‘Is CTV the Same as OTT?’ Debating This and Other Ad Tech Definitions

The streaming media advertising industry is rife with complex, confused and interchangeable terminology. Definitions for some of the most common terms — like connected TV and over-the-top TV — are fiercely debated.

Amid this confusion, the streaming media advertising industry is undergoing a period of previously unseen growth. Consumers are spending more time with connected media across a growing list of devices and platforms. Soon — and for the first time — more advertising dollars will flow to digital video and connected TV than linear TV.

As the industry grows, advertisers will face questions, challenges and adaptation. The devices at the center of the streaming revolution — connected TVs, smart speakers and streaming media players — can’t be targeted in the same way as desktop computers and mobile phones. And streaming happens across household-based devices, as well as personal devices like smartphones, tablets and computers.

As we adapt advertising for the evolution of streaming media, it’s important we use the same, intentional language to talk about the streaming media advertising landscape. With the same lexicon, we’re better positioned to establish, drive and track measurable advertising outcomes in this new landscape, rather than spending time deciphering mysterious jargon. Let’s explore a few places we can start.

Connected TV (CTV) versus OTT

Often used synonymously, CTV and OTT can both refer to television services and content transmitted via digital means, but we can start to draw a distinction from there. As the name implies, connected TV refers to the television device where content is consumed. A connected TV set is capable of internet connection — either through built-in capabilities (i.e., smart TV) or an internet-connected device (e.g., gaming console, streaming media player). OTT is the delivery system whereby programming is transmitted “over” the TV (i.e., via internet-capable TVs and devices). This definition considers OTT inclusive of streaming video content consumed on devices other than TVs.

Connectivity versus interoperability  

While their definitions aren’t as hotly debated, these terms are interchanged casually, but there are important distinctions. Interoperability refers to the ability for two parties or technologies to make use of common data or a shared understanding of data. Interoperability is commonly used in advertising to refer to identity, technology and advertising solutions that are compatible through common identity keys or shared connections (e.g., crosswalks, clean rooms). Compared to that collaborative ability, connectivity is more akin to infrastructure. It refers to the state of having interdependent systems allowing for broad advertising activation. In connected TV and streaming audio, connectivity may refer to a series of integrations allowing for audience targeting — across demand-side platforms, supply-side platforms, streaming media publishers and ad servers. Both connectivity and interoperability are critical for advertisers looking to activate audience targeting with reach, precision, speed and ease.

Identity graph versus device graph

The layer of identity and data in streaming media advertising is especially complex. There remain streaming media advertising solutions grounded in legacy advertising technology, which make those solutions especially built for streaming media advertising difficult to discern. One legacy piece of technology used in streaming media identity is a device graph.

A device graph is designed to connect individual-level device signals — primarily from desktop and mobile devices — using probabilistic matching to pair devices with anonymous users. When used in streaming media, a device graph may employ the same methodology designed to support digital display advertising use cases to assign ownership of streaming TV and audio devices to anonymous users — which can be impractical or inadequate for streaming media advertising.

Household-level devices like streaming media players, gaming consoles and smart TVs account for more than 80% of streaming TV viewing. These devices are sometimes indiscernible to legacy device graphs relying on cookies and mobile device IDs for signals.

Conversely, an identity graph relies on a dataset (typically of substantial size) that may manage either or both:

  • Household-level identifiers: Address or signals from devices shared within a household (e.g., IP address, device IDs) or both
  • Individual-level identifiers: Name, phone number, signals from personal devices like mobile phones and desktop computers

An identity graph houses and resolves identity components (often referred to as “keys”) into single, persistent IDs. Though sometimes used interchangeably with device graphs, an identity graph incorporates deterministic identity components (e.g., name and address) and methodologies to group identity keys into an individual ID.

In advertising, identity graphs support use cases where identification across individuals, households or devices is required, such as personalization, targeting and measurement applications.

A household ID graph groups individuals or resolves signals to create a single, persistent household ID. Household identity graphs are used for advertising use cases in environments dominated by household-level devices, such as connected TV and streaming audio.

Getting a glossary

There’s a lot of jargon and complexity across connected TV and streaming audio. Tools to share and reference the same definitions are an important start, which is why TransUnion created a streaming media ad tech glossary which deciphers the buzzwords and breaks down the complexity. Get your copy of the streaming media ad tech glossary here.