At Variety’s recent Entertainment & Technology conference in NYC, ad experience resurfaced as a hot topic. During a panel entitled, “The Future of TV Advertising,” in which my colleague James Rooke, GM, Publisher Platform, participated with fellow industry leaders, it was clear that both publishers and agencies agree that consumers should be at the center of the ad experience. There was a consensus among the panelists that more experimentation was necessary and that the dialogue around ads needs to evolve from “commercial interruption” to “commercial enhancement.”
Variety Entertainment and Tech Panel on The Future of TV Advertising: (L->R) Brian Steinberg, Jason Flick, Peter Naylor, James Rooke, Lyle Schwartz, Donna Speciale, and Catherine Sullivan
At FreeWheel, we’re frequently asked, “What is the ideal ad experience?” And like a good response to any tough question, the answer is: it depends. But in this case, what defines a good ad experience truly is in the eye of the beholder:
The viewers’ perspective: the rise of ad blocking indicates that some consumers are willing to go out of their way to access their content ad-free and uninterrupted. However, eliminating ads isn’t sustainable for publishers who need to fund content or for viewers who want to avoid subscription fees.
The marketers’ perspective: a premium ad experience features their message in an engaging, uncluttered environment that drives business outcomes they can independently track. But the marketers’ demands around 3rd party measurement and verification can create execution challenges for publishers that can get in the way of campaign delivery.
The publishers’ perspective: the answer is perhaps the most complicated, given that they must balance their own monetization objectives with the interests of both viewers and marketers, without whom there’s no such thing as an ad experience.
Positioned at the center of the New TV Ecosystem supporting enterprise Programmer and Operator clients to design, optimize and execute ad experiences across all platforms, the FreeWheel Advisory Services team has identified the top three strategies every publisher should deploy to get closer to their ideal experience.
STRATEGY 1: DIFFERENTIATE
The idea is simple but under-used: vary the ad experience according to audiences’ receptivity to advertising. A viewer’s response to advertising is dependent on a long list of variables, from what content’s being consumed to where it’s being watched to who’s watching, and possibly how much content or advertising has already been watched. Publishers can turn to FreeWheel to help identify ways to segment their audience to understand where differentiation or customization will make the most impact. According to the FreeWheel Council for Premium Video in their recent study, Advancing the Ad Experience, brand and agency leaders rated “Dynamic ad loads based on content consumption” as the factor that would most benefit user experience if publishers were to implement.
That said, differentiation only is effective when it’s informed by proven facts about user behavior rather than untested ideas. Customizing ad experiences can also add operational complexity, so it’s important to apply them strategically and evaluate over time.
STRATEGY 2: INNOVATE
Typically the idea of ad innovation has commonly been tied to new formats, like skippable or TrueX interactive ads. But there’s more publishers can do on their own to offer custom creative executions and ad packages that drive higher engagement. For example, we see publishers starting to experiment with stream or pod level sponsorships, which provide advertisers exclusive ownership of the ad slots in a full episode, allowing for storytelling through linked creative as well as a less cluttered experience. In these cases, the actual revenue per stream can be higher than revenue from a fully dynamic ad load with multiple advertisers– plus users are seeing fewer total ads while marketers enjoy exclusivity. It’s a winning combination for all.
STRATEGY 3: ANTICIPATE
Many organizations don’t realize they’re delivering viewers a poor ad experience until it’s too late. With the number of factors – from advertiser diversity to player technology to third party creative – affecting what and how ads play, it’s hard to know if something is going awry until a disgruntled viewer, buyer or executive spots it. One way to get ahead of negative feedback is to actively monitor key drivers of ad experience through BI tools. For example, measuring how often ads are repeating can help flag areas where frequency caps are violated. Similarly, tracking where ad error rates are high can identify technical issues impacting ad delivery that are also creating volatile viewer experiences. FreeWheel has worked with publisher clients to prioritize, measure and actively monitor the most important ad experience predictors to give more control back to the business.
It’s important to note that ad experience is just one, albeit very important, ingredient to shaping the overall user experience. However, without the right amount of content available, viewers will have nothing to come back for, no matter how good the ad experience is. Similarly, if the content is difficult to discover or isn’t marketed effectively, viewers will struggle to reach it in the first place.
So what is the ideal ad experience? While the answer still will differ for every business, it starts with designing solutions that keep viewers engaged while driving advertiser outcomes and maximizing publisher revenue. Offering a better experience requires a combination of differentiated strategies and innovative executions, which are proactively monitored and enforced.