OTT and the promise of brand safety

OTTs with their regulated content and stringent quality checks have made them a favourite of advertisers. But lack of a common system of measurement has been hindering their ad potential, say experts

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jan 6, 2021 8:38 AM  | 8 min read

Over the top (OTT) platforms have emerged as one of the preferred mediums of advertising for brands due to the audience engagement and reach that they offer in a brand-safe environment. For advertisers and agencies, brand safety is one of the top-most priorities while advertising on OTT platforms.
While short-form user-generated content (UGC) video platforms are also gaining mass popularity, they don’t offer the same level of brand safety that OTT platforms do. The biggest advantage that OTT has over short-form video platforms that most of the content on OTT platforms is acquired from TV broadcasters and film studios who adhere to strict content guidelines.

However, the OTT platforms do have a lot of digital-first original content that might be considered ‘edgy’ or ‘offensive’ by certain brands based on their positioning and philosophy.

Giving a brand's perspective, Maruti Suzuki executive director - marketing & sales Shashank Srivastava said, "Content landscape has rapidly changed in 2020 due to the growth of OTT services and change in viewing pattern of consumers. OTT platforms like Disney+ Hotstar, SonyLIV, and ZEE5 provide a mix of content like movies, TV shows, and web series. Currently, it is in a safe space due to this strategy of major OTT players.

"Although due to the high demand for newer content by consumers, content on various unconventional subjects is mushrooming. Also, these platforms remained unregulated for a long time. But now they have been brought under government regulation to bring more transparency in the system. With the regulation coming in place, advertisers will have more opportunities to integrate with the relevant content and reach out to the target audience."

Havmor Ice Cream Head of Marketing Shekhar Agarwal said, “It is absolutely true that OTT platforms work from the point of view of Brand Safety as most of the content is pre-checked and validated. Hence misplacement as a concern is very limited. As a brand, you are able to target it right. In an unregulated medium where most of the content is UGC, the ability of the platform owner is also limited and brands are exposed to the risk of being misplaced which can create negative news for the brand.”

Hungama Digital Media COO Siddhartha Roy said that advertisers today are extra judicious about their brand’s visibility. "A single inappropriately placed ad or product is enough to cause permanent damage to a brand’s credibility. OTT platforms understand this need and have been able to introduce various mechanisms that ensure brand safety. We follow stringent checks on the quality of content available on our platforms. There are several AI tools and processes in place for precise targeting, segmentation, and delivering each brand message on an age-appropriate unit of content. We believe that the promise of brand safety, coupled with the inherent benefits offered by OTT platforms, are playing a key role in attracting advertisers to the medium.”

Viacom18 Digital COO Gourav Rakshit said that the OTT platforms by design are brand safe because the content is completely curated and to that extent liked by a lot of advertisers. "Brand safety has become a hygiene issue for most advertisers. The movement is from brand safe to brand aligned to brand integrated. The very marketing model operates in a brand-safe environment. The DNA of the organisations is to be brand-safe and that continues to be the case in the OTT space. We are preferred partners for many of our clients since we are brand safe."
“With more and more users turning to video streaming platforms for entertainment, OTT players are carving out a bigger slice of the digital advertising pie for themselves. Advertisers today are allocating large sums of media spends to OTT platforms as they offer the highly engaged audience and a brand-safe environment. At ZEE5, we have made huge investments in measurability, viewability, and internal quality checks besides building a robust ad-tech stack and data suite. This offers precise targeting and segmentation capabilities to deliver measurable results for the brands," a ZEE5 spokesperson said.

YuppTV CEO Uday Reddy noted that brands don't want to advertise on any kind of content which is extreme in nature. He further stated that OTT platforms that are maintaining the broadcast quality content like Disney+ Hotstar, SonyLIV, ZEE5, and Voot have no problem in attracting advertising. "Advertisers don't have any problem in advertising on these platforms since they follow broadcast kind of environment. Beyond that, it will be a challenge for brands to come on-board if there is no self-regulation. Now that OTT is coming under the purview of MIB that may give an impetus to advertising on OTT," he stated.

