IAB Tech Lab releases IFA guidelines for OTT platforms to improve consumer experience

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) unveiled its “Guidelines for Identifier for Advertising on OTT Platforms” Tuesday morning to provide “a high-quality advertising experience within over-the-top television (OTT) environments,” according to the press release announcing the news. OTT environments include smart TVs, connected devices and other systems.

Central to the framework are best practices on how advertisers should manage OTT advertising through the use of identifiers for advertising (IFAs).

From the release:

In order to be compliant with these guidelines, devices and apps must store and send the following parameters as part of any ad request:

  • An identifier for advertising (IFA) — required unless the user has opted in to limit ad tracking, an IFA must be a unique value that is completely disconnected from a hardware ID, MAC address, IMEI or IP address.
  • An associated IFA type — identifying the source of the IFA, whether device-generated, publisher-provided or temporary.
  • Limit ad tracking (LAT) — an opt-out mechanism to respect the user’s privacy choices.

The guidelines also feature specific advice and intelligence for consumer electronics manufacturers, OTT app publishers and ad/measurement platforms to address the needs of each of these stakeholder groups.

IFAs provide enough information to deliver relevant content without being permanently tied to a user or device and can be reset by the user, an IAB spokesperson told me.

“In addition, if the user has opted to limit ad tracking, a ‘real’ IFA will never be sent (either nothing is sent, or all zeros are sent, or a temporary/transient ‘session’ IFA [is created] that everyone in the stack knows not to depend on for tracking),” the spokesperson said.

Dennis Buchheim, senior vice president and general manager of IAB Tech Lab, told me via email that “as the digital ecosystem expands across a wide range of devices, standardized identifiers are critical — and with OTT attracting more and more consumers, it is especially critical that there are guidelines and best practices for using identifiers across smart TVs, other OTT systems, and a broader range of connected devices.”

“These guidelines help those involved in delivering ads to OTT platforms share a common understanding of IFA and deliver relevant ads — all while respecting consumer privacy controls,” Buchheim said.

In the release, Buchheim said that “more Americans watch video content on OTT than on VOD or DVR, and the medium is skyrocketing. The traditional semi-persistent cookie we are accustomed to using as an identifier on browsers isn’t at play across OTT systems, so we need to deploy other types of identifiers to ensure that ad experiences are optimal for consumers. These guidelines will direct stakeholders down the path of best practices to allow OTT to grow and evolve as a significant advertising platform.”

The press release also quoted a member of the working group, which IAB created a year ago.

“Between smart TVs, connected devices, and other OTT systems out in the marketplace — all with varied approaches to identification — we’re looking at a ‘Tower of Babel’ challenge,” said J. Allen Dove, CTO of SpotX. “The new IAB Tech Lab guidelines solve these challenges and improve overall user experience. We are hoping that others in the industry also contribute their input to make these recommendations even more effective.”

Advertising platform leaders have already weighed in.

“The industry has been moving away from cookies towards IFA for some time and the newly released IAB guidelines on IFA for OTT are a natural extension of this trend,” Paul Harrison, chief technology officer of programmatic ad platform Simpli.fi, said. “It’s a good move for the industry and for consumers. This approach gives people more control of their environments than what they have today and provides them with choice over their experience.”

And Lauren Wiener, chief executive officer of Tremor Video DSP, said it will improve transparency on OTT.

“The IAB Tech Lab’s new guidance is an essential next step in ensuring transparency and improving the consumer experience in the rapidly emerging OTT platform,” Wiener said. “Additionally, it will help to optimize the ways in which advertisers safely reach their intended audiences and the consumers most receptive to their messaging on OTT and other devices.”

The recommendations are available for public comment through May 3, 2018, after which the IAB Tech Lab OTT Technical Working Group will evaluate and incorporate the feedback received and release a final version.

About The Author

Robin Kurzer started her career as a daily newspaper reporter in Milford, Connecticut. She then made her mark on the advertising and marketing world in Chicago at agencies such as Tribal DDB and Razorfish, creating award-winning work for many major brands. For the past seven years, she’s worked as a freelance writer and communications professional across a variety of business sectors.