Polaris COO Clark On Why CTV Requires More Original Content And Data-Driven Advertising

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Polaris, one of only several Black-owned TV networks, debuted in October on VIZIO’s streaming service, WatchFree Plus.

But Polaris was 20 years in the making before the VIZIO deal.

Former digital news and MTV exec Rahman Dukes launched Polaris as a media outlet for stories by BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) creators and to bring wider audiences and access to advertising. Dukes also saw Polaris as an opportunity to “correct some of the missteps” in the TV ecosystem, particularly the lack of artist and content creator monetization, Chief Operating Officer Nathaniel Clark told AdExchanger.

Clark, who joined the company in 2021 with a background in finance, stressed the role of data-driven marketing in bolstering Polaris’s “pulse on culture.” Polaris sees itself as bringing digital strategy to “old school” storytelling news and entertainment, like hip-hop and live events, he said.

But good stories take time, and scale calls for data.

When it comes to KPIs for the CTV channel, performance measurement is everything, Clark said. Nielsen reports might say the 18-34-year-old demo over-indexes to “love” and “hip-hop” entertainment, but advertisers don’t necessarily buy against those reports without engagement like site visits and purchases to back it up.

Polaris said its content production is also tied to ad opportunity. For instance, it plans content around specific events with known spikes in engagement (for the media companies and its advertisers). A 24-hour programming marathon on MLK Jr. Day doubled the average session numbers over the course of the day, Clark said.

The channel’s true secret sauce for data-driven content is its landing page.

As a free, ad-supported TV (FAST) channel, Polaris’s home page is the channel’s best chance to collect first-party data directly and curate or recommend new shows. And personalized content means the network is also selling more personalized ads. As a “monitor” of user interaction, Clark said the data helps guide campaigns.

It’s not just about digital signals; it’s about “connection,” Clark said. “Data earns trust over time, but the same type of relationship needs to exist in content.”

Currently, Polaris is available for free on VIZIO devices through the SmartCast OS. The early stages are all about building brand awareness and “brand promise,” Clark said. But the channel does have monetization plans on the road map this year.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said.

Making moves

Polaris plans to increase its data pool and ad revenue stream. But to do that, it needs to invest in content.

Currently, about 40% of Polaris’s content is original, with the remainder licensed from third parties. “Over the next two quarters, you’ll see us shift heavily toward more original content,” Clark said. Polaris plans to bump the ratio of original content to 70% by the end of Q3.

The channel is also launching a new website this month, where it can house even more content – and not just video. Most of it will be free and ad-supported, but it will also carry new niche offerings behind a paywall, such as gaming media.

The website could generate a bevy of first-party data, not disintermediated by a TV manufacturer or streaming service. Clark said the expansion should be a boon to ad sales and open up a whole new opportunity for data licensing, which is currently in beta testing.

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