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Why a Great TV Viewer Experience Is About More Than Creative

How ad repetition, ad latency, and downtime between ads present a growing challenge in today’s multiscreen TV world

By Mark McKee

During Cannes Lions this week, advertisers, and programmers from across the globe will be coming together to discuss the power of creativity. Great TV creative, as we know, connects audiences to brands and helps spread messages in memorable and effective ways.

But, if you're a viewer, making a connection with TV commercials is about more than just great creative. If you've ever watched an episode of powerful, emotional television on a streaming service, only to be hit with the same poorly placed ad over and over and over, you know what I mean. I'm talking about viewer experience, and it's a growing problem in streaming TV advertising today.

Why does this happen and what can we do about it as an industry? Below, I break it all down.

The Viewer Experience Problem

A recent study found that 75 percent of consumers don't mind ads as long as the content is free, according to Comcast Advertising (via a Comcast Advertising third-party research study using Happydemics from 2021). In fact, research has shown that in some cases, advertising can actually improve the viewing experience by breaking up and then "resetting" the enjoyment of the content, according to research published at Journal of Advertising Research in 2023. This suggests that ads themselves aren't unwelcome, but the experience of viewing those ads matters.

In today's cross-screen, cross-device viewing TV environment, advertising has gotten more complicated than it was in the "old days." The added complexity in dynamically serving advertising outside of the traditional linear ad environment, whether on AVOD, F.A.S.T, or other streaming platforms, can result in problems such as latency, ad repetition, the showing of slate, and other unwanted consequences that disrupt the emotional experience of watching great TV. But the real question is, why is this happening?

Complexity Is the Culprit

There are several causes of our industry's viewer experience problems. One is the growth in hyper-targeting: As programmatic advertising grows, advertisers are looking to target their audiences more narrowly with relevant messaging, resulting in a smaller group seeing the same ad over and over again.

Walled gardens also create issues: In an ecosystem where many major inventory suppliers hold their data and connections close to the vest, building smooth, consistent connections from buyer to seller and managing frequency becomes more difficult.

Arguably the biggest challenge to viewer experience, though, is the complexity of today's multi-screen, multi-player TV advertising ecosystem. Sales conflicts may arise as buyers bid on duplicative supply coming from multiple exchanges, leading to the same ad appearing more than once in the same pod.

And, with an increasing number of "stops" on the way from ad call to ad delivery, there is more exposure to issues along the way as auctions, exchanges, and multiple ad calls can lead to missed connections or empty creative, resulting in downtime (slates) or just a blank screen during the ad break.

The Path to Better Viewer Experience: Quality, Quantity, Relevance

When it comes to improving viewer experience, the onus is on both the buyer and the seller.

Many advertisers are already improving ad experience by making it more relevant for their viewers, thanks to the use of first-party data and audience targeting. To improve the quality of advertising, both sellers and buyers can work to better optimize the supply path – eliminating partners who are not adding value to the chain – and ensure they are running in premium environments that viewers can watch on the big screen.

And to improve the experience around the quantity of ads, sellers can commit to ad pods under three to four minutes (considered standard for traditional TV) and offer frequency capping to control how often an ad is seen. Additionally, sellers can utilize technologies to better unify their inventory so that buyers can have visibility to all distribution and demand while still maintaining a great viewer experience.

Viewer Experience Matters to More Than Just the Viewer

We are living in the golden age of content, and the 2023 Upfronts and NewFronts promised us even more hours of incredible viewing ahead. But, as the industry convened at Cannes this year, viewer experience was necessarily part of these conversations too. Here's why: for advertisers, delivering great creative in a less disruptive, quality environment forges a stronger connection to their audience. For publishers, it can mean less churn in subscription services, more engagement with content on those services, and better return on investment for advertisers.

As our ecosystem no doubt continues to get more complex and more crowded, we must embrace cross-industry interoperability so that we don't lose sight of the viewer's experience. By ensuring a great experience for the viewer, we can let great creative shine.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Mark McKee is the general manager at FreeWheel.