Giving his perspective on the issue, Xaxis India country Bharat Khatri said that OTT platforms offer brand safety to advertisers along with other advantages of digital advertising.

“Unlike other UGC platforms, OTTs offer brands handpicked premium broadcaster content in a brand-safe & suitable environment, very similar to traditional linear TV advertising with addition of digital targeting layers like demo, geo, handset, and affinity layers. At present on all major AVOD OTT platforms, we don't foresee any concerns around brand safety, ad fraud, or viewability. However, in the case of new-age digital-first content, brands should follow a cautious approach and define their own tolerance limits more from a brand suitability point of view,” Khatri averred.

Khatri further stated that brands have to adopt a programmatic buying framework to ensure all the ad spends are transparently measured via a DSP to detect the domain and device type on which the ads got served.

He also noted that brands can further define the content genre or exclude some specific content where they don't want to advertise as part of the brand safety framework and depending on their tolerance levels.

“India's OTT market will continue to grow at an exponential pace & OTTs can also play a pivotal role in winning the trust of the brands by sharing impression-level info about the user device type, location, content, demographic and other relevant variables which will not only give brands more assurance on brand safety and suitability parameters but is going to help brands measure the RoI in a more scientific way across all brand metrics,” Khatri said.

Isobar South Asia Group MD Shams Jasani said that brand safety is not a big concern on OTT platforms since a lot of content is already filtered.

“In fact, OTT platforms offer brand safety compared to say short-form video platforms. There are two types of content on OTT - SVOD, and AVOD. While SVOD has content that might be considered edgy but it is limited to subscribers and they don't have ads. AVOD content is free and is available for everyone. AVOD content already comes with a lot of filters. Besides, brands have the option to decide the environment in which they want their ads to be viewed depending on their brand positioning,” Jasani stated.

Agreeing with Khatri and Jasani, Interactive Avenues EVP Harish Iyer said OTT platforms are brand-safe compared to short-video UGC platforms. “With OTT content, platforms have control over the kind of content that will go on the platform. Plus, certain bold content comes under the premium watch which automatically excludes advertising opportunity. Whereas short-video platforms have a lot of user-generated content that is moderated but could have slip-ups,” he noted.

Khatri added that advertisers including FMCG clients don't have any apprehension over advertising on OTT platforms. Plus, technology offers clients the opportunity to strategically place ads on content that fits into their positioning. “There are lots of third-party measurement tools available in the market. Digital platforms are willing to integrate certain third-party tools that give brands visibility over the performance of their campaigns,” he stated.

Mirum India Director of Media Preetam Thingalaya said that brand safety is a top priority for advertisers who spend on OTT platforms. The YouTube brand safety crisis had served as an eye-opener for brands. He also said that digital agencies as brand custodians have to ensure that the ads of their clients are shown in a safe environment.

“Most of the content on AVOD platforms are already moderated so there is no concern there. But there are content pieces on AVOD platforms like some of the original shows which certain brands will not be comfortable associating with. Certain brands have a strict ad policy. For example, some brands will not want to associate with anything that has 'skin' in it. Likewise, shows that have violence and explicit language is a no-go area for some,” he expounded.

DAN Performance Group CEO Vivek Bhargava said brand safety is always a concern for brands. However, brands can always buy on OTT platforms programmatically with appropriate brand filters.

Jasani flagged the issue of lack of common measurement, which is hindering the ad revenue potential of OTT platforms. “OTT platforms have seen massive growth in consumption. However, the lack of a common measurement system is limiting its ad revenue monetisation potential. The ad revenue growth is not commensurate with the viewership growth for OTT platforms. A brand would want to know how their ad is performing on different platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other OTT platforms,” he explained.
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