Digiday+ Research: A guide to ad-supported streaming services, from the top platforms to marketing spend

This research is based on unique data collected from our proprietary audience of publisher, agency, brand and tech insiders. It’s available to Digiday+ members. More from the series →

This is the first installment of a two-part series on the top ad-supported streaming services. This report provides an overview of the platforms’ offerings and an analysis of how brands and agencies distribute their ad budgets and ad placements across platforms. Topics covered include:

  • Platforms’ plans, pricing and audience size
  • Platforms’ ad options and new ad inventory
  • YouTube’s command of the majority of ad placements

The second installment will dive into the results of Digiday’s recent survey of brands and agencies to analyze how advertisers’ preferences for ad options, ad targeting and ad campaign measurement match up to the platforms’ offerings. We’ll also examine challenges marketers face on the platforms and provide a guide to which platforms are right for key advertiser needs.


Streaming video continues to gain steam over linear TV, as Americans are tuning in to streaming platforms in record numbers. Streaming services accounted for 38.7% of total U.S. TV usage in July 2023, according to Nielsen — a new record high for the category. Just a year prior, streaming claimed the largest share of U.S. TV viewing for the first time

Meanwhile, cable and broadcast usage fell below 50% in July 2023 in terms of total share among U.S. viewers, Nielsen reported. Total broadcast viewing was down 3.6% to finish the month at 20% of TV, representing a new low. Cable viewing lost a full share point to capture 29.6% of TV usage in July.

What’s more, Americans have been adopting ad-supported streaming services at a faster rate than purely subscription-based options: The number of CTV households streaming ad-supported streaming services reached 83.7 million, a 17% increase from May 2021 to May 2023, while households streaming non-ad-supported services reached 81.1 million, a 9% increase, according to Comscore’s 2023 State of Streaming report.

“Even though streaming viewership continually increases, it is not cannibalizing linear but rather casting a wider net of fans for our advertisers to build authentic connections with,” said Alison Levin, president of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal. “It provides an opportunity for all of our owned and operated platforms to work better together.”

Taking note of consumers’ increased interest in ad-supported streaming services and hoping to generate more revenue in the process, Amazon’s Prime Video became the latest streaming service to launch an ad-supported tier. Prime Video (with ads) debuted on Jan. 29. 

Prime Video’s entry into the streaming ad market raises the stakes on its rivals because Amazon automatically opted in Prime subscribers to the ad-supported tier, a tactic that is enabling the e-commerce giant to report a monthly ad-supported audience of 200 million-plus monthly viewers. That puts Prime Video in league with The Walt Disney Company’s Hulu — which has claimed more than 115 million ad-supported viewers — atop the streaming ad market.

In this, Digiday’s third annual report on the state of ad-supported streaming services, we present an industry-level look at the top ad-supported streaming platforms to assess: 

  • What the platforms offer advertisers and consumers, including plans and pricing, audience reach, and ad options
  • What types of offerings advertisers say they need from platforms and where they spent the bulk of their 2023 ad budgets
  • Which platforms are best equipped to handle advertisers’ various needs

Digiday identified the top-earning ad-supported streaming services by 2023 ad revenue and also included other popular platforms selected by the Digiday editorial team for their prominence. Here are those platforms in alphabetical order:  

  • Amazon Freevee
  • Amazon Prime Video (with ads)
  • Discovery+
  • Disney+ Basic (with ads)
  • Hulu
  • Max
  • Netflix Standard (with ads)
  • Paramount+
  • Peacock
  • Pluto TV
  • Samsung TV Plus
  • The Roku Channel
  • Tubi
  • YouTube

Digiday surveyed the 14 ad-supported streaming platforms about their basic data including pricing and plans, audience size, ad offerings, and ad innovations. Digiday updated data for platforms that did not provide updates when possible, based on available information. 

Digiday interviewed executives at YouTube, Peacock, The Roku Channel and Tubi about their platforms’ ad offerings and recent innovations.

