Streaming Services Embrace Ads: Advertiser Q&A
Netflix sparked one of the biggest stories in the ad tech industry in April when the streaming company announced it was going to embrace advertising. This move was long anticipated from industry watchers who wondered how long Netflix could satisfy investors and recoup the costs of content creation based on subscriber growth alone. Well, Netflix finally relented after distancing itself from ads. That’s because Netflix’s subscribers are not growing at the rate Netflix once enjoyed when the company was challenged by few competitors. In its first quarter of 2022, the company actually lost subscribers. But Netflix is not the only company adopting an advertising-supported tier. Disney+ will also adopt advertising in 2022. The two platforms join streaming companies such as Hulu and HBO Max in doing so. Here are some questions advertisers might be asking:
Will people who subscribe to Disney+ and Netflix start seeing ads with their current plans?
No. Both Disney+ and Netflix have made it clear an ad-supported plan will cost less than the ad-free plans that exists now.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently told investors, “If you still want the ad-free option, you’ll be able to have that as a consumer. And if you would rather pay a lower price and you’re ad-tolerant, we’re going to cater to you also.” Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said the same about Disney’s plans.
Why are Disney+ and Netflix running ads?
The obvious answer: advertising brings in revenue to offset the costs of content creation. But advertising also gives audiences more options. Recently, Hulu revealed that 70 percent of its viewers were on ad-supported plans with the remainder on the pricier ad-free tiers. Both Disney and Netflix expect that audiences will respond to having both an ad-free and cheaper ad-supported option.
“Based on our Hulu experience, we actually have more AVOD [ad-supported video-on-demand] than SVOD [subscription VOD] subscribers,” Christine McCarthy of Disney said, speaking at the 9th Annual MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit. “We expect about the same percentage for both Disney+ and Hulu, just based on the experience curve that we’ve witnessed.”
Reed Hastings of Netflix also cited Hulu’s success when he unveiled Netflix’s plans to investors. Hastings specifically called out Hulu as proof that ads are working for video subscription services: Hulu ended 2021 with 40.9 million paying subscribers, up from 35.4 million a year ago.
When do ads come to Netflix and Disney+?
Disney plans to launch an ad-supported plan in 2022 at some point; although Netflix has not specified a timeline, a leaked internal memo from Hastings indicated that an ad-supported plan could be coming before the end of the year.
What will the ads look like?
At the MoffettNathanson conference, Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, said that the Disney+ ad-supported tier will start with 15- and 30-second spots, but will expand to a “full suite of ad products” over time. The ads will have an average of four minutes per hour, which is fewer ads than at Hulu. That’s partly because 65 percent of viewing on Disney+ is movies, which has fewer ad breaks than series.
According to Variety, the ad-supported version of Disney+ will not accept alcohol or political advertising at launch, nor will it run ads from rival streamers or entertainment studios.
Nothing is known yet about Netflix’s plans. But since Netflix cites Hulu as a model for successful advertising, Hulu’s own ad units are worth learning more about. And there are many of them. Here are a few:
- Standard video ads appear as a commercial break during the streaming of any of Hulu’s full episodes. Such ads can also appear as a pre-roll for clips hosted on distribution partners of Hulu or as companion banners.
- Binge ads let advertisers deliver contextually relevant messages to the audience during a viewer’s binge session. These ads help businesses to engage with audiences in a non-disruptive way. Binge ads are for viewers who have watched three or more shows of the same series.
- Sponsored Collection brand placements gives advertisers extended ownership of a collection sponsorship through logo placement adjacent to content in Hulu’s UI across devices.
- Hulu’s Pause Ad is a non-disruptive, non-intrusive user-initiated ad experience that appears when a viewer presses pause when watching content.
- The Ad Selector allows the user to control their ad experience by choosing the ad they want to see. The user will be presented with two or three video options. Once a selection is made, the user will be presented with the commercial of their choice. If no selection is made after 15 seconds, one video in the unit will be randomly selected to play.
Hulu shares its ad units in more detail here.
Netflix is renowned for using analytics to personalize content for its audiences around the world. Its own ad units may skew toward the Ad Selector option cited above, tailored to global audiences. But the company will need help.
“Netflix already has a trove of first-party data that can deliver a variety of audience segments for advertisers, and relevance for consumers,” said Adam Helfgott, CEO at MadHive, the programmatic ad tech firm. “In order to sell that inventory in context with TV overall for advertiser objectives, they will need to integrate into the ecosystem and partner with DSPs, SSPs, and infrastructure providers.”
Netflix may also step up product placements in its shows such as Stranger Things. Netflix has not really actively monetized product placements even though its shows are not shy about integrating real products into their plotlines, as Stranger Things does with businesses ranging from Cadillac to Eggo.
Meanwhile, competitors Amazon Prime Video and Peacock will literally drop products into actual shows. These received less attention than the news from Netflix from Disney+, but they are also intriguing. At the 2022 NewFronts, Amazon and Peacock demonstrated new ad formats that use similar virtual product placement (VPP) tools, a post-production technique for inserting a brand into a TV show or movie scene.
Amazon’s VPP tool, operating in beta, lets advertisers place their branded products directly into streaming content after they have already been filmed and produced. Peacock’s new “In-Scene” ads will identify key moments within a show and digitally insert a brand’s customized messaging or product post-production so that the brand is showcased in the right TV show/movie and at the right time. These function very similarly to in-game ads.
It’s going to be an interesting and exciting year for advertising.
What should advertisers do?
- Understand the growth of advertising on streaming platforms in context of the rise of connected TV. If you’ve not done so already, take a closer look at why connected TV is growing and how it could expand your audience. (True Interactive can help you with that.) Connected TV is enjoying 60-percent growth, driven by a public’s appetite for streaming that continues unabated, Netflix’s slowdown notwithstanding.
- While you await more clarity on available ad units, get to know the audiences on each platform. Which is right for your brand?
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