This is the fifth and final installment in Digiday’s multi-part series covering the top ad-supported streaming services and part of Digiday’s CMO Strategies series.

The first installment provided an overview of the various platforms’ offerings, including pricing and plans, ad options, and new ad formats, along with our methodology. The second installment examined which platforms receive the bulk of marketers’ ad budgets and ad placements. The third installment uncovered which ad attributes matter the most to marketers. And the fourth installment looked at which types of first-party data are most important to marketers for ad targeting on streaming platforms.

Brands and agencies consider a range of metrics to measure the success of the campaigns they’re running on ad-supported streaming platforms — everything from engagement/watch time to impressions to click-through rates. 

“I’m always focused on measurability and having frameworks in place to measure the efficacy of [streaming] media,” said Harry Browne, vp of media innovation at performance marketing agency Tinuiti. “Otherwise, it’s hard to justify running media. No advertiser has the luxury of being able to spend money on an ad and not answer to someone and say what it did for them. Having a measurement framework in place is just really critical.”

Among the brands and agencies surveyed recently by Digiday+ Research, impressions and engagement/watch time were the top two success metrics advertisers consider on the three streaming services where they place the majority of ads — YouTube, Prime Video (with ads) and Hulu — for the second year in a row.

Not only was impressions the top success metric on platforms where brands and agencies place the majority of their ads, it was also the top success metric across almost all platforms considered for this report. 

Impressions, which measure how often viewers are exposed to the initial in-stream portion of a video ad, can help drive the shift of TV ad dollars to streaming by providing a commonly understood measure of ad-supported streaming’s performance in the language of ad views. Platforms are keen to offer this data as proof of scale as they seek to grow their streaming businesses and to woo advertisers away from traditional TV, using it to paint a richer, often demographic-based picture of their audiences.

Advertisers are eager to have impressions data because impressions give a basic assessment of how many — and which types of — people are viewing ads on a particular streaming service. By calculating the number of impressions a campaign generates, brands and agencies can determine how far a streaming platform, and a campaign, are really reaching.

“One of the main benefits [of streaming platforms] is the quality of the impression — large(r) screen, longer average view time, especially with non-skippable inventory,” Victoria Vaynberg, CMO at Zola, said in an email. “With the right creative, ad supported streaming inventory allows you to tell a more complete story compared to other available ad placements.”

“Depending on the goal of our buy, we look at different success measures. For example, we will look at brand lift for a campaign focused on awareness and/or consideration, as well as message association,” Vaynberg added. “For campaigns designed to drive a conversion/action, we will measure for CPA [cost per acquisition]. When we test new platforms, we often look at incremental IPs reached to understand the size of the audience that we are not reaching within our current mix.”

Engagement/watch time was the second-most important success metric, or in some cases equally important as impressions, for advertisers on almost all platforms. Put simply, no one wants to spend money on ads that aren’t being watched.

However, advertisers and platforms alike told Digiday that engagement/watch time must be considered in conjunction with other success metrics.

“Having streaming services play a critical role in demand generation in the upper- to mid-funnel is key,” Verizon Value’s CMO Cheryl Gresham said in an email. “‘Vanity’ metrics are great — views, etc. However, in addition to ensuring that people have the ability to see and hear our message, we tie our streaming buys to MMM [media mix modeling] to see how these platforms play a role in the interconnectivity of our multi-channel campaigns and how they are individually driving incremental subscribers.”

In March 2023, Tubi announced its Alternative Audience Measurement tool as part of a larger marketing integration. The tool lets advertisers measure their campaigns using Comscore Campaign Ratings and VideoAmp Audience Measurement and, according to Tubi, gives them the ability to test a variety of partners and to measure reach, frequency and attribution on Tubi.

“While viewer engagement is a key metric for advertisers, we also weigh in on various viewer conversion and retention metrics,” Tubi Chief Revenue Officer Mark Rotblat said at the time of launch. “Our goal is to maximize the value exchange between our viewers and advertisers so that it’s a positive and beneficial experience for both.”

In July 2020, Hulu launched its Ad Manager tool, a proprietary ad buying and measurement platform that allows advertisers to target users by age, interest, gender, location and show genre, and measure campaign performance.

Conversions was the third-most important success metric for advertisers on Peacock, Paramount+ and Hulu, according to Digiday’s survey. It tied for first place with impressions as the most important success metric advertisers consider on Max. Conversions data matters to brands and agencies because the data helps them assess their ROI on paid advertising spend.

As noted earlier, Roku recently partnered with Instacart on shoppable retail media action ads. In addition to providing first-party customer data for ad targeting, the partnership helps CPG brands measure whether their ads drive sales on the grocery delivery platform. According to Instacart CMO Laura Jones, Instacart combines viewership statistics from Roku and insights from its marketplace to measure whether people are buying a certain product on Instacart after seeing an ad for it on Roku.

“We’ve seen some great results,” Jones said. “In one of our tests with a personal care brand, 60% of customers who purchased the brand after seeing its campaign on the Roku platform were new to the brand. The partnership really allows marketers to measure return on ad spend as they meet consumers while they’re streaming TV.”

