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7 May 2020

TVSquared staves off ad tech downturn with budget-saving analytics

Although the current pandemic is putting many in the ad tech ecosystem on red alert, Edinburgh-based video measurement vendor TVSquared seems to be keeping its cool. The company is still expecting to grow this year by providing analytics to what it identifies as an increasingly budget-conscious industry.

TVSquared is taking the long view – approaching the pandemic as a catalyst for the demise of linear TV. Speaking to Faultline this week, the company’s founder and CEO, Calum Smeaton, assured us that TVSquared is well prepared for this change. But we could not help but wonder whether there may be some shortfall in business as the transition takes place much quicker than expected.

For the moment, TVSquared is in the envious position of its service being just as valuable as it was before the pandemic, if not more so. “We are seeing more and more demand for attribution,” explained Smeaton. Given the current crisis, customers are drawing their purse strings tighter and attribution allows for clear judgement on the necessity of spending.

While many ad campaigns have been pulled, Smeaton said that TVSquared has seen “both sides of the coin”, with many clients in industries such as direct to consumer education and personal care accelerating their spend. Smeaton felt that this “broad range of revenue sources” had been a safety net and that the company had seen far less cancellation requests than initially suspected.

Of course, some customers have pushed back their campaigns, primarily those in the expected industries – travel, events and entertainment. With those clients, Smeaton said the company has tried to be as flexible as possible on a case-by-case basis, taking the long-view that client relationships must be maintained.

While the range of clients may be broad, TVSquared is still earning most of its money through linear attribution. Although unable to give an exact figure, Smeaton estimated linear made up around 95% of TVSquared’s business.

So, despite his infectious optimism, we could not help but put some of the present realities to Smeaton. Two of TVSquared’s flagship customers have announced concerning Q1 results. NBCUniversal’s ad revenues were down 7% and its parent company Comcast lost 400,000 video subs. Surely this creates a gaping hole in TVSquared’s bread and butter business?

Smeaton seemed unphased, reiterating that the company was prepared for this transition. “Before Covid-19, we were expecting 2020 to be a big year for OTT and CTVs. The pandemic has just accelerated the changing mix that advertisers have, and our platform can handle both,” Smeaton explained.

TVSquared is expecting an “inevitably slow” Q2, but Smeaton was adamant that it is on track to grow this year. Despite the pause on much of the industry, “new advertisers are still coming in and signing up”. Smeaton observed that “advertisers are trying out new things and being more flexible”, giving examples of how campaigns have changed their tone across all sectors.

Although accepting that the coming few months will be difficult for everyone, Smeaton said that things will improve, but in the meantime “advertisers will simply need to adapt to the new normal.”

Since last speaking to Faultline in January, TVSquared has launched its always-on attribution platform as part of its ADvantage platform. Ingesting data from set tops, smart TVs, digital ad servers and more, from which the company said it catches 100% of ad impressions in real time. This shortens the process of evaluation, meaning advertisers can gain an understanding of what is and isn’t working within the first day of a campaign.

Smeaton explained this put ADvantage more in line with the swift working schedules of advertisers. “A lot of the process in the past has been attribution studies – collect lots of data, go away, write a report – a 3 to 6-month exercise. It’s not a great way to operate in a world of instant gratification.”

It seems TVSquared has been able to improve its service without much extra investment. Smeaton claimed the company has always run that way, explaining how the platform has been built to process that data as soon as it arrives. The always-on attribution feature simply opened this capability up to its customers. Previously, attribution data was delivered to clients via automatic content recognition – where data is taken from a smaller subset of viewers and devices.

Concerning the recent Icebucket scandal, a server-side ad insertion fraud operation that spoofed over 3 million CTVs, Smeaton seemed unconcerned that this mistrust of advertising analytics had spread to its patch of the industry.

“From an attribution standpoint, we’re one removed from that. We’re more interested in someone buying something, and bots rarely go and buy things,” he explained.

Finally, we could not let Smeaton go without probing yet again about the company’s suspected involvement with Peacock. TVSquared has been flirting with Comcast since it collaborated with the giant on its Effectv advertising division in August last year. The honeymoon phase continued into December, when TVSquared’s attribution services was extended to NBCUniversal.

Despite Peacock’s soft launch already being underway, Smeaton did not let up any further confirmation on whether TVSquared was whirring away behind the scenes. With promises of brand insights in the coming weeks, we will be keeping a close eye on proceedings.