Roku Wants To Shake Up The Upfront as Ad-Buying Bazaar Marks 60th Anniversary

Roku Originals
Roku Originals will be a part of Roku's NewFront pitch (Image credit: Roku)

To Roku, the 60th anniversary of the upfront is a good time to make streaming a more important part of advertisers’ TV budgets.

“This year, our goal is to really shake up the upfronts,” Kristina Shepard, head of agency partnerships and national brand team lead for Roku told Broadcasting+Cable.

While it has been 60 years since ABC invited sponsors to check out the new shows that would be on the network’s fall schedule, May 3 will be the first time Roku will make an in-person presentation to ad buyers at the NewFronts. 

"The keys to Roku’s pitch is that viewership patterns have changed, with more consumers streaming, especially those in younger demos that are hard to reach at scale with broadcast," Shepard said. "And Roku has ramped up its programming and advertising technology, creating a better experience for viewers and more efficiency for marketers."

“We believe that the upfront will start with streaming,” she said. “Marketers' investment in TV streaming has greatly accelerated.”

In last year’s upfront, Roku made deals with all of the major ad buying holding companies, its commitments doubled, with 42% of the business coming from new upfront advertisers.

Overall, Shepard said that about $8 billion in upfront spending went to streamers, compared to $20 billion that went to traditional broadcasting and cable programmers.

This year, “I expect it to go up for sure,” she said. “I think every brand will have to see that shift and streaming will become a bigger part of their media mix than linear in some cases.”

The Roku upfront will be held at the Caldwell Factory, and is being designed to bring the Roku viewing experience to the main stage because Roku said that advertisers who watch Roku buy Roku. Naturally, the presentation will also be available via streaming on the Roku platform.

"Our pillars are centered around how we can help marketers accomplish their goals while also creating a better TV experience," Shepard said.

Roku will be touting The Roku Channels reach–80 million users–and the billion dollars it plans to invest in original programming.

It will also be touting its ability to help brands tell their story via the Roku Brand Studio, which handles every through from integrating brands like Geico and Walmart into its Roku Recommends series to creating branded watch-alongs that run before commercial break and align with the content.

Most importantly, Roku will be telling buyers and advertisers about its gains in ad tech and its One View ad buying platform.

“We’re rolling out features that advertisers and publishers alike need to have in that programmatic ecosystem in order to really move massive amounts of TV budgets,” Shepard said.

Recent announcements from Roku have included the launch of dynamic linear ads, enabling targeting of commercials in linear stream to be as targeted as video on demand. Paramount, Discovery, AMCN Networks and Crown Media Family Networks are using it now and it will be available more broadly, she said.

Roku also announced it will be using Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings for programmatic buys. Roku had been using DAR only for direct deals previously. 

Familiar ratings also make it easier for advertisers to shift budgets to streaming. Roku only make advertisers pay for impressions that reach their targeted audiences. This becomes more important as some networks shift from demos like 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 in favor of adults 18 plus.

“They’re not even guaranteeing the audience that brands want. That adults 18 to 34 audience is really not watching linear television. To guarantee that becomes really price prohibitive on linear. We are seeing and hearing consistent inflation [in linear ad rates] and I don’t think this year will be any different. If anything it will be worse.” Shepard said. “It becomes more efficient on the streaming side of the house because there’s a very sizable reach against that core audience.”

Another announcement was Roku’s advertising watermark, which validates ads that run on the Roku platform. Finally on Tuesday, Roku announced the launch of its clean room, which enables advertisers to match their first-party data with Roku’s to optimize targeting.”

More is on the way. “A lot more will be unveiled for the first time at our NewFront, including new originals and new ad products, partnerships, Innovation and overall talking about new ways for brands to story tell,” Shepard said. ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.