We also fielded a survey in February to 174 brand and agency professionals on their streaming platform buying behaviors and preferences.

We’ve included Amazon’s new ad-supported tier Prime Video (with ads) in our analysis.

Platforms’ plans, pricing and audience size

While traditional TV’s advertising businesses turned in a fairly poor showing for fourth-quarter 2023, streaming ad businesses, by contrast, continued to grow, according to TV and streaming companies’ Q4 2023 earnings reports. Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery, for example, provided the sharpest view of the divergent picture between the traditional TV and streaming ad businesses.

Paramount’s streaming ad revenue increased by 14% in Q4 2023, whereas its traditional TV ad revenue decreased by 15%. What’s more, WBD’s streaming ad revenue — reported in its direct-to-consumer segment, which includes ad-free HBO’s linear TV network — jumped by 51% year over year compared to its TV networks’ 12% slide in ad revenue.

With streaming services fast approaching linear TV as the preferred viewing platforms for many consumers, advertisers that traditionally spent the bulk of their budgets on network and cable TV are shifting more of their ad dollars to streaming instead. And, for their part, the companies offering these streaming services have realized they can make more money per user through a dual revenue model of subscriptions and advertising income.

To appeal to brands and consumers alike, the top ad-supported streaming services offer a variety of plans and pricing, and ad options and innovations, all in the hopes of winning advertisers’ dollars and viewers’ attention. 

The charts below present an overview of what the top ad-supported streaming services analyzed in this report offer consumers and advertisers. Data were collected via responses from the platforms, publicly available financial filings and documents, and additional Digiday reporting.

* Data for asterisked platforms was compiled by Digiday after those platforms did not respond to our request for information by the time of publication.

Audience size varies, subscribers vs. active users

Generally speaking, YouTube had the largest audience size at 2 billion-plus monthly logged-in users, according to YouTube. After YouTube, Warner Bros. Discovery had a combined number of 98 million global subscribers for Discovery+, HBO and Max as of Q4 2023, according to the company’s financial filings.

Netflix Standard with Ads had the smallest subscriber base at 23 million-plus global monthly active users in Q1 2024, according to Netflix. To give some context, Netflix Standard with Ads launched in November 2022 and is still building its subscriber base. Netflix’s ad-supported tier had about 15 million monthly active users globally in November 2023. 

Audience size data was either provided by the platforms or culled from publicly available company filings. While audience numbers for general platform viewers are often publicly available, several platforms have not released numbers pertaining specifically to their ad-supported audiences, and thus data are not all-inclusive. Likewise, it is difficult to draw conclusive comparisons when considering active viewers versus subscribers. 

While audience size is a key factor for advertisers, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Audience demographics and customer persona can often play a more important role for advertisers looking to appeal to a specific type of consumer. 

Pricing plans range from free (with ads) to $17.99 (for ad-free options)

Digday’s survey of ad-supported streaming services found that the platforms’ plans and pricing run the gamut from no cost at all for services with ads to as much as $17.99 per month for an ad-free option. Aiming to give viewers the most accessible of all entry points, almost half of the 14 platforms included in this report (six, to be exact, excluding Prime Video, which is free to Amazon Prime subscribers) are free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) services, with no monthly fee whatsoever for their ad-supported content. Of those six platforms, only YouTube offers the option to subscribe to an ad-free tier for a fee. That fee is $13.99 per month for a standard YouTube account and does not include YouTube TV, which is $72.99 per month and costs an additional $349 per year to include NFL Sunday Ticket.

Meanwhile, exactly half of the 14 platforms charge a fee for both their ad-supported and ad-free subscriptions. The least expensive of those is Discovery+ at $4.99 per month for its ad-supported plan and $8.99 per month ad-free. (Discovery+ increased its ad-free tier by $2 per month since last year’s report.) Paramount+ and Peacock offer the same pricing for their plans at $5.99 per month ad-supported and $11.99 per month ad-free. (The platforms both upped their ad-free tiers by $2 per month since last year’s report and $1 per month for their ad-supported tiers.)

