While many of the terms used in the streaming space are already familiar to brands and advertisers, for other phrases, it can seem like an entirely new language—or a whole new way of defining terms and acronyms we thought we understood.
As the streaming space itself—and the advertising options within it—continue to evolve, it becomes increasingly important to understand and speak the language, or risk your brand being left out of the conversation.
In this glossary, we define some common video streaming terms, and provide context and examples to help unpack the moving parts of the streaming landscape, and look at how those parts and the key players within connect.
- Ad Servers
- Addressable TV Advertising
- Advanced TV (ATV)
- Connected TV (CTV)
- Data Providers
- DSP (Demand-side Platform)
- Free Ad-supported TV (FAST)
- Linear TV
- OTT (Over-the-Top)
- Programmatic Advertising
- Programmatic OTT Advertising
- Programmatic TV Advertising
- SSP (Supply-side Platform)
- Streaming Performance Measurement
- VOD (Video on Demand)
- AVOD (Advertising-supported Video on Demand)
- SVOD (Subscription-based Video on Demand)
- TVOD (Transactional Video on Demand)
- PVOD (Premium Video on Demand)
An ad server is an advertising technology used by advertisers, publishers, ad networks, and ad agencies to manage online advertising campaigns and serve ads.
In streaming advertising, ad servers are used on both the buy-side and the sell-side.
On the sell-side, inventory is sold to different agencies and advertisers through a variety of methods, including: upfront guarantees, scatter market buys, Programmatic, and Programmatic guarantees. An ad server on the sell-side ‘sees’ that there’s an available slot to insert an ad, and helps determine which advertiser will be dynamically spliced in that spot.
On the buy-side, the ad server facilitates the delivery of the creative from the buyer’s hands to the seller’s hands, for the seller to then insert the creative.
Addressable TV advertising provides 1:1 targeting in a traditional TV environment. Advertisers are able to segment and serve ads to selected, internet-connected linear TV and OTT/CTV audiences (households), thereby ‘addressing’ the specific audiences they want to reach through their ads. This is accomplished by matching an advertiser’s first or third-party dataset to a cable provider’s dataset in a privacy-compliant way.
The audience segments you’re able to reach through Addressable TV advertising can be targeted based on a number of factors, including viewers’ geographic location, and demographics they fall within. This level of targeting was not previously available to linear TV advertisers, whose ads/commercials were historically shown to the full linear TV viewing audience, regardless of their location, behavioral criteria met, or which demographics they fall within (ie. household income, whether there are children in the household, age, gender, etc.)
Ever wondered why you get different ads than your friends when you’re watching the same thing? Addressable TV advertising is likely at play, providing better-targeted-to-you-specifically ads—as opposed to traditional TV ads, with all viewers seeing the same commercials.
Advanced TV is a broad category that all non-traditional television options fall within, including data-driven linear TV, Programmatic TV, and addressable TV.
An advertiser represents a type of product, or service manufactured or provided by a particular company, under a specific name. Businesses and brands can leverage advertising to establish connections and build relationships with new and recurring consumers. In the streaming space, advertisers have the choice of self-service options, or partnering with an agency.
An agency—often a digital marketing agency—acts as an extension of an advertiser’s brand or marketing team, and brings advantages like aggregated buying leverage, preferential media rates, ad tech expertise, and publisher relationships, which individual advertisers typically lack.
Video streaming service aggregators—including Sling, Philo, Roku, and DirecTV Stream, among others—are services that scan multiple video streaming publishers to list movies and TV shows available on various platforms. These sites do not typically produce the content itself, but often control a portion of the ad inventory, and are thus key players in the value chain.
Connected TVs are all televisions that are capable of being connected to, and delivering content via, the internet. Most televisions on the market today already have built-in internet connectivity; these are also commonly referred to as ‘Smart TVs.’
Don’t have a smart TV? Don’t worry! You can teach some older televisions new tricks, after all. When the ‘intelligence’ isn’t already baked into the TV, after-market devices (ie. Apple TV, gaming console, streaming stick) can be purchased to provide that internet connectivity, effectively turning your older television into a Smart TV.
Advertising Note: While a great deal of Connected TV viewership is OTT, not all of it falls under that definition. For example, while watching YouTube or streaming Twitch on connected TVs, viewers may see display banner advertising. That advertising is considered connected TV advertising, but it is not OTT.