“Both TV streaming and retail media are very fast-growing advertising channels right now,” Jones added. “And given the economic climate and tightening advertising budgets, all marketers want to make sure our dollars are working harder and more efficiently for us. This means that platforms that can provide deeper and more detailed measurement solutions are going to become more valuable for advertisers.”

Cost challenges and lack of scale hold back further investment

Most advertisers said the expense of buying and placing ads on platforms is the largest roadblock they encounter when it comes to ad-supported streaming services, followed by lack of scale.

Considering the platforms’ select programming, pricing premiums aren’t entirely unexpected or unwarranted and, as long as programming remains consistent, are only likely to increase.

In general, streaming ad prices average between the high $10s and low $20s per thousand impressions when buying against the most basic audience segment of anyone who’s at least 2 years old (a legacy TV buying option referred to as “P2+”). However, the cream of the crop charge a premium above that average, ranging from CPMs in the $20s to $30s for Hulu and Peacock, up to CPMs in the low- to mid-$40s for Netflix and Disney+ Basic (with ads).

Although Amazon was somewhat late to the ad-supported streaming game, the e-commerce giant may have taken into account Netflix’s initial pricing mistakes when it added its ad-supported tier. (Netflix initially sought $65 CPMs and has since reduced its prices.)

Instead, when Amazon launched its ad-supported tier earlier this year, it set two pricing options for Prime Video, according to four agency executives. For ads guaranteed to run, advertisers were being asked to pay a mid-$30s CPM (roughly $36, per two of the executives). And for ads not guaranteed to run — “preemptible,” in industry nomenclature — advertisers will pay CPMs in the low-$30s.

“They’re kind of in the middle of the legacy networks versus what Netflix did a year ago,” said one agency executive. They added, Amazon’s CPMs “are not $60 like what Netflix came out with and Peacock in the beginning. But they’re also not $20 or lower.”

Following cost of media, advertisers found lack of scale to be the second-greatest challenge they face on ad-supported streaming platforms, according to Digiday’s survey.

In general, smaller platforms naturally have less audience reach. Notably, Amazon Freevee hasn’t publicly shared audience numbers, while sibling platform Amazon Prime Video (with ads) reported an audience size of 200 million-plus Prime Members worldwide.

Additionally, many ad-supported streaming platforms are nascent offerings, with lower numbers of users signing on to the ad-supported versions initially. For example, Netflix Standard (with ads), which launched in November 2022, was falling short of ad-supported viewership guarantees made to advertisers just a month later and allowing advertisers to take their money back for ads that had yet to run.

Among the platforms that shared audience numbers for this report, Netflix reported the smallest subscriber base for its ad-supported tier — 23 million-plus global monthly active users in Q1 2024. However, that number is still up significantly from the 15 million global monthly active users the platform reported in November 2023, indicating that the streamer is still building its audience.

Brand safety can be another area of concern for some advertisers. Tinuiti’s Browne said this is often a larger concern for his agency than cost of media. “Of course I’m concerned with the cost of [media], but who’s not? That’s not really saying anything,” Browne said. “I’m always concerned about brand safety. … I would be cautious about brand safety when it comes to things like news content.”

One area of frustration with brand safety centers on programmatic buys. CTV ad buyers would like CTV ad sellers to pass program-level information in the programmatic bid stream — for example, the specific show an ad would run during. But the sellers would prefer to reserve that information for direct deals that tend to be more valuable.

Historically, the relative lack of content-related signals for programmatic CTV ad inventory compared to traditional TV — where programming schedules enable advertisers to know the specific programs carrying their ads — has been a point of frustration, particularly for advertisers that care about the context in which their ads appear. That frustration may increase as the current election cycle continues to build.

However, in a streaming ad market where supply has grown to the point of exceeding advertiser demand, CTV ad sellers currently seem to be gravitating toward sharing more content-related signals associated with their ad impressions, in part, as a means of better competing.

In the first half of 2023, 83% of CTV ad impressions that passed through video tech company Beachfront’s ad server contained genre signals indicating whether an impression was attached to a program in a specific content category, like comedy, drama, news or sports, according to Beachfront. That’s up from 70% of CTV ad impressions in the second half of 2022 and 56% in the first half of 2022.

Not only does merchandising an impression’s genre, network and channel give the ad buyer more information when deciding to bid on an ad slot, but it can also help the seller to extend the advertiser’s interest to more of its inventory. CTV ad impressions carrying a genre signal, on average, fetched 27% higher CPMs than those that did not include genre signals, according to Beachfront.

In YouTube’s case, brand safety concerns are amplified by the platform’s creator content. With hundreds of thousands of hours of user-generated content uploaded to the platform daily, it is seemingly impossible, even with the help of automation — and despite being accredited for brand safety by the Media Ratings Council — for YouTube to ensure all advertiser content is placed next to appropriate video content.

“Responsibility is always our No. 1 concern, to ensure that our clients are advertising on a safe platform across suitable placements,” said Brian Albert, YouTube’s managing director of U.S. video deals and creative works. “That will always be our top priority. Beyond that, it comes down to results, and do we have the right first- and third-party measurement solutions in place to reinforce the efficacy of advertising on YouTube.”

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