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Say Goodbye to Traditional TV Upfronts of the Past

Alison Levin
Alison Levin, Roku

I was speaking recently to an agency president. He shared his strategy for this year’s upfronts: “Buy TV like you watch TV.” It’s a mandate that captures the accelerated shift from traditional TV to streaming TV in the last year. More than one in three Americans no longer has pay TV. The average age for the big three broadcast networks is now more than 60.

However, how are marketers making “buy TV like you watch TV” reality? Here are three lessons from brands who are going streamer-first:

1. TV streaming has broadcast-level reach

2020 was pay-TV’s worst year in history (opens in new tab), with the major providers losing a collective 7 million subscribers. Marketers want the ability to build scale, connect with new audiences, view campaigns holistically and optimize in real time. According to the Harris poll, for the first time ever, more Americans now report spending more time streaming than watching traditional pay TV. Importantly, the growth in streaming is not additive to overall viewing time. Average reported streaming hours increased 19% year over year while average traditional TV viewing hours decreased 13%, according to the survey results. The broad behavior shifts toward streaming and away from linear is here to stay, and smart marketers are gaining access to profound reach and scale.

2. Big TV moment storytelling must go beyond the 30-aecond ad

Tentpole sports events like the Super Bowl and March Madness illustrate how TV viewership has changed.  Consider that this year’s Super Bowl received the lowest ratings since 2007, (opens in new tab) but CBS reported a new streaming record on average 5.7 million viewers per minute, up from 3.4 million last year. This trend extends beyond sports moments. According to Roku internal data, during Oprahh Winfrey’s historic interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, reach for channels carrying the interview increased 7.3% week-over-week. Also, while the audience for this year’s Golden Globe Awards got older, the streaming audience was younger than traditional linear TV.

Just as brands embraced streaming as their preferred way to watch on-demand movies and TV shows, users are shifting towards streaming as their preferred way to watch live sports events. Streaming not only delivers audiences to brands at scale,  it provides them with powerful ways to bring storytelling to life beyond the 30-second ad. Brands can take advantage of multiple interactive and immersive ad formats only found on TV streaming to deliver their message in fun and engaging ways. 

3. The TV Screen Is Now Full Funnel

The big screen is no longer just focused on the upper funnel. No matter the type of marketer, from a large consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand to a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand, TV streaming allows an advertiser to quantify what happens after a customer sees the ad. There is no guesswork. Consumers are willing to watch ads if they’re relevant and captivating. This is where working platforms with a direct relationship with the consumer will be crucial. Without this, marketers are left speculating on performance.

Streaming provides not just a holistic view into performance, but advertisers can easily optimize a campaign in real time. We’ve passed the tipping point. As we head into a busy upfronts season and prepare for another record year in streaming, leading marketers are already shifting their TV upfront commitments. Those left out will need to pick up the pace. As viewership continues to shift, marketers that focus on where consumers are heading will be well-positioned no matter what the future holds. 

Alison Levin is VP of global ad revenue and marketing solutions at Roku.

VP, ad sales and strategy, Roku