How Marketers Differentiate Ad-Supported Streaming Platforms, From Roku to Tubi


It’s been a banner year for the streaming video ecosystem, particularly for ad-supported platforms that are getting acquired and netting bigger audiences every month. As the advertising community works out how to best leverage the growing number of platforms, marketers are beginning to notice that—like linear networks—there are differences between the audiences that each one serves.

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According to interviews with several media buyers and advertisers, few ad-supported platforms are big enough yet to deliver the broad audience buys that television is known for—but they’re growing fast. While investments often hinge on individual clients’ goals, hypotheses about the usefulness of these platforms are being tested and confirmed in real time as audience growth encourages even more spending.

“The last 24 months we’ve seen a lot more acceleration and confidence in these channels,” said Rachel Hirschl, svp of digital investments at the marketing agency Lockard and Wechsler Direct. “Since Covid hit, the rest is history. We are seeing everyone really take off, and we are getting some solid measurement components to campaigns that can help with proof points and proof-of-concept for our clients.”

Audience growth on most ad-supported platforms hasn’t matched the same audience scale of linear, with a few notable exceptions. For Hirschl, Hulu’s ad-supported tier and Roku both can deliver on broader awareness-based marketing efforts across streaming. It’s simple calculus: “When we’re looking at broad awareness plays, we have to play with the larger deliverers of impressions at scale, so that’s Hulu or Roku,” she said.

Hirschl uses mid-tier AVODs like Pluto (which has 28.4 million monthly active users) and Tubi (which has 33 million monthly actives) more for complementary and incremental buys, because they can deliver big audiences that are unreachable on traditional television. (They can also sometimes be used for more targeted audience plays, Hirschl said.) That’s made easier because of their numerous audience-based levers and attractive price points.

“When we start to look at the key AVOD partners that we work with, like Tubi and Pluto, when we’re planning, it’s really to complement or to offset where we potentially run into preemption issues,” Hirschl explained. “We know that through those channels, we can carve out our audience very granularly, so if we want to complement a linear program or enhance a larger-scale video play, we’ll use those channels.”

New, younger and tech-savvy audiences

AVODs like Tubi and Pluto are particularly useful for finding new audiences, and the lack of duplication has proven more promising than expected, said one television executive who has experience working with multiple AVOD services. “We’re seeing almost no duplication,” the exec said. “It is really a different audience, and that is so exciting.” 

With targeted buys, AVOD buys often end up looking more like ones deployed across Instagram and Twitter. “We almost think about the campaigns and the setup similar to how an agency might think about social,” Hirschl said. “We are really able to break out criteria so we can pull those levers and optimize with measurable results.”

Pulling those levers means advertisers are beginning to notice slight differences about the audiences of each platform. Some ad-supported platforms, like Samsung’s free platform Samsung TV Plus, skew more female in the audience they can deliver, while Pluto TV has a slightly more male bent, on average, according to the television executive.

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