Hulu’s Jeremy Helfand Hopes To Disrupt TV Advertising Without Disrupting Audiences

Content providers are reducing their ad loads to accommodate viewers’ changing preferences, consumption patterns and attention spans.

But what about rethinking the commercial break model so it doesn’t disrupt a good “Handmaid’s Tale” binge? Is a high-quality ad experience possible without a traditional ad break?

Jeremy Helfand, Hulu’s new VP and head of advertising platforms, says this is where advertising can and must go.

“There’s been a lot of debate over whether ads should be 15 seconds or 10 seconds or six seconds,” he told AdExchanger. “But how about reimagining the ad experience where ads work alongside the content itself?”

Helfand joined Hulu in June after working at Adobe for six years, where he helped build the Adobe Primetime TV platform. In his new position at Hulu, he hopes to re-engineer the way advertisers and consumers think about immersive advertising.

AdExchanger caught up with Helfand to talk about his vision for Hulu’s ad business.

AdExchanger: What’s your first order of business in this new role? 

JEREMY HELFAND: We are setting a bold vision for transforming advertising in the living room. Nearly 80% of viewers on Hulu are watching content in the living room. I think that gives us the opportunity to help define and shape what advertising should be as this television medium continues to evolve.

There are a couple of components to that. One is what I would call viewer-first advertising. We have to build a model for the viewer where they have a high-quality experience with advertising at Hulu. We’ve already led the way in the market with lightened ad loads and choice-based advertising like Ad Selector. We’re going to double down on that and take it a step further.

So you’re talking about better targeting as well as different ad formats?

I think that’s accurate. I think there’s opportunity for integration and immersiveness. I think it has the opportunity to go a step further given some of the tech we’re seeing in the market today. I think there’s a way not only to surround the content with ads, but how do you get the ads into the content? How do you use different form factors like mobile or voice in order to help provide an experience where users can engage with brands but not necessarily have to stop their content experience?

Can you give me an example of the vision?

The simplest way to describe it is non-commercial-break advertising. Let’s move away from the “Hey, we’re going to stop the piece of content, inject an ad and get back to the content.”

How do you get the brand into the content itself? How do you use the second screen for ads instead of thinking about it as a buddy content experience? All the development in voice is another way to think about it. And there’s [also opportunity for advertising] in the moments through the storytelling process where a user takes a break from watching content.

Does this mean you’ll be working more closely with Hulu’s brand integrations team?

Absolutely. We work very closely with our integrated marketing team, because there’s an opportunity to bring technology and creative together here in an environment controlled by Hulu.

Do you see any blind spots in Hulu’s advertising stack? Where is there room for growth?

We’re focused on differentiating ourselves in a couple of different areas. I wouldn’t call them “blind spots,” but they’re areas where we see lots of opportunity to invest in order to grow the business and meet the needs of the marketplace as we pursue this vision. Advertising is a strategic imperative for Hulu so we’re investing heavily there.

One of those areas is around choice and control. We’ve given viewers the choice around what subscription they want to have. From that same standpoint, we want to give advertisers more control of the way they buy premium advertising content through Hulu and the way they measure success. It all goes back to automation, measurement and experience. Investments in areas around automation and measurement specifically can give more choice and control to the advertiser.

What’s one aspect of the buying process you’d like to automate most? What do you need to build in terms of measurement?

From an automation perspective, I think there’s an opportunity that goes beyond Hulu. There’s an opportunity to do a better job of making premium content accessible for advertisers and moving beyond the traditional upfront process. That means using data to surface opportunities for brands to access premium content advertising. That’s a key area of opportunity.

From a measurement perspective, I see lots of development, especially with more direct-to-consumer advertisers wanting to leverage television and video. There’s an expectation for being able to more quickly and effectively measure ROI through attribution capabilities. That’s another area of opportunity for both for Hulu and the industry.

Is attribution something you’re building in-house? That’s tough.

It is. When we look at the landscape and how we bring these solutions to the market, we’re looking at a combination of both how we build things as well as how we partner with the ecosystem to deliver them. A combination of those things will be a way in which we address velocity with the business. Speed to market and velocity is paramount as advertisers are looking to leverage [our] media more and more.

What’s your vision for Hulu’s ad tech capability in the next year or so?

I believe that the ad experience needs to be consistent, relevant and integrated into the storytelling that’s happening with our great content. When a viewer has an ad-based experience at Hulu, they can expect it’s a consistent experience they have each time, whether they’re tuning in live, watching their favorite on-demand content, watching a single episode or binging content. That mix between ad and content has to be relevant to them.

With integrated and immersive advertising, we want to be able to help brands tell their story while they’re immersed in the content the viewer is watching. If you think about what’s happening in the industry, we’ve watched advertising go from being disruptive to one where the main focus has been seamlessness – to make sure the ads and content go well together and that you don’t get buffering. But really where it needs to go is to become more finessed.

Brands can help tell story in a variety of ways around the content, as opposed to interjected in the middle of it.

Follow Rae Paoletta (@PAYOLETTER) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter. 

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!