CMO Strategies: Advertisers identify the top attributes on ad-supported streaming platforms

This article is part of a special research series on where CMOs are investing. More from the series →

This is the third installment in Digiday’s multi-part series covering the top ad-supported streaming services and part of Digiday’s CMO Strategies series. In case you missed it, 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.

Frequency capping matters most to advertisers

Chief among the options marketers weigh when deciding on which streaming services to place ads are the ad attributes themselves — factors such as ad break length, the number of ads in a pod and whether viewers are exposed to the same ad too often.

To assess the value of various ad attributes to advertisers, Digiday asked brands and agencies which they considered to be most important for platforms to offer. Overall, advertisers’ answers indicated that they aim to provide viewers with fewer repeated ads and shorter ad breaks, but they prefer not to give viewers the option to skip ads entirely.

Frequency capping was the most important ad option for platforms to offer advertisers in both 2024 and 2023, according to Digiday’s survey. Frequency capping tied with short ad-break length for the top ad option last year, and almost half of respondents (45%) selected frequency capping in 2024.

However, the second- and third-most important ad features have shifted since last year’s report, mainly due to the addition of non-skippable ads in Digiday’s answer set. Non-skippable ads came in second place this year, bumping short ad-break length to third place.

When it comes to frequency capping, the issue advertisers generally run into is that individual viewers are exposed to the same ad too many times in a given week. Advertisers typically try to limit the number of times a video ad is shown to the same person to two to three exposures per week. However, sometimes viewers are served the ad more than three times that threshold, creating a negative brand experience for consumers.

Advertisers also struggle to rein in the number of exposures across disparate streaming services. Individual streamers can cap ad exposures within their services, but if a consumer watches multiple ad-supported streamers each week and an advertiser is running a campaign across each service, the viewer is prone to see the ad in excess.

“We have to be extremely strategic about the role of streaming for each of our brands, and manage down to the content level to ensure we remain relevant to our target audiences without over-frequency-ing them,” Verizon Value’s CMO Cheryl Gresham said in an email. Verizon Value is Verizon’s portfolio of prepaid brands that includes Visible, Straight Talk and Total by Verizon.

“The biggest concern here is that even if it is happening, we have little way to hold the platforms accountable without access to syndicated data sources,” Gresham added. “Although some network holding companies are putting controls in place to control frequency within their ecosystems — between linear, streaming or programmatic offerings — there still isn’t a cross-platform solution, even though the industry has been voicing concerns for years.”

According to statistics cited by eMarketer, 30% of marketers and publishers believe more efficient frequency capping would increase their CTV advertising spend. Carolina Portela, vp and director of strategic investment at IPG Mediabrands’ MAGNA, acknowledged the medium’s barriers when she spoke at the first-annual CTV Connect conference in March. “We have challenges when it comes to managing at a holistic level,” she said, during a panel on high ad frequency. “We’d definitely like to get more mechanisms for that. We’re never going to be in a perfect, holistic management world, but we’re putting a lot of thought into it.”

Among the platforms Digiday surveyed, six confirmed that they offer frequency capping: Hulu, Netflix Standard (with ads), Peacock, The Roku Channel, Tubi and YouTube.

For example, Roku’s Roku ID for Advertising is a device identifier that enables ad targeting and frequency capping on the Roku platform. It also limits disclosure of users’ identifying information and lets customers opt out of ad targeting or reset their IDs at any time. “We have really strict frequency controls across the entire experience that makes sure that advertising is interesting, not bombarding,” said Jordan Rost, The Roku Channel’s head of ad marketing. “We’re also constantly tweaking, evolving and optimizing all the different advertising elements to ensure advertising is a useful part of the experience, not an intrusive one.”

Tubi’s Advanced Frequency Management tool, which the company launched in 2020, reduces ad repetition by scanning frames to algorithmically identify logos and text. “To combat the longstanding issue of overfrequency in CTV viewing, Tubi also offers a proprietary Advanced Frequency Management tool, which caps a user’s campaign exposure at the campaign level, regardless of demand source,” Melanie Brown, vp of Advanced TV at Tubi, said in an email. “In addition to preserving the user experience, AFM allows those campaigns to serve the impressions to incremental qualified audiences.”

Tubi’s AFM tool prevents advertisers from placing multiple ads from a brand in the same program when advertisers buy from numerous aggregators and prevents targeting the same households multiple times.

