Unraveling the DOOH and CTV Classification Conundrum

Unraveling the DOOH and CTV Classification Conundrum

By Mike Richter

While leading programmatic revenue at a CTV publisher, we explored the then-emerging world of Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) distribution. Coming from a background deeply entrenched in traditional TV and the evolving landscape of OTT/CTV, venturing into DOOH channels opened up an exciting opportunity. It introduced a new inventory type, offering a distinct consumer experience that we could monetize.

Navigating Uncharted Waters

Venturing into the DOOH territory was exhilarating yet fraught with challenges. We aimed to monetize our TV content on public displays programmatically, but faced a significant hurdle: our DOOH TV inventory, meant for public spaces, was inaccurately labeled as CTV in our monetization systems. While not entirely incorrect—CTV does encompass content on internet-connected devices—this (mis)classification overly simplified DOOH TV advertising's unique aspects, revealing widespread confusion in the industry.

At the time, the Digital Out-of-Home Buyer’s Guide from the IAB lacked a clear category for CTV within DOOH. Without a standardized category, there was not a way to properly introduce this inventory into the programmatic ecosystem. Sell-side and buy-side platforms were ill-equipped to distinguish this new category correctly, resulting in a notable portion of DOOH TV inventory being classified under CTV. 
This systemic oversight caused considerable confusion. DOOH buyers weren't typically targeting CTV, and conversely, CTV buyers weren’t looking for DOOH spaces. While the formats complement each other well, they are not interchangeable. 

Did monetization platforms complain about more CTV inventory? Of course not, they could not get enough of the new inventory type. Did media owners complain about the CTV-driven attention? Nope. CTV has dominated discussions in media since the mid-2010s, much like the aspiration symbolized by Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ within the fashion industry. Everyone wanted a piece of it.  But shoehorning DOOH into the CTV category was problematic, as it ignored the distinct characteristics and audiences of each medium.

Upon discovering our inventory was not being properly classified, I inquired further and found broad industry-wide classification challenges. Navigating within the existing, albeit flawed, framework, we sought solutions to monetize our content as effectively as possible. This approach, though unavoidable, further entrenched the problem, deepening the industry's need for a more accurate and nuanced classification system.

All Eyes on Measurement

The unresolved debate in TV measurement rolls on, often politically motivated, as big media owners, platforms and technology continue to battle. One of the key differences between DOOH and CTV lies in their measurement methodologies. In-home media, including CTV, is typically measured at the household or individual level using a consistent signal for ongoing measurement and attribution. Nielsen measures out-of-home (OOH) video viewing using passive people meters (PPM) thus linking their household data to individual viewers.  And, DOOH relies on location data, such as foot traffic estimates or Bluetooth pings, to estimate impressions. Some DOOH companies use these location pings as impression multipliers. This disparity in measurement further emphasized the need for better classification. 

Prompted by concerns about misclassified inventory, in 2023, leading DSPs adjusted their protocols, disallowing the categorization of DOOH TV as CTV, albeit quietly and without formal announcements. This move, while not entirely solving the standardization issue, demonstrates a growing recognition of the need for distinctive classifications that respect the unique attributes of each medium.

Interestingly, despite the lack of standardization, unique allowances are made. Some buyers encourage their DSPs to use the CTV classification of DOOH TV inventory, using the lower cost to lower the average unit price on their entire buy. 

While the change in classification by DSPs happened without official announcements, it has prompted SSPs to act. In an effort to better categorize DOOH TV ad inventory, some SSPs have introduced more specific categories. For instance, Microsoft Advertising created a new category called "CTV for OOH" (Connected TV for Out-of-Home). This new classification allows for better identification and purchase of ad inventory available on TV networks that play inside bars, restaurants, nail salons, airports, universities. These ongoing developments highlight the industry's response to the misclassification issue surrounding DOOH TV inventory. As the distinction between CTV and DOOH becomes more explicit in advertising spaces, it is crucial to establish standardized and accurate categorizations that reflect the unique characteristics of each medium.

"Standardizing DOOH will bring scale to the Brand Safe video offering which DOOH brings and provides access to a unique audience of people in motion - travelers who are a captive audience." - Lynnwood “Woody” Bibbens, Chairman & CEO of Reach TV

Addressing classification challenges underscores the broader need for standardized approaches within modern advertising's complex landscape. The DOOH and CTV sectors exemplify this, emphasizing that effective categorization must go beyond broad labels to fully capture each viewing context

There is more to discuss. I'm going to keep writing about this!