The debate around consumer data and privacy has focused largely on the big ad tech players, but OTT businesses shouldn’t be complacent, cautions Sourcepoint’s Nial Ferguson.   

Connected TV (CTV) users reached 40.9 million last year as the pandemic forced people to spend a lot more time indoors and many chose to stream video content to keep them occupied. All-in-all, 47 million people consumed digital video at least once per month in 2020. So, the opportunity to reach people via over-the-top (OTT) services is clear for everybody to see.

Though entirely unrelated, the growth in OTT consumption has more or less coincided with an increasing number of global regulations emerging to protect the personal data of consumers. These regulations kicked off with the introduction of the GDPR in the EU in 2018 and, since then, similar regulations have come into force in California, Colorado, and Virginia in the USA, and in Brazil.

Within these regulations, OTT services have mostly escaped mention, but with people spending more time watching digital video, the way that these platforms are handling their users’ data will come under the spotlight. As such, it will be the streaming services putting privacy first that will benefit from the strongest relationships with their users and, of course, avoid any potential fines.

Getting compliant

In line with the digital advertising space as a whole, companies are currently working on identity and targeting solutions for OTT. We’ve already seen the development of several technologies that capture data around viewing habits to provide advertisers with granular details about OTT audiences.

These technologies come with a promise of better targeting for advertisers, and better monetisation for publishers. And all parties involved in this data capturing are required to meet the ever-changing privacy regulations and ensure they pay as much attention to the OTT space as they do in other areas of digital.

Within the UK and the EU, the GDPR requires OTT platforms to gain explicit consent to collect, analyse, and optimise data, while the IAB Europe Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) exists to ensure data compliance in advertising.

Despite this, regulators haven’t yet paid a huge amount of attention to OTT platforms, instead focusing on traditional ad tech players like Google. Given the huge growth in this space, however, it’s only a matter of time before regulators start taking notice. But even if they don’t, we should all be making sure we respect and protect consumer data anyway, as we should all be looking to become better digital citizens.

Delivering a consistent experience

One of the problems facing publishers when aiming for compliance is ensuring that the preferences of users are maintained across not just CTV, but also desktop and mobile. People consume content across a number of devices, and preferences need to be transferred seamlessly across these logged-in environments to limit the disruption to the user experience, while opening up more targeting opportunities for advertisers.

Working with a compliant content management platform can ensure that publishers are both reaching the right level of compliance and doing so across devices. And publishers should be looking to integrate a single interface to deliver this consistent experience. 

It’s important to note that this interface must also be able to adapt to the use of remote controls. The IAB’s TCF provides a framework for a user interface that’s familiar to users, but work is needed to make this suitable for CTV audiences through the introduction of multiple icons and a focus on horizontal and vertical navigation. Some CTV providers even opt to use features, like QR codes, to make it easier for consumers to access privacy policies.

Proving value

The growth of OTT also provides brands with the opportunity to develop direct relationships with their users and explain to them how the value exchange works. Most of the internet is kept free by advertising, but many consumers remain unaware that it’s their data that powers this advertising. This has meant that consumers often tick boxes and agree to share their data without knowing what it is they’re agreeing too. However, data is now something the public is more interested in, with the increase of mainstream media coverage over the last few years.

This makes it even more crucial that there is a consistent and coherent approach to serving up consent solutions to users – in an environment where they are used to being fully in control of their experience – ensuring that users understand exactly what their data is used for and how this keeps content open to them.

OTT users are able to choose where, when, and what to watch, so this control and seamlessness should extend to the way they manage their privacy too. Consumers should be offered the right level of granularity, where they are able to select consent based on vendor and/or purpose. And their consent choices shouldn’t apply to all the services offered on a particular device or platform, instead they should be able to pick the permissions for each individually.

As privacy regulations become more common around the world, and more attention begins to be paid by regulators to OTT, managing privacy must be a top priority with the video-streaming space. A solution where you can compliantly collect and capture user data, while delivering must-see content without another subscription, is a must for OTT publishers.