The other side of the frequency capping coin is that sometimes advertisers struggle to reach viewers a sufficient number of times. However, the average CTV campaign’s reach has more than doubled in the last two years to 20.16% of ad tech firm Innovid’s 95 million CTV households, according to the company’s 2024 CTV Advertising Insights Report. Innovid attributes the surge to a combination of more viewers watching CTV and brands running more and larger CTV advertising campaigns.

Harry Browne, vp of media innovation at performance marketing agency Tinuiti, said marketers’ frequency capping needs can vary depending on their campaign goals. “Advertisers who are interested in generating a lot of impressions because they’re interested in reach may want a slightly more open frequency cap,” Browne said. “But, in general, frequency capping and shorter ad breaks are helpful in terms of maintaining a quality viewer experience and maintaining the efficacy of that impression.”

Non-skippable ads and short ad breaks are valuable ad options

After frequency capping, brands and agencies said non-skippable ads were the next-most important ad options for platforms to offer. Non-skippable ads was a new addition to Digiday’s answer set this year and its No. 2 placement pushed short ad-break length to third place.

For advertisers, the main appeal of running non-skippable ads is that they are 100% viewable units, meaning brands and agencies can increase their video completion rates and reach viewers with their entire message.

However, Brian Albert, YouTube’s managing director of U.S. video deals and creative works, said the effectiveness of non-skippable ads can depend on the device viewers are using to watch them. “We walked away from non-skip, 30-second ads on YouTube when YouTube was predominantly a mobile and desktop video platform because it created a poor user experience,” Albert said. “But what we found is that user expectations are different on the big screen. So, for YouTube Select, which predominantly serves on TV screens, we reintroduced non-skip, 30 ads because we didn’t see the same effects as we did with non-skip, 30 ads served on mobile devices.”

Among the platforms Digiday surveyed, eight confirmed that they offer non-skippable ads: Discovery+, Hulu, Max, Netflix Standard (with ads), Peacock, The Roku Channel, Tubi and YouTube.

Short ad-break length (one minute or less) came in third place this year among ad options marketers seek from ad-supported streaming platforms, Digiday’s survey found.

The ability to provide viewers with shorter ad breaks matters to advertisers for much the same reason as frequency caps do — advertisers run the risk of alienating viewers by showing them too many ads at once. Lengthy ad breaks create an interruption that distracts the viewer from the main video, potentially causing annoyance and a negative brand experience.

“Shorter ad breaks, frequency capping, where the ad falls, length, all of that is very important in terms of creating a better viewer experience,” Tinuiti’s Browne said. “The shorter your ad breaks, the more enjoyable your content is going to be for the viewer. Thus, the more engaged they’re going to be and probably the more effective your ad is going to be.”

YouTube’s Albert pointed out that, similar to non-skippable ads, the effectiveness of ad break lengths can vary depending on the viewing screen. “When we were developing living room ads, we found that fewer, longer ad breaks actually work,” Albert said. “So, the vast majority of our viewers would prefer ads that are grouped together instead of distributed throughout a video when they’re watching longer-form content on TV screens. We know that that experience is very different than on a mobile phone. The vast majority of the content that’s being viewed on a TV screen is 21 minutes or longer in duration.”

According to Tubi’s 2024 Streaming Insights for Marketers report, which was conducted in conjunction with The Harris Poll, viewers’ most-preferred ad format is the standard ad break — similar to what they see on traditional TV — placed at convenient plot point breaks in an episode or film. Thirty-five percent of viewers said they preferred the standard ad break format, according to the study.

Among the platforms Digiday surveyed, six confirmed that they offer short ad-break length (one minute or less): Discovery+, Max, Netflix Standard (with ads), Peacock, Tubi and YouTube.

Victoria Vaynberg, CMO at Zola, an online wedding planning company, said frequency capping, non-skippable ads and short ad-break length are all important ad formats for platforms to offer. “In particular, frequency capping and short ad-break length are important to the quality of the viewers’ experience and, in turn, the advertisers’. The balance of maintaining attention without overwhelming the recipient is crucial. We aim to avoid inundating them with repetitive messages,” Vaynberg said in an email.

Ultimately, the most important ad options for platforms to offer can depend on the audience an advertiser is trying to reach. “It’s important to offer less cluttered environments with the opportunity to break through with more precise targeting to the target audience,” Verizon Value’s Gresham said in an email. “Contextually relevant environments, such as pause ads, or custom units with QR functionality are also becoming more important for us as we build brands and drive consumers down the funnel. If awareness is the goal, then non-skippable is key.”

Coming soon: For information on the types of first-party data marketers lean on for ad targeting on streaming services, and whether it’s more important for platforms to offer premium or higher total audience reach, keep an eye out for our fourth installment in this series.

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