By now, the smart TV revolution is well underway and advertisers across the board have recognized that viewer behavior has changed dramatically.
Some of these changes have manifested as challenges to advertisers. One change is the fact that many viewers are streaming TV in premium, ad-free environments. Another is that even among viewers using platforms with ads, they often jump between services, resulting in a fragmented landscape that makes targeting and frequency difficult to achieve.
But other changes have emerged as solutions to these challenges, top among them is the ascension of the smart TV home screen as the center of the streaming TV experience.
Savvy advertisers recognize that the home screen is the one place where they can reach all viewers regardless of content or platform choice. The question many are asking today is, how?
It’s a valid question, but the answers won’t be found looking at what’s worked in the past. Instead, advertisers need to really think differently and pivot their strategy, budgets and content choices to today’s CTV environment.
First, let’s examine just how different the smart TV home screen is as an advertising vehicle. The home screen offers a different kind of reach, engagement and measurement potential than what TV ad buyers typically expect from a traditional 15-second or 30-second video ad. That means home-screen ad opportunities need to be evaluated differently.
Let’s start with reach. Many home screen visitors are hard-to-reach viewers who go right to an ad-free environment that brands miss with standard CTV or linear ad buys. The home screen is the only place where brands can reach these viewers as they begin their streaming journey.
Then there’s engagement. The home screen is, by design, a lean-in experience. It’s the new channel surfing, an active process where viewers are at their most engaged and focused on the screen itself. That’s much different than the passive lean-back posture taken once they start streaming.
And finally, we have measurement, the ability for the home screen provider to more granularly measure not only reach and awareness but also lower-funnel key performance indicators (KPIs) like sales and even store visits for a level of custom reporting that can better validate and optimize campaigns.
Taken together, the home screen offers the scale of linear with the efficiency of digital with no wasted impressions. But just because the home screen is on the TV doesn’t mean we should treat it like a traditional TV ad.
Content and Creative
Ask any brand how they’d like to advertise on the smart TV home screen and the first answer you’ll get is a streaming video ad similar to the kind you’d see between show programming breaks.
But one must be very careful about how ads work in the home screen environment. Video ads in programming are interruptive by nature. They have to be. Watching TV is a lean-back experience. You need interruptive ads to get attention. You need frequency to ensure the message gets across.
But the home screen is different. Viewers on the home screen are far more engaged. It’s a lean-in experience. That requires a different kind of advertising. Interrupting the content discovery experience with a video ad is not the best experience, and could very easily backfire.
For media companies advertising programming it’s pretty straightforward — feature a title in one of many featured or curated programming themes and let the viewer click to watch. But for general-market brands, it takes a bit more creativity.
This creates an unprecedented opportunity to build brand affinity by helping viewers find what they want, presenting it in a way that creates a better user experience, and in some cases even contributing to the creation of the content at the start. These solutions build not only awareness, but goodwill when brands are seen as aiding the discovery experience and not hindering it.
Brands can sponsor a specific program, or a collection of content, or even create their own branded content experience offered to viewers strategically alongside well-timed calendar milestones.
These opportunities place brands alongside not just one publisher’s content, but all the content people are seeking out or possibly looking for in a highly immersive environment. Sure you can place a CTV video ad in a cooking show, or even in multiple cooking shows airing at different times of the week on different channels. But now you can sponsor an entire curated discovery row dedicated to cooking and food.
What’s more, it’s a way for brands to participate in and have a voice around TV tentpole events that they otherwise may be unable to penetrate with ads directly for either budgetary or other concerns.
But — there’s always a “but” — the infrastructure of the ad-buying system has to catch up to these modern realities and formats. Ad buying is still very much based on format, on different types of media. You have TV media buyers, digital media buyers, print media buyers and so on.
The TV home screen resides on a TV. The community buying CTV video inventory is looking at the home screen inventory through the same lens — gross ratings points (GRPs), 15- to 30-second videos, etc. It’s a paradigm they can’t get out of due to outdated strategies, outdated budgets or a little of both. (The same can be said for Wall Street analysts.)
The home screen opportunity is not your typical connected TV buy. It’s not even display. It’s a new medium that the infrastructure hasn’t adapted to yet. Most people get it, they’re just literally not empowered to buy it.
The TV buying team has a TV buying budget to do one specific thing: buy video ads. Display ad teams have their budget for website ads. That’s largely because this is a new format disrupting a status quo that hasn’t changed much in decades. Of course the industry needs time to readjust.
But this period of adjustment also presents an opportunity for the early adopters to snatch a huge slice of the “share of voice” pie, and do so at the same cost as advertising in a crowded linear market. As they succeed, these artificial walls impeding the adoption of home screen advertising will fall.
Ultimately, advertising content and budget follow the consumer. They go where viewers go. But sometimes, they get there a little late.
Today, TV viewers are going in many different directions, but they’re all starting from the same place — the smart TV home screen. Advertising technology, budgets and strategies need to catch up to meet viewers where they now live.
TV has changed. It’s not going back. So TV advertising has to change with it.
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Travis Hockersmith is group vice president of Platform+ at Vizio. As group VP of Platform+, he currently leads operations for Vizio's rapidly growing platform business, which includes Vizio Ads and Inscape.