The CTV India market maybe small, but it surely packs a big punch: mediasmart’s Nikhil Kumar

Mumbai: With the changing digital landscape, consumers are warming up to connected TVs (CTV) like never before. As Indian audiences increasingly embrace OTT content while gradually making the shift from traditional linear TV viewing, the change also presents an untapped advertising goldmine for brands and advertisers alike.

On the sidelines of the Indian Digital Brand Fest organised by, we caught up with Affle-owned mediasmart’s vice president of India & SEA Nikhil Kumar, to understand how advertisers can buckle up to face this new beast in advertising. Last year, mediasmart commissioned a research that helped understand the CTV behaviour patterns in India to provide greater market understanding. As the agency gears up to release its latest industry report on the CTV ecosystem in India that would help fast track the growth of this industry, we take a deep dive into some of the underlying challenges and come away with some key takeaways.

Kumar, a consumer marketing professional with over a decade of experience working in FMCG , retail, F&B, and ad-tech set-ups with global brands like TikTok, Puma, L'Oreal, Cafe Coffee Day, and InMobi, is extremely bullish about the current and future role of CTV as a medium for delivering impact for brands. He believes that CTV consumption today goes beyond inhibitions of individual consumption of mobile screens and probably also brings back the family-viewing phenomenon of linear television, but with very measurable metrics of targeting and delivery.

In an in-depth interaction with, Kumar also talks about his journey from primarily marketing brands spread across the consumer goods sector , food retail , sports & wellness, to now navigating the ad-tech space. "While I learnt a lot on the marketing side about what the consumer sentiment is, what I really enjoyed when I switched sides was that you understood where every dollar that the marketing guy was spending was actually going. And also, more importantly, how was it going? So for me, the growth journey from CCD, to loreal, to puma, and then working with two startups, and then moving to adtech, has been an immense learning curve."

"What I see as my advantage is that I’ve been on the other side and understand the psyche of the marketing person. Which’s why I tell my sales team—"Never sell the product, sell the insight—sell the solution to the problem that he’s looking for—that’ll bring better penetration," shares Kumar.

Edited excerpts:

On why advertisers are cautious adapting to the CTV medium, despite the rapid adoption of it by consumers

We live in an era which can be defined as pre-covid and post-covid. Covid played a huge catalyst in the growth of connected TVs as people realised that they could view the same content they see on their mobiles on a bigger screen via connected TV.

For advertisers, the caution is actually natural, primarily because of the understanding or lack thereof of what connected TV is. I think the hesitancy comes from not understanding whether CTV is an offline medium or a digital medium.

Most advertisers feel they are already advertising on TV for a large traditional brand to a much more mass audience on broadcast, so why do they need to spend extra to advertise on CTV?

When CTV started getting sold in India as an inventory of monetisation, it was being talked about as a digital medium. But then they are doing enough advertising for OTT already on mobile.

And suddenly there’s this new accessibility for users via CTV. So you have to educate them that OTT is not CTV. The subset of CTV can be OTT, but that’s not the totality of it. There’s so much more that you can do on CTV, like play games, watch live news, etc., which led to its phenomenal growth.

I think brands and advertisers, rather than being hesitant, are becoming more inquisitive. One year back, there was hesitancy, which has turned to inquisitiveness, and today, if you look at it, it’s a Fomo (Fear of missing out) for every media planner or agency. If they don’t have CTV as a top priority, clearly it’s a miss. Even the agencies catering to smaller brands from tier II and tier III categories feel the need to hop onto the CTV bandwagon. More so because of the sheer pressure that the clients are creating on how to get their brand’s ads on the medium. Because that is where their audience is, watching their content.

On whether the decline of DTH and linear TV viewing is leading to the spurt in CTV or vice versa

It's important to understand that sometimes users weren’t even contributing to DTH for them to decline from the database. Suddenly, people are realising that the decline of DTH doesn’t mean the growth of CTV. Yes, it does imply that. But connected TV by itself as a base is growing. There’s a section of consumers who have never had a cable connection, who bought a smart TV and immediately connected it to the internet and started watching it.

Advertisers are also understanding that some of the audiences they want to reach out to are not there on TV. Thus, more than being hesitant, I think they are convincing themselves that this is a medium that’s creating more impact.

Two million DTH subscribers have declined in the past year, while comparatively, nine million broadband subscribers have increased. If you look at these two data points, the wifi ecosystem is increasing and the broadband ecosystem at homes is increasing. There’s an accessibility to TV, while at the same time, there’s a decline in DTH, and last but not least, there’s suddenly a growth pattern in the availability of content. The number of OTTs that are available in the market is not just restricted to Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon, Sony, Zee, and Mx Player. There are 40 plus OTT players today—vernacular, regional, multi-lingual—there’s so much happening in the space.

One of the reports we are releasing in the next 10–15 days is the CTV Report 2.0, which is one of the most bespoke reports on this subject. Last year, when we first released it, it became a benchmark. We did a very interesting comparison on the price that you are paying. Nobody had done a comparison of the cost of these OTTs versus the average price of a DTH plan. If you compare the prices, it is actually not that expensive. So you can have all the content from around the world that you want to see at a price that is affordable. These are some of the factors that are really contributing to the growth of the connected television market in the country.

