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Have Promos Crossed the Streaming Rubicon?

'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm'
'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm' (Image credit: Amazon Prime)

This fall, streaming services scored another revealing first in the battle with linear networks for market-share dominance. I’m not highlighting another cord-cutting milestone, though it is estimated that a record-breaking 6.6 million households will cancel their pay TV subscriptions in 2020, exacerbated by the pandemic.

I’m talking about a major shift in the balance of promo campaigns for new series, new seasons or original movies and specials — a metric on-air marketing research service CMOintelligence has been analyzing for 40 linear and streaming services daily since 2015.

Something unusual happened in the last week of August. For the first time, there were more new (or “first occurrence”) streaming campaigns than linear campaigns. While it was only a 14% difference at first, it was enough to catch my attention. 

Two weeks later, the streaming numbers jumped again, this time by 29%, and by the following week, they had climbed to 61%, with the total number of campaigns for both linear and streaming services more than doubling.

In the fall, I expect to see a significant increase in new series and season campaigns as the broadcast networks roll out their programming. And, during this time, cable networks do tend to slow their introductions, but I’ve never seen the streamers ramp up this much this quickly. 

Just to further qualify the data, I took a more predictive approach, turning to CMOmarketplace to analyze real-time activity between media companies and the creative agencies that produce their promo campaigns. What types of marketing campaigns were getting the most views?

Pulling the numbers for September, I found another telling shift. Seven of the top 10 most-viewed promo/marketing projects were for streamers such as Disney Plus, Peacock, Netflix, HBO Max, Topic and Amazon.

The Mandalorian

Promo campaigns for offerings like Amazon’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (at top) and Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian (above) have become more prominent. (Image credit: Disney Plus)

So what’s really driving streaming’s surge in promo campaigns? As I see it, there are several factors at play:

1) A year ago, there was no Disney Plus, HBO Max or Peacock. 

2) These services have linear channels that can act as barker channels with cross-channel promotion. Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV Plus and other independent streamers must buy airtime in national or local ad breaks. 

3) CMOintelligence tracks 25 linear general entertainment channels, but only eight of those are significant general entertainment streamers (Amazon, Apple TV Plus, CBS All Access, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix and Peacock). Doing the math, nearly one-third of these entertainment brands — the streamers — accounted for more than 60% of the marketing campaigns for new series, seasons, specials and movies.

In sharing these findings with media companies, I suggested that we had “crossed the Rubicon,” referencing the river that marked the point of no return for Julius Caesar.

John Miller, chairman of NBC Universal Marketing, responded: “Lee, we didn’t just cross the Rubicon. The streamers flooded the TV landscape!”

What Happens Next?

Looking ahead, I predict that media companies will continue to significantly reduce the amount of cross-channel promotion to linear channels and shift that inventory to promoting their streaming services.

Certainly, with the recent management restructures at the major media companies, and the across-the-board philosophical shift to streaming solutions, that would be expected. But it’s more about efficiency. Most streaming services host content from the multiple linear channels as well as the company’s back catalog. Promoting content on one streaming service gives you more bang for your buck than running multiple content spots from multiple linear channels. Add that to the campaigns the independent streamers, Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV Plus, and the like will continue to run, and I believe, as John Miller said, “it’s not just a flood, but a complete sea change.”

Lee Hunt is a TV marketing veteran and a co-founder of CMOintelligence, a platform that tracks the on-air marketing of 32 networks plus Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.