Disney+ Basic with Ads and Hulu, although both owned by The Walt Disney Company, differ when it comes to their ad-free plans — $13.99 per month and $17.99 per month respectively — but stick to the same ad-supported pricing of $7.99 per month. In March, Disney launched “Hulu on Disney+” in the U.S. Essentially, if users subscribe to both Hulu and Disney+ — either individually or via a Disney Bundle — they can now view Hulu content in the Disney+ app. Bundle plans’ pricing begins at $9.99 per month with ads, while Disney+ and Hulu each remain available as standalone offerings.

Newer entrant Netflix’s Standard (with ads) falls somewhere in the middle of all the platforms at $6.99 per month with ads and $15.49 per month without ads, while Amazon’s Prime Video (with ads) is free to Amazon Prime subscribers and offers an ad-free tier for $2.99 per month. Amazon’s free tier and paid tier pricing are in addition to the monthly $14.99 or annual $139 Amazon Prime subscription fees that members already pay.

Platforms’ ad options and new ad inventory

Platforms offer fewer new ad options — shoppable ads, content takeovers and pause ads dominate

Although the streaming ad market is relatively new, traditional TV-style ads pervade the streaming marketplace. Viewers’ most-preferred ad format is the standard ad break — similar to those on traditional TV — placed at convenient plot point breaks in an episode or film, with 35% preferring this format, according to Tubi’s 2024 Streaming Insights for Marketers report, conducted in conjunction with The Harris Poll.

While 15- and 30-second spots very much have their place in advertisers’ media plans, ad buyers are hoping the increasing competition among streaming ad sellers will spur more innovative ad options. “They can’t just compete on [audience] incrementality over linear. They can’t just compete on content because a lot of people have premium content. The expectation from the marketplace is you have to show us something different,” one agency executive told Digiday earlier this year.

However, among the platforms surveyed for this report, less than half reported adding new ad options within the last 12 months. Those that did were Hulu, Peacock, The Roku Channel, Tubi and YouTube. 

Shoppable ads remained a top ad format that several platforms said they added to their ad inventory over the past 12 months, similar to what platforms told Digiday last year. 

In January, Hulu’s parent company Disney launched Gateway Shop, a beta program for its first native streaming shoppable ad format. With Gateway Shop, viewers receive personalized prompts for products that are sent directly to their phones via push notifications or email. Advertisers including Unilever are part of the limited beta test.

“Our goal is to help audiences connect with the brands they love with the least amount of friction, without disrupting the content they’re streaming,” Jamie Power, Disney Advertising’s svp of addressable sales, said in a press release. “Innovation is in Disney’s DNA, and in a cross-screen world, we believe shoppable experiences not only complement, but elevate, streaming.”

Peacock added interactive shopping experiences in May 2023, when it debuted Must ShopTV. The ad offering identifies objects in videos and makes them interactive and shoppable so viewers can purchase products within programs and check out using a remote control.

The Roku Channel’s shoppable ads format gives viewers the ability to browse products and make purchases through Roku-enabled devices using their remote controls. “With partners like Walmart, we can actually allow streamers to click the OK button on their remote, and either research or buy products from Walmart, right on the television screen,” said Jordan Rost, Roku’s head of ad marketing. “We’ve got all of the purchase information based on the credit card information that’s stored on file with your Roku account in your Roku pay account. And we use all of that to provide to the Walmart and the Shopify merchants. That can feed into their point-of-sale service, and then the retailers handle the entire transaction from there.” 

In 2023, Roku expanded its shoppable ad offerings to include retail media action ads with partners like Instacart, DoorDash and Shopify. For example, quick-serve restaurant Wendy’s ran a five-week promotional offer that tapped into Roku’s partnership with delivery service DoorDash, using home screen native ads and interactive video. Streaming viewers were offered $5 off orders of $15 or more, and could take action with a click on their Roku remote. The offer was then delivered to consumers’ devices in the form of a text message with a deep link to the Wendy’s storefront in the DoorDash app.