And it’s not restricted to gen-z or millennial users, as we realised from our survey report. In our first-party survey of over 3000 users, more than 84 per cent claimed to be watching CTV with someone in the household rather than alone, just as the broadcast was a family viewing experience. Then came the era of mobile phones, which got us back into our private spaces on mobile screens. And now, connected TV and the whole OTT experience have brought everybody back together due to the accessibility and convenience of the viewing experience.

On how can agencies & advertisers overcome the lack of standard industry metrics- one of the key reasons limiting faster advertiser adoption of CTV

There are always challenges related to a new medium in how measurability is going to happen. In fact, globally, a report that was released recently claimed that there’s massive ad fraud happening in the CTV space globally. If you realise, most of the OTTs are standalone walled gardens-the Hotstar is a Star TV network, the Zee5 is a part of the Zee family, and so on. Who is evaluating the user reach, or that your ad got served across multiple platforms? How does one evaluate ad fraud – it's obviously a challenging area.

Which is where programmatic advertising is becoming more and more important for advertisers, because for them it's not important where the ad is shown, it's more important to whom the ad is shown to.

Additionally, programmatic advertising provides transparency. You can access the dashboard. You can see the ads getting served, what time they were served, how they were served, which device ids were served to, and what audiences they are looking at. Today we have technology where you can map a TV to a device id on a mobile phone. Hence the intuitive understanding that 'this is the guy who has a TV at home; this is the device ID so I can continue the lifetime journey of engaging with that consumer either on his TV or on his mobile.'

Technologies like ours are building that trust so that while currently there’s no measurement for what can happen on TV, you can link that journey to a user on their mobile where all possible mobile measurement options exist.

And you can control it because it's digital. So we know who saw the ad. Because you can track it down to a TV, to a location, to the size of a TV, to a certain household. So many data points can come up. You can target users by the size of the screen, by location, etc.-so many targeting options are available because of the digital nature of the medium. Hence the trackability success is also there. And hence, it’s clearly a huge medium.

On some of the underlying challenges & emerging trends in advertising on CTV in the domestic market

So challenges can also be opportunities, and some of the challenges we saw were in education, as India is still a country of high traditional spending. We need to educate advertisers on how CTV, as a digital medium, is a growing channel and an incremental reach medium at that. For instance, the festive season this time is all going to be about going back to retail, OOH, a massive print spend, and a big burst on television across brands. But did you get your username on CTV? Because OTT is where he spends close to one hour of his time daily. So that’s the first challenge in the ecosystem's education.

If we talk about trends, the growing trend is that gaming has grown by leaps and bounds on CTV and is going to become a destination. Another major trend is programmatic advertising via CTV to avoid spillovers. We are a country that does a lot of direct buying. But how do you integrate the user's journey across multiple ecosystems that he operates in into one experience? That’s where programmatic advertising comes into the picture.

On how can marketers maximise viewer engagement on ads and improve the ad viewing experience for users on CTV?

That’s an interesting premise because on CTV there are two kinds of ecosystems which clearly occupy the maximum number of users—one is the OTT or on-demand content, and the other is user-generated content (UGC) like YouTube, for instance.

What does a user tend to do when they see an ad on YouTube or CTV? Because you are trying to put a 20-second ad in a three-minute video, obviously, the user will want to skip it, as he’s not committed to a long duration in the UGC ecosystem.

But the user's behaviour on OTT is very different, where on an average he spends an hour. He’s committed to spending longer there and hence doesn’t mind watching a 20-second ad here.

Also, a CTV can create an ecosystem that enables a user to retain the ad better for all kinds of segments like beauty, cosmetics, autos, FMCG, etc. Ad retention and a CTA (call to action) are created via omnichannel audience targeting, CTV Household Sync, and drive-to-store technologies which get them to act upon that ad. Because at the end of the day, what is advertising for if not to act upon it?

On how does the India market differ from the US and European markets in this aspect

I think the US and Europe are supremely evolved markets. They saw the trend almost three to four years ago. And the US is nearly 90 per cent penetrated by connected TV networks—it's a very high CTV market. The European Union is very similar, though it obviously has GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws and other regulations that affect how users are tracked. But in both the global markets, the share of CTV impressions is bigger than the share of mobile screen impressions, which is a big thing.

If you look at the US today, there’s nothing called "traditional TV advertising" there. 90 per cent of ads go on CTV. All ads are being served programmatically, not even direct buys. They have moved from a system dealing with multiple publishers. So, that’s the evolution and mindset that we are moving towards.

If you compare it to India, it’s a very small market in terms of adoption. It's been just two years since we started CTV advertising. So it's early days, but last year we moved almost 30-40 per cent. We have seen the CTV reach go from six million to nine million and now to 14 million, and the pace is only increasing Q-o-Q. So, while the size of the market is small today, the adoption rate is very high in the domestic market. CTV is growing at 30 per cent Y-o-Y and we predict that it will be 40-50 million by 2025. So, even as the Indian market is small, it is surely packing a big punch. CTVs are here to stay and grow.

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