Alison Levin

Alison Levin
Alison Levin

Six years ago, Levin was Roku’s first ad sales person, charged with explaining why brands should send ad dollars to this newfangled device. 

Levin’s group now has more than 200 employees, and a broader client base, including Fortune 500 firms, “channel partners” such as Peacock and Disney Plus, and local companies connecting to nearby consumers. She has a much easier time explaining why linear TV advertisers should jump to Roku. 

“We spent the last six years growing that business from the ground up, helping brands understand how much they should move out of linear into OTT as the right targeting tactic,” Levin said. “How do they right-size media spend to consumption and make the best path to those consumers, depending on what they’re trying to accomplish? It’s been an exciting journey, and we’ve only really just gotten started.”

That spade work has paid off in the pandemic, as locked-down consumers have increasingly turned to streaming, especially free, ad-supported services, including the Roku Channel and its many competitor/partners. The company doesn’t break out ad revenue, but Q3 earnings saw a 70% jump year over year in “platform” revenue, which includes advertising. That positions Roku to “help shape the future of television — including TV advertising — around the world,” the company’s shareholder letter said. 

Expect Levin, who formerly worked at YuMe, IAC and BusinessWeek, to be at the center of that.

“What we witnessed as the largest streaming platform in the U.S. is that the No. 1 thing people search for on Roku is ‘free,’ ” Levin said. "They’re looking for free content to supplement their viewing behaviors on Netflix or other places. And that only accelerated during COVID.” 

“Free” means ads. Going forward, Levin expects two trends to shape 2021: identity and frequency. Knowing your viewer’s identity means you can build a direct connection to the consumer with better data and better advertising. And then you have to figure out how often does a given ad run. 

“What’s the right balance, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish?” Levin asked. “What’s the right consumer journey? That’s a big focus for us in the next year.”

David Bloom

David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline, Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.