“We’ve found that advertisers who are using our native and interactive experience, see five to 10 times better response rates than ads that are using QR codes, just because it’s more native and natural, and it’s right in your hands,” Rost said. “You don’t have to pick up your phone to interact, though, advertisers can take the experience that’s on the screen and offer the ability for information to be pushed to their phone, if they really want to drive website or app download usage.”

Roku, in particular, has an advantage over many other streamers in that it not only operates a streaming platform in the form of The Roku Channel, but also provides devices for viewing streaming content with its Roku TVs and Roku players. (Samsung’s smart TVs and Samsung TV Plus streaming platform operate similarly.) When viewers watch Roku’s shoppable streaming content on their Roku TVs, they can make purchases directly through their TVs rather than having to complete transactions on their smartphones or other external devices. Roku is, therefore, able to remove an additional friction point in the path to purchase and create a more seamless ecosystem to support shoppable ads. 

Content takeovers stood out as another ad format that several platforms said they’ve instituted or added to in the last 12 months. 

Tubi’s Total Takeover gives advertisers 100% audience reach in stream during a specific window of programming time, meaning all viewers are shown the same ad and an advertiser is able to reach the entire viewing audience with their message. “Tubi offers optionality for advertisers via innovative ad formats including the Tubi Total Takeover, which is one day of 100% share of the first impressions across all Tubi CTV inventory,” said Melanie Brown, vp of Advanced TV at TubiSponsorships. 

Peacock’s Spotlight+ allows a full brand takeover to give brands the first impression across Peacock and NBCU’s partner sites. Advertisers can reach audiences regardless of whether they are watching Peacock original streaming or linear TV content or a third-party digital partner.

“Just to give you an idea, at the 2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, one of our leading tech partners reached 20% of U.S. households through the power of NBCUniversal’s unparalleled reach with Spotlight+,” said Peacock’s Levin. “Marketers can reach audiences that have real spending power, come from diverse backgrounds and have unique consumption habits across the platform and our entire portfolio, including Peacock.” 

In July, Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” movie took over Roku devices, including a home screen takeover and a Barbie Dreamhouse in Roku City, a screensaver on Roku devices and TVs. Viewers also had the ability to click on a “Barbie” banner to watch the movie trailer and scan a QR code to purchase movie tickets from nearby movie theaters. 

“What is essentially, a takeover ad is fundamentally a really immersive, valuable opportunity for people to engage with a really iconic piece of cinema,” said Roku’s Rost. “We’ve seen a lot of advertisers move into these more immersive and less intrusive advertising formats beyond the traditional video spots.”

YouTube’s content takeover options aim to give brands a high share of voice on relevant creator channels, custom lineups or playlists. The platform’s Cost Per Hour Masthead gives advertisers the option to buy masthead ad placement during the hour(s) leading up to, during or after what YouTube refers to as “priority moments,” such as live sporting events like the Super Bowl or major product launches. First Position (formerly Moment Blast) gives advertisers prime positioning — owning the first ad a user sees — on YouTube Select content on CTVs and other devices, plus a branded title card and optional masthead placement.

Aside from content takeovers, Brian Albert, YouTube’s managing director of U.S. video deals and creative works, said an unconventional multiple-hour ad by Nissan stood out as a particularly innovative ad this year. Inspired by a popular creator called Lofi Girl, Nissan created a four-hour lo-fi video, complete with a 15-track playlist and whimsical animation. 

“It was a four-hour ad. Where else could that actually work?” asked Albert. “In the first month, the video drew over 7 million views. It just reinforced for us that when you’re running the right creative that’s tapping into a current popular trend on the right platform, even the longest-form content can engage audiences across screens. … It’s a little bit of a unicorn.” 

Pause ads, which appear when a viewer pauses content they’re watching, aren’t new to streaming services, but more streamers have been integrating them into their ad repertoires. 