Cord-cutters are viewers who have canceled their services with cord-connected services, including cable and satellite television providers, and made the switch to wireless (cordless), internet-connected streaming services.
Cord-nevers are people who have never subscribed to cable or satellite television services. For these folks, there is no cord to cut; their past and current subscriptions have been exclusively internet-based. We expect the number of cord-nevers will greatly increase as Gen Z gets older, and becomes a more dominant buying force over time.
Cord-shavers are people who still subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite television service, but have switched to a cheaper, ‘bare bones’ subscription/package, building out their access to more content, and premium content, through a streaming service subscription, or multiple subscriptions.
As for why some people prefer to maintain some level of cable or satellite television connection? It often comes down to easier access to local sports and news programming. That said, streaming services have made leaps and bounds in what they can offer viewers on both the news and sports front, so today’s cord-shavers may fully cut the cord over time.
Additionally, for some viewers, a basic cable subscription may be bundled with their internet and/or home phone service, and only account for a small portion of that total bill. In those instances, it can become a ‘Why not?’ situation, where it’s only costing a modest fee to cover the basics, so they keep the cord, but still rely on streaming services to flesh out their entertainment options.
When a media buy is negotiated between buyers and sellers, it typically includes not simply advertising spots, but also an audience and ratings guarantee. A currency is the common language that buyers and sellers use to agree on exactly what is being bought and sold, and how buyers and sellers determine that what was purchased was actually delivered.
Learn more about currency in The TV Measurement Landscape is No Longer One Size Fits All.
Data providers are companies who build and maintain profiles of users so that advertisers and agencies can use those profiles (often grouped together in segments) for campaign targeting purposes.
Demand-side platforms, commonly referred to as DSPs, are advertising technology platforms that allow advertisers to purchase available advertising inventory with the help of automation.
FASTs are fully advertising-supported services that offer both linear TV content, and on-demand programming, at no monetary cost to the viewer. FASTs are growing in popularity not only because they’re free to use, but also because the content within them is so easily accessible. The cloud-native programming within FASTs doesn’t necessitate the use of streaming devices, or set-top boxes; viewers simply need an internet-connected device to watch (ie. desktop, laptop, mobile phone, tablet).
Linear TV refers to programs that are aired in a linear fashion, with shows, movies, events and more airing at a specific time as part of a planned, predetermined schedule. In the old days, we simply called this “watching TV.”
Linear television is also commonly referred to as “traditional TV” or “live programming”—the only type of television viewing that was available for many years, prior to the availability of on-demand programs, and built-in recording capabilities, which allow viewers to set programs to record ahead of time for later viewing at their leisure.
OTT is TV or TV-like content—also known as studio-quality content—delivered via the internet. OTT breaks out into ad-supported and non ad-supported options.
Before we can understand how media and advertising can be delivered “over-the-top,” we have to define what the ‘top’ even is! In the case of video streaming, the ‘top’ refers to traditional broadcast/over-the-air content, delivered through cable and satellite TV providers. Going over-the-top has historically referenced circumventing the need for a cable box.
OTT video content jumps over-the-top by delivering the desired content to viewers directly via an app, website, or streaming stick, enabled-TV, or device (ie. Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, some video game consoles), without the necessity for a cable or satellite provider.
It’s important to note that while OTT content is often consumed on a Connected TV, the terms are not interchangeable.
Using Hulu as an example, viewers are able to watch Hulu on their connected TV, but they can also watch Hulu content on their desktop or mobile device. No matter how viewers are accessing that content, it is all considered OTT. However, only the connected TV viewers are considered a connected TV audience.
Programmatic refers to the automated way through which advertising is bought and sold. Available ad inventory is managed through an auction-based platform that enables advertisers to bid on and purchase ads, often in real-time, against established variables. Programmatic advertising aims to increase efficiency and targeting precision, giving advertisers enhanced control over the variables (ie. location, time of day, device type) that will trigger their ad for a given query.
Programmatic OTT ads are purchased in a real-time bidding environment, allowing the buyer to bid on impressions available across different platforms and apps, as opposed to entering into a direct, guaranteed deal with one specific partner.
