The Age Of In-Home Device Targeting Is Coming

If things break AT&T’s way, the company will offer advertisers something unprecedented: the ability to run ads not just on TV, but on the right TV within the right household, and with digital ads targeting that user’s phone, laptop, and tablet to bolster the original TV ad.

This targeting technology is approaching reality. While the FCC might block such a scenario, I don’t think that will be the case, as explained in greater detail below. Within a few years, the combination of widespread addressable TV ads, programmatic TV, and device targeting will usher in an exciting new era of cross-channel precision for advertisers.

Where We Are—And Aren’t
Currently, being able to pull an ad based on someone’s viewing of a traditional TV station isn’t possible. We simply aren’t there yet. There’s not enough of a connection between a single person’s viewing habits and the person’s behavior on other devices.

The exceptions are the ever-expanding walled gardens: over-the-top streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which employ a sign-on for their apps. For the rest of the addressable TV universe, even the best probabilistic model isn’t strong enough to draw a reliable connection with other devices.

For example, I have a son who is 21 and a daughter who’s 15. Both watch very different types of programming and have different profiles as defined not only by their viewing habits, but by their behavior on other devices. I think that this year we’ll begin to see vertically integrated telecos merging that data more and more.

In 2015, AT&T bought DirecTV, and as a result, the company will soon (if it doesn’t already) have the ability to note what a household is watching on its DirecTVs as well as its online activity on various devices (that is, if the family is using AT&T’s broadband and/or its wireless services).

That’s a big “if.” But if you are signed up with AT&T for all of your communications, then AT&T will be able to offer advertisers comprehensive access to your media mix on par with—or exceeding—what Facebook can offer today.

The FCC Objection
At this point, the reader might point out that the FCC has proposed blocking exactly this kind of scenario. Based on my reading, I predict the FCC will recommend that as long as personal information isn’t transmitted, this kind of access won’t be a problem.

If the data is anonymized and bundled, then telecom companies using the type of data that they can collect will probably be OK based on how the FCC has made decisions over the past 10 years. The most likely future scenario is that a telecom company would send a message similar to: “We have a user who is interested in X; would you like to buy an ad?” rather than mentioning the user by name.

PII protection has been a major line drawn in the sand for some years. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

What’s Next
Over time, it will be fairly easy to distinguish who is watching what and who is using which device. For instance, if I’m watching the Science Channel on my TV, that doesn’t mean that it would make sense to target every device in the house with ads based on the profile of someone who watches the Science Channel. My 15-year-old daughter has very different media preferences, which are reflected in her iPad-based browsing and streaming.

With this level of targeting, brands would be able to put their ads on specific devices where they’re most likely to resonate, improving performance and (theoretically) saving them significant money in the process.

In addition, they’d be able to bolster their TV ads with ads on those devices. If you saw a Ford ad on TV, then you might see one pop up on your iPad shortly afterward. Alphonso, a company that uses a Shazam-like listening technology to sync ads on TVs and devices, claims that such synchronized targeting can yield an increase of up to five times in brand lift over TV alone. Common sense dictates that seeing the same ad or a related ad on your device after seeing it on TV will be more effective than just viewing it on TV.

This type of hyper-efficient, granular household targeting looks to be close at hand. For marketers that are used to wasting money on ads that target the wrong people, these are exciting times.

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