Netflix, Peacock, Max, Hulu and YouTube are among the platforms that offer pause ads, although not all platforms with pause ads noted them in Digiday’s survey. Tubi was the only platform that listed pause ads as an ad format that was added over the past 12 months. Tubi added pause ads to its sponsorship and total takeover formats in March 2023.

Harry Browne, vp of media innovation at performance marketing agency Tinuiti, said he is starting to see more client interest in pause ads. “Especially in the last six months or so, we’ve definitely seen advertisers start to lean into this a little bit more as a way to potentially get into some of this high-quality streaming inventory, but with a lower barrier to entry that might otherwise be necessary with video,” Browne said. “It’s a really cool add-on that I’m definitely seeing a lot of our bigger brand-focused clients leverage, and I would expect that to grow over the next year or so for sure.”

Part two preview: YouTube commands the majority of ad placements

In addition to asking platforms about what ad options and new formats they offer marketers, Digiday asked brands and ad agencies which ad-supported streaming platforms receive the bulk of their ad budgets and ad placements. 

YouTube, with the largest audience reach of all the platforms, came out on top as the platform that received the largest portion of both respondents’ ad placements and budget allocations. Three-quarters of brand and agency respondents (75%) said in Q1 2024 that they currently place ads on YouTube, a slight decrease from the 83% of respondents who said the same in Q1 2023. However, marketers’ YouTube budget allocation held steady year over year. More than half of respondents (60%) said YouTube consumed the largest portion of their budgets in 2023 and 2022.

YouTube likely came in first among advertisers for ad placements and budget allocation mainly due to its audience reach. The platform has more than 2 billion monthly logged-in users, according to YouTube, which far outpaces other platforms. Nielsen’s February report on U.S. linear TV and streaming viewing showed that YouTube held the top spot in streaming for 12 consecutive months. 

While most ad-supported streaming platforms offer similar content in the form of on-demand movies and TV series, original movie and TV programming, and live TV channels, YouTube stands out as the only platform that offers user-generated content, which YouTube refers to as creator content. According to YouTube’s Albert, it is the platform’s wide breadth of this type of content that sets it apart from other streaming platforms. 

“Over the past three years, we’ve invested over $70 billion, paying over 3 million creators who are uploading over 500 hours of content every minute,” Albert said. “That ensures we have the most diverse content library available, which is going to appeal to anyone’s individual passions and interests, and that’s ultimately what’s driving the viewership numbers that you’re seeing.”

YouTube also has access to Google’s entire first-party search and browser history data due to its connection to Google’s demand-side platform (Display & Video 360), the dominant DSP in streaming and online advertising. Google, as the publisher of YouTube, can count its own user login data as its first-party data. First-party data reserves are increasingly a crucial selling point to attract advertisers, as deprecation of the third-party cookie slowly becomes a reality

Coming soon: For information on marketers’ spending on other platforms, such as Hulu, keep an eye out for our second installment in this series, publishing May 1. We will dive deep into the results of Digiday’s recent survey of brands and agencies to analyze how advertisers’ preferences for ad options, ad targeting and ad campaign measurement match up to the platforms’ offerings. We will also examine challenges advertisers face when placing ads on ad-supported streaming services and provide a guide to which platforms are right for key advertiser needs.


More in Future of TV

Inside YouTube’s 2024 upfront pitch to advertisers

YouTube is updating its YouTube Select program that packages top creators’ channels, adding creator takeovers and introducing a new AI-powered ad product.

Research Briefing: Marketers are set to increase their upfront spending this year

In this edition of the Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine how advertisers are approaching spend in the upfront market, what metrics marketers use to gauge ad campaign success on streaming platforms, and how brands, retailers and agencies are investing in programmatic ads, as seen in recent data from Digiday+ Research.

Future of TV Briefing: How upfront ad sellers’ ‘advanced audiences’ pitches have, um, advanced this year

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at how ad buyers’ and sellers’ discussion around advanced audiences is different in this year’s upfront market.