A Peek Inside the FreeWheel Video Monetization Report: Q2 2016

Ying Wang Director, Advisory Services

FreeWheel’s position at the center of the premium video economy gives us unique insight into the themes that are top of mind for the ecosystem. While there’s always noise around the ad tech topic du jour, improving user experience has been a persistent theme throughout 2016.

Recognizing engagement as a critical differentiator, Programmers, Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs) and Digital Pure-Plays are increasingly focused on user experience. Members of this ecosystem have optimized user interfaces, streaming quality, and player environments, and have worked to identify the “right” ad presentation, all to ensure a premium experience for both the viewer AND the Advertiser. But there’s still more the industry can do to improve.


The more committed a viewer is to the content, the more likely they will watch and engage with related advertising, which is the value proposition of premium programming. Given this core tenet, we hypothesized in the FreeWheel VMR: Q2 2016 that if groups of viewers behave differently based on depth and frequency of engagement, we could uncover opportunities to drive increased content commitment — and therefore monetization and advertising engagement — through tailored ad experiences.

While there are plenty of ways to look at users, we focused on two commonly referenced user engagement metrics: (1) how much content they completed (measured by a user’s average episode view-through) and (2) how frequently they returned to watch premium long-form video (defined by the number of visits during the month across the sample set of programming). This led to us to identify three distinct viewer segments:

  • Samplers: Viewers who start consuming content but on average watch less than 50% of a given episode. These people engage in digital “channel-surfing”, snacking on different content but not engaging deeply with any one thing
  • Catch-Up Viewers: Viewers who only watch digital video a couple times per month, but when they do watch, they typically complete the episode. These viewers are likely are using digital platforms to supplement viewing on linear TV
  • Digital Enthusiasts: Viewers returning frequently and completing multiple episodes per month. This group considers digital platforms to be their primary residence for long form video consumption

While these may not be the only viewer ‘personalities’ that exist, we believe they showcase meaningful differences in how users engage with content and could impact their response to advertising.


In order to understand if it’s worth the trouble to customize user experiences, it’s important to look at how each group responds to advertising.

We found that there were meaningful differences in user ad sensitivity across the segments. One example extracted from the report: Catch-up Viewers and Digital Enthusiasts are much less likely than Samplers to leave a stream during an ad break.

This data suggests an opportunity exists to apply a targeted user experience to Samplers that includes fewer ads early on, giving them a chance to solidify their commitment to the content. By understanding this, and other audience viewing habits we reveal in the report, Programmers can tailor ad experience and messaging to convert Samplers into more engaged Catch-Up Viewers and Digital Enthusiasts.

As the data shows, there is significant incremental value to be gained from converting a Sampler into a more engaged viewer. A Catch-Up viewer generates 1.7 times the impression of a Sampler, while a Digital Enthusiast generates 7.3 times the ad impressions of a Sampler.

Download the report for a deeper look at how audience segments engage with content, the value of the different segments, and our recommendation for a three-phased approach for premium Publishers to develop a tailored strategy towards driving greater engagement.


For 22 consecutive quarters, we have supplied the premium video economy with definitive data on the monetization and consumption of premium video content. Here’s a glimpse at five important learnings from the Q2 report:

  1. Growth remains strong for both ad and video views: We saw continued growth year-over-year of video views (+24%) and ad views (+28%), indicating users remain committed to ad-supported platforms.
  2. Long-form content is playing a huge role in overall growth: Long-form outpaced the growth of live ad views (37% vs. 25%) for the first time since this report showcased data from live streams.
  3. Desktop’s waning importance: The move past the desktop continues as 66% of monetization now occurs outside Desktop environments (Tablets, Smartphones, OTT, and STB VOD).
  4. Sports for the win: Entertainment content continues to drive the majority of monetization in the US market, but Sports is growing at a higher rate—44% YOY vs. 26% YOY. Driven by growth in short-form clips, on-demand Sports ad views exceeded Live Sports for the first time in this report.
  5. Premium content deserves a premium environment: Programmers and Digital Pure-Plays have funneled their inventory away from long-tail less premium environments. Long-tail syndication ad views declined -62% YOY.

In keeping with the theme of user experience, we experimented with our own by debuting the VMR: Q2 2016 live on stage at Advertising Week. In the days ahead, we’ll post the on-demand version of the live-stream to our website. In the meantime, download the full report for access to our entire analysis.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank the team responsible for authoring the VMR for their outstanding work this quarter, including Mike Lawlor for his leadership, Alexa Atamanchuk, Michael Crouch, Moyi Dang, Zhouli Xu and Xu Yao.