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CTV is at a tipping point — and leading the way for publishers everywhere

Ticking clock with man hanging off one hand of the clock dropping a TV remove and a couple sitting on the other hand watching TV.

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / The Current

TV is dead. Long live TV.

At the Forward ’24 event in New York recently, my colleagues and I convened hundreds of publishers and advertisers to discuss the state of TV. While the industry has been forecasting the rise of streaming for years, it was clear that day we’d arrived at a tipping point.

Before we go too far, let me first preface this entire piece by saying that I LOVE television and movies. Like many other art forms, they are fundamental to how we understand the world, how we communicate and how we see ourselves. TV and film are community-builders, in that they represent a galvanizing force in an increasingly fragmented world. It’s one of our last shared experiences and it’s part of my daily experience like so many of you.

But the TV industry has entered a new frontier, and advertisers will have a tremendous amount to say about how it will unfold, particularly as an alternative to the advertising power bases represented by today’s Big Tech walled gardens.

As of 2022, more viewers are tuned in on streaming platforms than via traditional cable services. No doubt there are more high-budget, visually stunning shows on TV than ever before, thanks in large part to streaming platforms. In the race for new subscribers, streaming leaders are in the midst of an expensive content arms race. Content owners can fund their content in two ways: subscriptions or ads. And as pretty much every major media company has reported over the last couple of years, ad-supported TV viewers are much more profitable and lucrative than subscription-only customers…especially when those ads are data-driven.

Ad-supported TV viewers are so important in this emerging streaming environment that it is upending traditional TV advertising processes, such as the annual upfronts. According to new research from Advertiser Perceptions and The Trade Desk Intelligence, the majority of U.S. marketers — 63% — are leading their 2024 upfront buys with CTV or weighting their streaming and linear TV investments equally. Meanwhile, buyers prioritizing linear TV alone dropped 15% in the past year.

From an advertiser perspective, this all points to the availability of premium digital TV content at scale. And if video remains a more effective way to reach the hearts and minds of your target audience, then the emergence of CTV represents the strongest challenge yet to user-generated video content (UGC) that characterizes many of the Big Tech advertising platforms.

Case in point, our expanded partnership with NBCUniversal for this summer’s Paris Olympic Games that was announced this week. NBCUniversal is continuing its journey to democratize access to TV advertisers on premium content like the Olympics and Paralympic Games. For the first time, advertising during these tentpole events will be available to programmatic buyers via The Trade Desk. The Olympics is one of the most-watched events in the world. I can assure you that no UGC can rival the drama and excitement and engagement of this global phenomenon. Content owners are leaning in and NBCUniversal is leading the way.

"With CTV at the forefront of a new approach to identity and authentication, publishers small and large are seeing the value of taking back control."

As a result, advertisers have an alternative, at scale. Not only is connected TV (CTV) a more premium content environment than UGC, it also comes with an authenticated audience. As we build the new identity and authentication fabric of the open internet over the next couple of years, in many ways, CTV is leading the way. Cookies, for example, have never been present in CTV. Today’s streaming leaders are at the forefront of new approaches to identity and authentication because they understand the central role that TV plays in all major brand campaigns. And in pioneering new approaches, they are highlighting how the internet can be revalued based on authentication and showcasing best practices for other industry sectors that need to follow, such as journalism.

This is also why you’ll see CTV factor prominently into The Trade Desk’s Sellers and Publishers 500+, a product Adweek reported on last month that we’ll release this summer as part of our Kokai upgrade. It represents what we believe to be the very best advertising inventory on the open internet. In the same way that walled gardens have done a great job of providing easy access to inventory at scale, the Sellers and Publishers 500+ can help provide advertisers with easy and intuitive access to better premium content on the open internet.

Perhaps for the first time since the emergence of the walled gardens, which cordoned off large swathes of our digital economy, we — as advertisers, agencies, publishers and ad tech players — have a generational opportunity to pen our own future.

The deprecation of cookies, the rise of retail data, the fragmentation of audiences and corresponding rise in the importance of an omnichannel approach — these are all pushing advertisers to seek authenticated audiences at scale on the open internet, and CTV is rightfully emerging at the center of it all.

With CTV at the forefront of a new approach to identity and authentication, publishers small and large are seeing the value of taking back control, of finding ways to authenticate their audiences, in ways that are more powerful and privacy-conscious than cookies could ever aspire to be. Already this is having a positive effect on driving better revenue for many publishers.

Let me leave you with a thought inspired by one of my favorite TV shows, The Bear, an Emmy-award-winning drama set in the Chicago restaurant world. It’s a gripping and funny show, which I highly recommend. Last week I was rewatching the “Forks” episode, which features a cameo by Olivia Colman, who is on the verge of telling one of the lead characters, Richie, how her WWII veteran father always signed off his letters. But before the big reveal, she gets called into a meeting and we never find out. The camera shifts its focus to a sign in the kitchen bearing three words, which suddenly mean so much: “Every Second Counts.”

No doubt that mantra is crucial in the restaurant industry. But it’s also crucial in our industry. Every second counts. Those three words sum up how I feel about this moment in time. It’s a call to action to make sure thrilling, premium content like The Bear continues to be produced.

We don’t have to settle for a future of media inundated with smartphone videos of people’s pets or their vacations. We don’t have to settle for an internet populated with people shouting horrible things into the void. Nor do we have to settle for walled-off digital environments that don’t give advertisers the visibility and accountability they deserve.

Premium content is the difference. It matters to consumers, and it matters to advertisers. But it won’t thrive if we let institutional inertia lure us into complacency. 

Let’s write the future of our industry. Because we can, and it’s up to us.

So let’s get to work because…every second counts.

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk, Inc.