A Beginner’s Guide to OTT Advertising

For digital marketers, the bag of acronyms just keeps growing. From PPC to SEO, SEM and more, it’s important to stay on top of all aspects of a well-rounded approach to advertising. Over the last couple of years, a new option is showing real promise for video advertising: OTT.

OTT, or “over-the-top,” advertising is delivered straight through streaming devices or smart TVs. That means you can now reach targeted audiences as they take in an episode of their favorite shows and movies at home, or on the go.

In this article, I’ll lay out 5 things you need to know about this promising advertising medium.


1.      But First, why OTT?

It’s been happening for several years now, but it can’t be ignored any longer – viewers, millennials and Gen Z (a growing market segment) specifically, are turning to streaming devices for the majority of their content.

Nearly 60% of young adults say that streaming is the primary method of watching TV in 2020. Simply put, it’s time to get on board.

Consider the benefits of OTT advertising: it has huge numbers of potential viewers (and it trends younger, something most advertisers are looking for), the ad platforms are easy to use, and it eliminates wasteful spending on audiences that you aren’t trying to reach.

At the risk of oversimplifying, OTT is almost like TV advertising…only better.


2.      Know Where it Shows

To say that OTT encompasses all forms of streaming content wouldn’t exactly be accurate. When you dive into your options, it quickly becomes apparent that there are more details below the surface.

First, you’ll need to understand the differences in distribution. This includes:

SVOD (subscription video on demand)

This service is one which you’re probably most familiar. It refers to streaming services where a subscription is required in order to access content. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are the main players in this space.

AVOD (advertising-based video on demand)

In the last year or two, we’ve seen the rise of AVOD platforms. These services do not require a paid subscription, but rather are supported through advertisers (somewhat similar to networks TV). Crackle, Vudu, and Tubi are the most prominent at this time, but new services are rolling out on a regular basis.

vMVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors)

These platforms have become somewhat like the cable of the future. Services like Sling TV and YouTube TV offer live events and many of the regular channels you’re accustomed to seeing on cable packages.

CTV (connected TV)

This isn’t so much a service itself, but simply a TV that is connected to the internet (meaning ads can be displayed on it).

Why it Matters

Though all of the above are considered OTT, it’s important to note that there are major differences in terms of price, potential reach, type of advertising content, among other factors. An entire article could be written on how to determine which of these OTT options is right for you. For now, the important takeaway is to simply recognize that multiple avenues exist.


3.      Where Do I Buy?

Those who are familiar with other forms of digital advertising – most notably Google or any one of the social media options – are used to building and submitting ads on platforms created by the service itself. For example, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, even LinkedIn, have their own ad services. Is it the same for OTT? Somewhat unfortunately, the answer is no.

The easiest way to explain the process of purchasing OTT ad space is to break it down into two categories: Guaranteed IOs, and Programmatic.

For the former, the outcomes are much more predictable. You make a purchase at a set price, and have a predetermined number of impressions. The latter, the programmatic option, is a bit more malleable.

Programmatic buyers are participating in a real-time bidding process in which they are able to target based on their preferences, but are not guaranteed a set number of impressions or frequency.

When it comes to making the decision of whether to go with a Guaranteed or Programmatic option, it all comes down to your goals and preferences. Some industry experts have recommended experimenting with each and finding out which works best for your brand(s) specifically.


4.      What About the Creative?

The best way to describe OTT ads is by saying that they fall somewhere in between a YouTube ad and a TV commercial. The content is short (30 seconds or less), but should still be high-quality and engaging.

One interesting aspect of the OTT creative process is that you can create different ads for different audiences. For example, if you’re advertising for a nationwide coffee chain, you’d want to run a spot about hot coffee in Michigan, and cold coffee in south Florida. Advertisers who are experienced with breaking down Facebook or Google ad campaigns using segmented audiences should be well-positioned to take advantage of these options offered by OTT.

Make sure that your video content is able to be formatted for a range of different devices. In nearly all cases, your advertisement will be shown on multiple platforms with different sizing specifications.


5.      The Attribution Question

Measuring the impact of your ads is an important component of any digital marketing strategy. However, it’s not always as straightforward as we would hope.

Simply due to the nature of OTT advertising, attribution is a tricky process. The good news? Several companies are taking the initiative in putting together an attribution formula specifically made for OTT advertisers.

Whether you’re looking to track things like website traffic or online purchases, or even foot traffic and brand recall, there are several options available. Expect the method of following consumer behavior after viewing OTT ads to improve rapidly over the next couple of years.



Digital content has taken off in the past five years, and there’s no looking back. In fact, some media experts are predicting that OTT will, at some point in the not-too-distant future, overtake traditional TV advertising.

Given the recent trends, this seems like a safe prediction. Advertisers who take the time to learn OTT best practices will undoubtedly have a major advantage as we move into the 2020s.