challenge that deserves further efforts and innovation.