Media Buying Briefing: Media agency investment execs weigh in on Amazon’s ad-supported tier

This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Two months into the launch of an ad-supported tier, media agency buyers have mixed reviews of Amazon Prime, one of the biggest connected TV streaming services available to consumers.

Though they celebrate Amazon Prime’s significant subscriber base and quality programming — and some felt Amazon priced itself more reasonably than Netflix did when it launched more than a year ago — buyers cite a lack of flexibility to purchase individual shows as well as somewhat of a slow reaction to buyer requests. 

Analysts expect a decent amount of revenue growth from Prime’s ad-supported tier, thanks to strong content including original series like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and high-profile sports like NFL’s Thursday Night Football. (That said, Prime also has had its misses, such as the poorly received Lord of the Rings prequel Rings of Power.) It helps also that Amazon got a head start a year ago with an ad-supported service called Freevee. 

Independent media analyst Brian Wieser guesstimates that the ad-supported version of the service could attract $1 billion in the U.S. in 2024, and another $1 billion globally. “They’re taking money that would have gone to other [TV ad sellers], so it’s not a radical change in the marketplace, at least not yet,” said Wieser. 

He noted that one advantage that Amazon would have on paper technically — its massive e-commerce selling machine connected to Prime — can’t really be connected in part due to legislation that’s been around since the 1930s. The Robinson Patman Act, which prevents price discrimination in retail by preventing distributors from charging different prices to various retailers. That essentially inhibits Amazon from giving preferential treatment to advertisers who heavily use Amazon’s e-commerce site. 

Nevertheless, Amazon Prime is generating enough heat of its own — as much with smaller agencies as with the big guys. Part of the reason behind that is it’s appealing as much to mid-sized businesses. 

“I compare it to Netflix where this is viewership that people have been wanting to buy and take advantage of,” said Sean Edwards, director of programmatic at west coast independent media agency Exverus Media. “Comparing those two, pricing wise Amazon blows Netflix out of the water.”

Where Netflix launched, buyers were irked at its high $55 CPM, which has come down since — while Amazon’s launch CPM ranges from $26 to $36. 

Edwards added that one small frustration is the lack of ability to purchase specific shows. But the value outweighs the limitations. “You’re utilizing [Amazon’s] data. You’re reaching these people that you know usually shop on Amazon,” he said. “And ultimately you have to go into it [thinking] that this is a new audience for everyone. And you want to hit people where they are.”

Amazon Prime does entice some entertainment and CPG advertisers, argued one holding company agency investment executive, who declined to speak on the record. “Across the industry, brands are gauging how this platform’s ad-supported offerings best suit them,” said the exec. “There’s a natural alignment for entertainment brands looking to promote theater and streaming releases, and when it comes to ad dollars, CPG advertisers take interest in this platform’s targeting capabilities.”

Given Amazon’s other elements in its ad-supported toolbox (gaming streamer Twitch, Amazon Fire, Freevee), it can bring some degree of reach beyond just the nascent ad-supported tier. “Their volume and reach – which can be delivered across multiple consumer touchpoints – are evident,” added the holdco buyer. “From a buyer’s perspective, it is imperative this platform looks at overall growth to meet clients’ needs.”

Still, not every holding company media agency is buying in just yet, for varying reasons. 

“We didn’t buy it. We may have pivoted some money because of options, but they came too late,” said a second holding company media agency head of investment, who declined to speak on the record. “Our budgets were 100% locked in upfront and the price was too high to shift money from other more efficient vendors. We believe the product is right, [but the] subscriber base is high because of their model and we will eventually buy, but due to duplicated reach, we didn’t think it was necessary to pivot.”

Said the head of investment at yet a different holding company agency, who also declined to speak for attribution: “They came in hot with a huge ask of incremental spend in addition to their STV [define] offering … Their CPM was OK but not great. And now with CTV CPMs falling fast …. they are still positioning a massive ask in this year’s upfront without disclosing what their monthly numbers actually are.”

Exverus’ Edwards said he feels the pricing is fair, especially for those agencies that don’t have the heft of multi-national marketers’ budgets behind them. “Amazon easily could have gone the other route and be like, ‘Hey, we know we’re premium are going to make you pay a premium price’,” he added. 

It’s clear that the e-commerce giant still has some ironing out to do, as it adapts its ad offerings to response from the marketplace. Edwards noted that his rep on the Amazon side is still learning all the company has to offer. “They’re still trying to figure out some stuff,” he said. “I had a lot of questions with my rep, and she could probably answer half of them.”   

Given that the upfront season is upon the industry, that rep is probably working overtime to get the rest of those answers. 

Color by numbers

Megabrands released the latest stats on out-of-home media spend for national advertisers, using data from the Out of Home Advertising Association of America and Vivvix. Among the top 20 OOH advertisers of 2023 were Apple, McDonald’s, Disney, Coca-Cola, Amazon and Uber (in order of spend). — Antoinette Siu

Some findings:

  • McDonald’s has been a top-two OOH spender since 1999, while Apple has maintained a top-three position for the last decade. Amazon has been in the top 10 for the last five years.
  • OOH ad revenue increased 2.1% in 2023 compared to the previous year, totaling $8.7 billion in spending.
  • DOOH accounted for 33% of total OOH spending and grew some 10% in 2023. OOH transit saw the biggest gains during this year, with a 7.3% increase.
  • 65% of the top 100 OOH advertisers increased that spend from 2022.
  • 20% of the top 100 OOH advertisers more than doubled their spend. The top five ranked in order of percentage increase: Asia Forging Supply, Avis, Johnson & Johnson, Coors and Coca-Cola.

Takeoff & landing

  • Merkury for Media is Dentsu’s latest product suite out of its Merkury data platform that says it applies first-party “people data” optimized to business outcomes for all its linear and digital media planning and buying. It officially launched last week. 
  • Media Disco is essentially relaunching itself as a self-serve ad buying platform dedicated to small and medium sized businesses.
  • Independent social media agency Social Element named two new co-CEOs in Linn Frost (most recently managing director of Europe) and Ashley Cooksley (North American CEO), taking over for founder Tamara Littleton, who becomes chair of the agency. Social Element also rolled out a new brand and visual identity. 

Direct quote

“The thinking was, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could create a marketplace that kicks off at around the time of the upfronts to expose more brands to not only what exists in legacy media platforms, but also to these emerging platforms that need to sustain if women’s sports are truly going to get the focus and attention that they need.” 

— Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and PR officer at finserv company Ally, on participating in GroupM’s commitment to double media investment in women’s sports. 

Speed reading

  • Antoinette Siu looked at the ways generative AI is finding its way into the content of more influencers and creators, and how influencer agencies are reacting to that trend. 
  • I looked at three different prognostications on media spend in 2024, and the good news is all of them raised their expectations — and not just because of the political windfall that will hit all media this summer and fall. 
  • Kristina Monllos dissected the ways in which marketer Georgia Pacific distilled pitches from up to 40 different retail media networks down to spending the lion’s share of its retail media budgets on seven.

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