Programmatic TV advertising can be thought of as next-level conventional TV ads. It enables advertisers to secure traditional TV inventory, but the buying mechanism is through a DSP. With Programmatic TV advertising, advertisers don’t need to call the network and negotiate a whole schedule; they can bid on or buy inventory in a specific market, specific program, specific daypart, or all of the above, through the platform.
Unlike digital programmatic, Programmatic TV advertising does not feature a real-time bidding environment; it’s just a way of booking traditional TV advertising in a non-traditional way, providing you with options of how and who to target. When you win that bid, you’re effectively going to buy the following week, not immediately.
Publishers—including Hulu, Peacock, Apple+, Disney+, Netflix, and Tubi, among many others—are streaming providers who offer an on-demand online entertainment source for TV shows, movies, and other streaming media (ie. streaming audio ads), and create their own original content.
Supply-side platforms (SSPs) are advertising technology platforms used by publishers to manage, sell, and optimize available ad inventory space on their websites and mobile apps in an automated way. By using an SSP, publishers can show display, video, and native ads to their visitors, and monetize their website and apps.
SSPs are how publishers make their inventory available to programmatic buyers; SSPs connect to DSPs to make inventory available.
Streaming performance measurement can be broadly defined as the way advertisers measure the post-exposure behaviors of consumers. Because measurement can mean different things to different brands, it’s important to start by defining your goals, and deciding which KPIs are most important in how you’ll measure success for a given campaign. These may include: brand awareness lift, enhanced reach and frequency, improved ROI, increased conversions, and more.
Even the ways you purchase streaming ads can differ depending on what you want to measure, underscoring the importance of first defining your goals.
Video on demand refers to video content that is available to watch whenever a viewer chooses to do so; it can be considered the opposite of linear TV. Unlike scheduled, over-the-air programming, video on demand content is not broadcast; it is stored in, and accessed via, a content library.
The good news is, unlike those physical copies of movies and television shows we used to rent from Blockbuster, with video on demand content, there is no waiting for someone to ‘return the movie.’ The same video file can be accessed within the provider’s content database by many users simultaneously without issue.
Many popular streaming services fall within the broader VOD category, with some services offering free access to some or all content.
AVOD content refers to any video on demand content whose availability to the viewer is at least partially supported by advertising shown throughout their viewing session.
The available ad types can vary from service to service, and are typically displayed before, during, and/or after the programming, much like a typical commercial break. Popular examples of AVOD platforms include Tubi and Pluto TV.
Viewer Advantage: The primary advantage AVOD content offers viewers comes down to price; in exchange for watching a few non-skippable commercials, they enjoy free or reduced-cost content. Using Hulu as an example, the ad-supported plan currently costs subscribers $6.99/month, while access without ads costs $12.99/month.
Advertiser Advantage: The primary advantage AVOD content offers advertisers is the ability to reach a large streaming audience that is only increasing in size, with greater targeting precision and measurement capabilities—and a lower cost of entry—than traditional broadcast advertising is able to offer.
SVOD content is video on demand content that is made available to viewers through a recurring subscription, often with the ability to cancel at any time. Subscription fees are typically paid monthly or annually, with some services offering multiple subscription tiers; commonly, the same content is available across all tiers, with the primary differentiator being how many devices can be logged into the same account at once (how many different streams can run simultaneously).
For most SVOD content, the subscription fee essentially covers all associated costs, and no external ads are shown. You may still see banners and trailers for other content available to watch through the platform, but not traditional ads from external advertisers. Popular examples of this type of SVOD offering include Netflix and HBO Max.
Transactional video on demand is what is more commonly referred to as pay-per-view programming. When accessing TVOD content—which can include movies, television shows, streamed live events (ie. sporting events, concerts, classes/trainings), and more—the viewer pays a one-time cost to watch that piece of content.
Some TVOD content is available to watch for a limited time after purchase (what essentially translates to a “video rental” – ie. Amazon Prime Video), while other TVOD content can be accessed at any time, as often as desired, once that predetermined price has been paid.
PVOD is a sub-category of TVOD that gained popularity during the pandemic as more folks were accessing all of their entertainment from the comfort and safety of their couches.
A common example of PVOD content is seen through early access to movies, or the ‘at-home’ version of watching a movie when it would typically be filling movie theater seats. Because the content isn’t yet available to a wider audience, those who are granted or pay for that early access are viewing currently-premium content.
Viewers are the people actually watching streaming content, including people watching a particular program on a device where a streaming ad is shown.