Roku Makes Aggressive Bid to Take TV’s Ad Dollars


Just as TV networks are starting to see new opportunities to snare much-needed ad cash, their digital competitors are going after the money as well.

Roku, the popular streaming-video interface, will on June 22 kick off a series of presentations to advertisers from digital companies known as the “NewFronts.” In a more typical year, the “NewFronts” take place before a series of “upfronts,” or Madison Avenue showcases from TV networks. Like TV’s “upfront” showcases, the “NewFronts” had to be scrapped and retooled for a pandemic-tossed era in which advertisers and executives can’t convene.

In a normal time, the digital players would have made their pitch before the TV networks. Under a revamped schedule, they will present just as analysts believe Madison Avenue is getting ready to spend anew  – placing another hurdle in the path of the mainstream media outlets.

“We think that April increasingly feels like the bottom,” says Michael Levine, a media analyst for Pivotal Research Group, in a recent research note. “We will be waiting to see how June shapes up, as well as color around second half outlook before refining our estimates, but numbers are likely going higher”

Roku and a host of digital contemporaries like YouTube, Snap Inc., Facebook and Samsung will all offer “NewFronts” at a time when TV’s grip on some $70 billion in advertising has never seemed so tenuous. Some marketers have clawed back ad spend and asked to delay plans. Others are eager to court viewers who stream their favorite comedies and dramas in environments that utilize fewer ads or commercials that can be placed more precisely depending on a specific consumer target.

“Streaming is accelerating more than ever before, and linear TV’s future is pretty unknown,” says Allison Levin, Roku’s vice president of ad sales and strategy, in an interview. “We believe that this really is the moment, and this is the streaming decade.”

Roku is unveiling new services it hopes will tempt marketers to put more of their money in ads for its platforms. Some of these new offerings let advertiser quickly change their commercials to make them more relevant or appropriate for specific consumers. Under new Roku services, for example, a national TV ad campaign can be pulled in any specific ZIP Code within 24 hours if local regulations should change; this can help marketers whose business depends on certain operations being allowed to open in different parts of the U.S.  Roku says it is also offering free creative services that will help clients make changes to national ads.

The company has also guaranteed advertisers will pay a different price for shorter ads than they do for a standard 30-second spot, sometimes a problem in the world of broadband media. A new dashboard will allow marketers to monitor how many times a campaign appears to viewers; the number of times a single ad surfaces in streaming environments has become of growing concern in recent months. Roku is also offering to let clients pay for only those viewers who have not already seen the ad via linear TV.

Roku makes its pitch as the field for ad-supported video streaming grows more crowded – and some of the participants are the old-school media companies. NBCUniversal’s Peacock is expected to gain a wider base in July as it expands its distribution. NBCU in March purchased the streaming outlet Vudu from Walmart. Fox Corporation purchased ad-supported streaming-video outlet Tubi in March for more than $440 million. ViacomCBS bought Pluto TV for $340 million last year.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney is taking steps to make ad-supported Hulu more a part of its overall video portfolio. Last week, the company unveiled new efforts to help advertisers buy packages of inventory that include appearances both on Hulu and on some of Disney’s TV networks.

By Brian Steinberg1

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