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OTT vs. CTV: What Is the Difference and How Are They Being Redefined?

by | Nov 15, 2021

The average annual spend on streaming content has quadrupled in just five years, with no signs of slowing. And with 62% of adults ditching traditional cable for a streaming service, it’s safe to say that the streaming era is well underway. Predictably, the explosion of these services has created several questions, including what’s the difference between OTT vs. CTV?

As more Americans tune into streaming services than ever before, the terms over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV (CTV) have risen in popularity—and caused quite a deal of confusion among viewers and marketers alike. Though both refer to similar aspects of digital advertising for television, they should not be used interchangeably. 

Realistically, OTT and CTV work together to deliver video ads on a connected TV device. Learning the key differences between these two terms is crucial as you begin to incorporate connected TV advertising into your marketing strategy. 

Traditional Definitions of Over-The-Top (OTT) and Connected TV (CTV)

It’s a bit ironic to refer to the original definitions of OTT and CTV as “traditional.” For one, everything about OTT content or a CTV device rivals traditional media. Secondly, the original definitions aren’t that old. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which develops industry standards, issued formal definitions for OTT vs. CTV as recently as 2018. 

According to the 2018 Digital Video Glossary, the traditional definitions were as follows: 

  • Over-the-Top Device (OTT): A device that can connect to a TV (or functionality within the TV itself) to facilitate the delivery of Internet-based video content (i.e., streaming boxes, media streaming devices, Smart TVs, and gaming consoles).
  • Connected TV (CTV): A television set that is connected to the Internet via OTT devices, Blu Ray players, streaming box or stick, gaming consoles, or has built-in internet capabilities (i.e., a Smart TV) and can access a variety of long-form and short-form web-based content.

In other words, OTT service was originally a blanket term for what made streaming video content via the internet possible. However, CTV was traditionally defined as a physically connected device able to access a variety of long-form and short-form web-based content, such as a streaming TV. Keep reading to learn how these traditional definitions have changed through the years—and why it’s important.

The best way to remember the difference between OTT vs. CTV is that OTT content is viewed via a CTV device.

OTT vs. CTV: Identifying the Differences

With the traditional definitions of OTT vs. CTV in mind, it’s time to look at how these two terms are different. OTT refers to the delivery of video content streamed over the internet rather than via traditional cable. Content is delivered over the closed TV system, hence the name OTT.  This type of content is commonly delivered via streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

In comparison, the term CTV refers to any type of device that boasts digital video streaming abilities. It includes both Smart TVs as well as regular televisions that leverage a device to stream video. Internet-connected devices like Apple TV, Firestick, Roku, and gaming consoles like Playstation all allow television to stream digital video, turning basic into a connected TV. 

The best way to remember the difference between OTT vs. CTV is that OTT content is viewed via a CTV device. For instance, if you’re watching Hulu on your mobile device, you’re streaming OTT content. If you’re watching Hulu through a Roku that’s plugged into your traditional television, you’re streaming OTT content over CTV. 

Simplifying the Confusion: How OTT and CTV Definitions are Changing

Though we began today’s article with the 2018 IAB definition of OTT and CTV, other media councils have since weighed in—and the definitions have evolved. In August 2021, the Media Rating Council (MRC) issued updated measurement guidelines for CTV and gave the term OTT a facelift. The MRC officially renamed what was defined as “OTT” to the prevalent industry term “CTV.”

According to the 2021 Server-Side Ad Insertion and OTT Guidance, “CTV is now defined specifically as the delivery of digital video to televisions via internet-connected devices (or functionality within the television itself), while OTT is now defined as a more encompassing term that includes CTV as well as video content that may also be available via desktop or mobile devices.”

Essentially, all digital video content now delivered to a television will be considered CTV, whereas all other streaming content delivered to mobile devices or desktop computers is regarded as OTT. Thus, OTT has become a blanket term that refers to all types of streaming content available via an internet-connected device. 

So, why were these definitions changed in the first place, aside from CTV being the more prominent industry term? Put simply, measurement. According to the MRC, the broader OTT term helps meet current audience measurement needs to analyze performance metrics across different devices and platforms by the content provider. Here’s how that plays into programmatic advertising.

A digital marketing agency can help you reach targeted audiences in ways you can not with traditional television.

Taking Advantage of OTT and CTV Video Advertising

When it comes to digital advertising and TV content, OTT and CTV work hand-in-hand. CTV ads can be bought programmatically like search ads, so your digital signal processor (DSP) probably offers CTV as a marketing channel. So, your finished video ad will run on CTV as a channel, but the actual ad will be served over the top. 

Whether you’re involved with B2B vs. B2C marketing, it’s likely time to adopt connected TV video ads and OTT media for your marketing efforts. OTT media revenue is projected to reach more than $210 billion by 2026, a number that’s more than double $106 billion generated in 2020 and a far cry from the $6.1 billion generated in 2010. 

Even more, a whopping 60% of U.S. marketers are shifting ad dollars from linear TV to CTV and OTT this year alone. This change is likely spurred by the similar shift from traditional TV to CTV, with 213.7 million people reportedly streaming at least once per month. As streaming numbers rise, the number of traditional TV households is simultaneously trending downwards. 

OTT vs. CTV: The Experts at Bullseye Strategy Help Break it Down 

If you’re sick of reaching your target audience through more basic forms of programmatic advertising, like search ads, now is the time to learn more about CTV ads. A marketing agency can take the guesswork out of CTV viewers’ promotions and help you create an effective connected TV advertising plan. 

If you found today’s breakdown of OTT vs. CTV helpful and require assistance in getting your new marketing strategy off the ground, contact Bullseye Strategy today. Headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Bullseye Strategy is a full-service digital marketing agency that’s mastered the art of programmatic advertising across all platforms, including CTV ads served over the top.

Don’t hesitate in executing your connected TV advertising plan. Contact Bullseye Strategy today.

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