Under the hood: how TV tracking works, and what brands and apps can gain in this emerging market

With the rising cost of performance and install-based advertising, alongside the increase in high-profile app campaigns on TV (think Clash of Clans and Game of War TV spots), more and more app publishers are considering other channels for marketing and turning to TV advertising. App marketers are extremely performance-focused - an approach that may be initially difficult to bring from online and mobile digital advertising to the TV's big screen. As such, there's a growing need for accuracy in TV ad tracking and app performance technology, and the key challenge is that this is a truly complex and new market need.

How does TV ad tracking and attribution truly work?

TV ads are fundamentally different in that there's typically no digital signal to let us know that an ad has been viewed. This is unlike digital advertising, where we can track impressions or clicks.

The first approach to TV tracking avoids trying to find such a signal altogether. Given the assumption that a volume of potential users seeing a TV spot will rapidly spark a burst of activity, some analytics solutions infer the performance of TV advertising simply by measuring the size of that burst as it exceeds the typical volume for a given region, time, and day. This approach is statistically sound and relatively straightforward, but since it only looks at the aggregate volume, it doesn't allow us to associate activity (i.e. purchases) that happens any time after the initial ad.

A second step further attempts to solve that problem by analyzing a probability that a given user was part of the burst. In addition to the ad channel distribution, these algorithms take into account specific timing, device characteristics, and network types, in order to score a potential attribution.

While this approach is much more tricky to get right, it's more accurate in attributing a user to a TV ad spot. User-specific attribution can have long-term effects on your analytics, and so these approaches should always take as many variables into account as possible, and not just the timestamps.

Finally, an interesting approach is being pioneered by Shazam, who you may recall as the one-time phone number you could call to identify a song on the radio. They apply their audio fingerprinting technology to identify the audio track of a TV spot, which can then be used to link the user to specific content. It remains to be seen if users will actually pull out the app while the ad is running. If they do, though, this would be not only a powerful signal, but a very valuable dataset to improve algorithmic detection of additional users.

The common theme is that these approaches all need a single solid data source, and can significantly gain by being informed by each other. The industry needs strong, flexible APIs to shift, combine and analyze data. On our part, we've integrated multiple TV attribution partners for this purpose - eschewing developing our own algorithm. The first third parties that we've allowed to push data _back_ into our system are the TV attribution algorithms currently beta-testing these integrations.

What can the apps market and brand marketers expect to gain from this emerging technology?

Mobile-first or mobile-heavy businesses are extremely performance-driven, and have completely different priorities than businesses that have run branding campaigns. As more app and brand marketers run TV advertising spots on conventional broadcast channels as well as smart TVs, the increase in availability of more accurate TV attribution solutions will enable this market to mature more quickly.

Marketers are demanding solid analytics if they're going to spend significantly on TV. Recent market acquisitions tell a story that certain cable companies are catching up to this fact.

Lessons to be Learned

The key for brands is understanding how to leverage the new TV ad tracking and attribution tools in order to optimize campaigns accordingly. When approaching TV advertising, brands and app marketers should focus on well-targeted, well-crafted messages that resonate with their audience. This approach is measurable with the tools available in the market today, and this approach will result in better marketing outreach and engagement with today's connected TV audiences.

What the Future Holds for TV Apps and Advertising

With the App Store coming to Apple TVs and the availability of TVOS SDK, brands and app publishers are gearing up to seize this massive app market opportunity to engage target audiences on the bigger screen. Apple has already on-boarded key players in their beta TVOS SDK program: Airbnb, Guitar Hero, Rayman, and Galaxy on Fire. As the Apple TV App Store fully rolls out, brands and app publishers can look forward to tapping into this large, existing audience who are already integrated with the Apple ecosystem, and addressing this new market with ads supported by increasingly accurate analytics and attribution technology.

We're very excited to see where TVOS can go and how this can improve the offerings available on the big screen. If the new Apple TVs deliver, it's also a fascinating opportunity for many people who have been straining against the chains of traditional TV for a long time.

Simon Kendall is the head of communications at adjust.

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