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Hold CTV Accountable for Ads Delivered to TV Sets That Are Turned Off

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Executive Chairman
Published: Feb. 09, 2022

Ever since companies started using TV set-top-box data to help better measure TV viewership and ad delivery, companies in the business have had to develop techniques to deal with what to do when the TV is turned off and the set-top box is still running.

The process has not been without controversy: Do you just exclude all viewing events when the channel didn’t change at all in three hours? Works for most viewing, but not when Rafael Nadal plays a five-hour Australian Open final.

Fortunately, we learned that the best way to “check and balance” the massive viewing datasets generated from tens of millions of set-top boxes was to “hybridize” them with gold-standard panel viewing data like Nielsen’s respondent data. We knew that set-top box data would overcount some viewing where the box was on and the TV was off, but it was easy to exclude when your systems factored in against the panel data.

So, it wasn’t surprising to recently learn that ad verification firm DoubleVerify has discovered that a number of CTV ad deliveries are being counted on TVs where the screen is off.

How could this happen? The default settings of most smart TVs today turn the display off to conserve power, yet leave the computer on to avoid boot-up time when viewers press the power button to turn it on again. Thus, an app can be remotely triggered to view a feed -- and no one will know that the screen isn’t on to watch it.

Fortunately, DoubleVerify is on the case with a solution, as are some of the other verification folks as well, I suspect.

I raise the issue now -- at a time when our industry is finally taking some really big steps to move decades-old linear TV measurements into the digital age of cross-platform TV and CTV streaming -- to make sure we don’t forget how important it is not only to have lots of machine- generated data coming from TVs and set-top boxes and apps, but also to maintain significant, independent and verified panels with real people.

It’s the only way to have proper checks and balances on the data, and the only way to truly make it projectable as a currency that will drive more than $100 billion of ad spend annually in the U.S. in a few years.

Just as a tree that falls in the woods without anyone to hear it generates no sound, an ad delivered to a TV screen that is turned off should generate no fee.

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An earlier version of this blog was originally published by MediaPost.