Advertising in a multi-screen environment was always the first, most obvious option for multi-screen monetization, and it’s finally beginning to happen.

Multi-screen delivery apparently leads to deeper engagement with viewers. Service providers might have expected that’s putting the cart ahead of the horse, assuming the horse is monetization. The preference would be to get some return on whatever investments are made to enable multi-screen delivery, and get viewer engagement on top of that, but it’s turning out that viewer engagement is the factor that’s inspiring advertisers to shift ad dollars to second and third screens.

The delivery technology is in place, and coupled with strong growth in the tablet, smartphone and video-happy device markets, the entire multi-screen advertising ecosystem is nearing full throttle in developing a viable, dynamic multi-platform ad model and fulfilling its long-held promise of a robust and potentially lucrative cross-platform ad delivery system.

And the stakes are high. By 2016, reports the Consumer Electronics Association, tablets will represent 80 percent of the total computer market, while currently it has a 40 percent home penetration rate.

ABI Research forecasts nearly one-third of US Telco TV households have access to multi-screen or TV everywhere services.

The explosion of mobile devices worldwide is sending a strong message to the video content ecosystem: Think beyond the TV screen.

It may be easier said than done, however. There is continuing market fragmentation, measurement concerns, and a litany of complicated who-gets-paid issues. But at day’s end, the multiscreen advertising Holy Grail may be manifesting and almost within reach.

Holmes“Implementation (of multi-screen ads) is still as much an art as a science,” said Sam Rosen, practice director at ABI Research.

“Picking vendors and solutions while crafting end-to-end systems that work within the business model is still relatively difficult to do at scale for every business case. Big advertisers must also agree on equivalencies on TVs, tablets and VOD viewing.

They must find ways to build them into the campaign’s goals.

Now, it’s a business challenge, not technology.”

Cable industry stalwarts Cablevision Systems, Comcast and others are deepening their multiscreen interactive advertising efforts, evidenced by Cablevision’s recent AdCast announcement, which pushes the company deeper into the interactive ad space.

AdCast is Cablevision's cloudbased ad delivery system. It relies on technology from ActiveVideo.

“The new platform will allow advertisers to connect directly to TVs and give them the ability to measure reach across the Web and TV. On the data measurement side, it will provide a unified way to measure reach and frequency beyond the household level. Now, we can synch an ad with the platform and measure the result of impressions with a unified view,” explained Ben Tatta, president of Cablevision’s media sales.

Synchronicity may be the operative term, some industry experts conclude, with audience fragmentation a nagging issue.

“TV hasn’t captured the TV everywhere notion of ads to second and third screens.

It’s just not the same experience on all devices. So there’s a trend towards interactivity and brand awareness. But they’re not able to link devices. It’s a fragmented world for advertisers,” said Sachin Sathaye, vice president of strategy and product for ActiveVideo.

One component to multi-screen ads that isn’t fragmented is the growth of tablets, which Sathaye says is crucial to the advertising community.

“Advertisers are saying ‘let’s spend more on the interactive side.’ The trend is for smaller brands going to the Web interactive model. Yet studies tell us that consumers prefer interactivity on their TVs, and when interactive ads are delivered, there’s a two percent click-through rate, with people spending nearly four minutes with the brand versus 30 seconds on other devices.”

Yet for the advertising community and its supporting village of vendors, multi-screen ads are rapidly becoming vital to reach- ing the goal of a holistic advertising and marketing campaign.

“There’s increasing demand for multi-screen advertising on the buying side. There are so many ways to deliver ads over multiple screens, and consumers are using screens all over the place.

So advertisers need to surround them,” said Rob Aksman, founder and chief experience officer for Brightline, a specialist in the multi-screen ad space.

For service providers such as Comcast, the plan is for those same consumers to not only be surrounded, but embraced and engaged.

MacDonell“Viewers are driving the growth of multi-screen advertising.

They are getting used to watching content on TVs, PCs and tablets in particular. We’re seeing 2-3 times the growth in these platforms. There’s broad access to content and that’s a big driver for multi-screen ads. Now, we’re trying to ensure monetization of the content,” said Rob Holmes, vice president of advanced advertising for Comcast.

Essential to the monetization piece of multi-screen advertising is measurement, experts contend, with deeper content engagement by consumers a close second.

“VOD is a better platform for engagement, but there is no measurement solution. It doesn’t work like online, where there is a tool that provides measurement.

So we’re focusing on settop box measurement where we can monetize content,” Holmes added.

And content counts – big time. Particularly when trying to lengthen the engagement time for viewers.

“The sights, sounds, motion and story content of TV makes it a great branding environment, and online is a great transaction platform. So there is fragmentation being created by viewers.

We’re faced with making it all work at scale, without friction at reduced costs and with multi-platform measurement. It just needs to work for the whole eco-system,” Holmes concluded.

A missing piece to that ecosystem is a holistic view of the viewing audience, according to Chris Hock, senior vice president of marketing and partner strategy for BlackArrow, a provider of dynamic ad insertion technology.

“How do you get a unified audience and measure those platforms?

It’s a key missing piece to the puzzle,” he said.

But a piece that is being found, at least in theory.

“We’re seeing on-demand viewing on TV, Xboxes, connected TVs and into the IP infrastructures, with content demand taking off. The technology hurdles are behind us and dynamic ad insertion is maturing. We believe multi-screen advertising will be personalized, anywhere, anytime on any screen,” Hock said.

The question is when? Noted Rosen: “Tablet viewing is catching up a bit, and no question advertisers continue to be interested in tablet and multi-screen viewing. But there are still too many differing metrics and too many different ways to be paid for the same thing and to track.”

Getting there will take time. But most industry experts agree the pace is quickening.

“Changes now take just a few weeks instead of months.

There’s tremendous acceleration throughout the eco-system and creating an ad model for customers getting content over multiple screens is becoming very important,” said Bill Feininger, GM of the massive data division and senior vice president of media measurement for FourthWall Media.

And don’t forget the engagement piece. Added Feininger: “Now, it’s about how to dive deeper and create one-to-one relationships with consumers with greater engagement, brand loyalty and new messaging. It’s no longer a science project.”

Essentially out of the science project category, advertising across multiple platforms is becoming the new biggest thing, after nearly ten years of being, well, the next big thing.

“The growth of opportunity for content across multiple platforms is growing. Some are farther along than others, so it hasn’t reached its pinnacle yet,” concluded Denise MacDonell, vice president of product management and marketing for This Technology.

Just when that pinnacle is reached for multi-screen advertising will likely depend on the stars aligning in regards to metrics, measurement and monetization. In the meantime, the acceleration process has started. ■