What is OTT and CTV? A Marketing Manager’s Guide to Advertising on Long-Form Streaming

September 16th, 2021 by Shira Pinsker

Key Insights

  • Consumers across all age groups have embraced streaming tv shows and movies.
  • Advertising on streaming services offers many benefits over traditional TV advertising, including robust targeting and measurement, including individual or household information.
  • By leveraging OTT, you can reach consumers with messages across multiple devices and platforms, truly running a full-funnel campaign with ads that talk to each other.
  • You can stretch your advertising dollars with OTT to reach consumers where they already watch content: their smart TVs, computers, and mobile devices.

Even if you are old enough to remember tuning in live for the Cheers finale live or parking in front of the television for “The One Where Ross Finds Out,” chances are you now stream most of your favorite TV shows. In 2020, Hulu found that 90% of all 13–54-year-olds watch TV on a streaming platform. That’s several generations of consumers who engage with TV, movies—and brands—in a streaming environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased watching habits, with the average American now spending nearly two hours a day watching subscription video on demand services.

Person using remote control on their streaming device

Advertising on streaming television is an affordable way for businesses to fill their upper funnel while capitalizing on the creative flexibility, targeting, and measurement capabilities of digital advertising. Emerging brands can use streaming advertising to leverage the mass reach and advanced targeting capabilities of long-form streaming to help build awareness, while established businesses can use it to connect with coveted audience segments who do not engage with traditional media.

The industry term for streaming long-form content directly to viewers via the internet through TVs or devices is called OTT. This post will further define OTT and expand on its benefits, including targeting, measurement, and branding.

About OTT

Defining OTT

OTT stands for over-the-top and refers to content streamed on apps and services, such as Hulu, Discovery+, or Peacock.

You can watch OTT content on any device connected to the internet. The term originates from the now common practice of consumers going “over the top” of a cable box, bypassing cable/satellite subscriptions or broadcast TV to stream long-form, premium video (such as scripted TV shows).

Advertisers can also use the term OTT to distinguish streaming tv shows and movies from user-generated online video (for example, unboxing videos on YouTube made by an influencer is not OTT content.)

What is CTV?

CTV is a subset of OTT. CTV stands for connected television and refers to a device that delivers video by connecting to a TV.

CTV examples:

  • HDMI sticks: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku
  • Gaming consoles
  • Connected television sets, such as smart TVs

It does not include tablets, computers, or other mobile devices.

An Example of OTT and CTV

You start binge watching the latest Hulu series of the moment through a Roku plugged into your TV.

You streamed OTT content over CTV.

You move to your bed and watch Hulu from the app on your phone (yes, yes, you know it’s not good for your sleep to watch TV in bed).

You streamed OTT content.

Benefits of OTT

OTT combines the power of digital media with the advantages of advertising on television. Your brand receives traction from the authority consumers assign to seeing your ad on a big screen with the targeting and measurement capabilities that allow you to optimize performance to maximize your ad spend.

With all of the research options at our fingertips, consumers’ path to conversion evolves each year. Product research and shopping takes consumers across many online and offline touchpoints. By leveraging OTT, you can reach consumers with messages across multiple devices and platforms, truly running a full-funnel campaign with ads that talk to each other.

Today's path to conversion

OTT Targeting Capabilities: First and Third-Party Sources

OTT first and third-party sources enable businesses to build detailed segments beyond the typical options found on other digital marketing platforms.

First-party data: The advertising platform learns about audiences through device-level viewer data, which it takes from users’ IP addresses. Targeting options vary by OTT provider. Some options include:

  • Location tracking and geofencing
  • Home page visits

Third-party data: Third-party vendors provide consumer data and customer attributes that enable more precise targeting definitions. Some options for third-party data targeting include:

  • Purchase behaviors (online and offline)
  • Age/gender composition
  • TV viewership and media consumption


A prospect’s viewing behavior becomes part of their digital footprint. If a prospect views an ad, OTT’s retargeting capabilities lets you follow this prospect across all ad-supported streaming services and devices. You can capture brand impressions with video and then prompt an action on a device where it’s easy to convert.

For example, a healthcare practice can target an upper-funnel ad promoting a new procedure to a household’s smart TV. Later, the practice can display a lower-funnel ad that encourages the prospect to fill out a form for a free consultation for this new procedure to a mobile device in that same household. A prospect is much more likely to fill out a form on a mobile device than if the ad appeared on a smart TV, encouraging prospects to go onto their website and fill out the form.

OTT Targeting Capabilities: Addressable Geo-Fencing aka Household Targeting

Through OTT, you can target multiple prospects under one roof.

​​When several devices are connected to the same router, they form a network and have the same external IP address. As a result, advertising platforms can identify multiple devices in the same household by looking at whether they have the same IP address.

OTT advertising platforms can match a smart TV to a series of desktop and mobile devices, creating a “digital household,” which allows advertisers to target individuals across different devices. This extends the opportunity to customize your ad based on the user’s device.

Examples of What You Can Do with OTT Targeting

OTT’s multiple targeting options allow you to specify as much as your campaign needs.

  • If a prospect searches a website for events in their area, you can use keyword search retargeting to show them an ad for your event as they stream their favorite TV show.
  • A small business could target residents over 35 years old in a specific zip code.
  • If you want to target adults for your continuing education program, you can leverage information such as education level, areas of interest, and browsing history to customize ads down to which educational programs might be most attractive to a given prospect.

Measurement and Attribution

OTT’s sophisticated measurement and attribution capabilities give businesses the tools to evaluate the ROI of their campaigns and understand which segments, platforms, and content deserve further investment.

The capability to match consumers to their devices means you can see which specific prospects watched your ad, how much they watched, and the outcomes of watching the ad (such as purchase, website visit, or store visit). With the flexibility to test audiences and content variations, you ensure your advertising remains relevant, so you don’t waste ad dollars on a consumer unlikely to take action.


OTT’s multiple platform options help establish legitimacy for your brand. With OTT, your brand ad can appear on a big-screen TV, streaming right after a national brand. This way your ad receives the afterglow of playing right after a Tide commercial on a 70” screen rather.

Ready to put OTT into practice?

To drive performance with target consumers, small and medium businesses should consider including OTT as a component of their cross-platform strategy. Emerging brands can use it to build awareness with new consumers, and established companies can use OTT to remain relevant.

Unsure of where to start with OTT? Contact the experts at Search Influence to discuss how you can use these tactics as part of a full-funnel strategy to drive leads for your business.