Inside Roku’s Upfront Strategy As Competition Rises

Alison Levin Roku

Roku is entering this year’s upfront with growing competition.

With NBCUniversal’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV and Fox’s Tubi available in market, as well as an ad-supported tier of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max launching next year, the OTT landscape has grown crowded.

So Roku is beefing up its offering amid the pandemic by launching new products for upfront buyers centered on value and flexibility, said Alison Levin, VP of ad sales at Roku.

“Our partners’ key concern is that they don’t know what will happen in the next six to nine months,” she said.

Roku will offer incremental reach guarantees to brands, which will not have to pay for an impression served against someone already reached on linear TV. Roku will also decrease the cost for 15-second spots, which are generally sold at the same price as 30-second ads on CTV for technical reasons, Levin said.

Roku is touting OneView in the upfront, the platform it launched from its October 2019 acquisition of dataxu. Brands buying through OneView can lock in performance and frequency guarantees across platforms, including linear TV with Roku’s ACR data set.

Brands can pull media buys or swap out creative overlays at the ZIP-code level on both Roku media and linear TV for free within 24 hours as local COVID-19 regulations shift. The platform is going to market with curated offers by vertical this year as advertiser needs differ greatly during the pandemic.

“Advertisers’ needs are changing,” Levin said. “They cannot think about OTT as a test budget.”

She spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Roku is entering this year’s upfront with more competition than ever. How are you differentiating? 

ALISON LEVIN: These [new streaming services] are all partners. We’re a bit different in that regard. As a consumer product, the more channels [on Roku], the better. As an advertising product, we help them build audience.

The more attention streaming gets, the better for consumers and marketers. The more channels on the platform, the more ad-supported viewing, the better.

What makes Roku inventory special?

Companies that are successful have a direct connection to consumers and are able to scale. We know our consumers and we’re able to find the right messaging at the right moment.

The Roku Channel is the fastest-growing ad-supported channel on the platform. Usage is spiking, and that is exclusively sold by us.

Now that programmers are selling OTT and launching their own streaming services, what supply is available through Roku? Is it tougher to negotiate inventory splits?

We don’t comment specifically on negotiations, but there’s always a value exchange. We help those channels build scale and audience. We have huge marketing initiatives to make sure consumers download and view their channel. We offer performance guarantees to make sure they only pay when people download and watch their app.

Which new products from Roku are resonating with brands?

Incremental reach guarantees have been of huge interest, especially for heavy linear buyers. Cable buys are hitting households over again and adding frequency, not incremental reach.

Historically, it’s been a barrier for linear buyers that only produce 15-second spots to move the amount of money they need into OTT. Equalized 15-second and 30-second [spots] are really unique in the market.

Where does OneView play into Roku’s upfront strategy?

OneView houses our logged-in user info and ACR data sets. We’re putting skin in the game to guarantee outcomes. Advertisers can buy against performance guarantees, such as lift on website visits or app downloads, across OTT, desktop and mobile.

Frequency management across OTT and linear has been a pain point for advertisers. In OneView, we pick up on linear campaigns with our ACR data, and we can turn up or down Roku media based on what other ads [audiences have] seen.

Historically, marketers felt like they had to choose between a platform-first or channel-first strategy [on OTT]. In OneView, they can run deals with content partners and layer Roku media with targeting and measurement on top as an extension.

Are you selling this offering to digital video or linear TV buyers, or both?

When we started the advertising business five years ago, it was heavy digital because of the targeting and insights. As buyers have leaned into OTT, it’s been heavier with TV buyers and strategy teams.

In the upfront, this is resonating most with TV teams. They are excited about leveraging OneView for holistic reach and frequency measurement. They can see real-time reach and frequency for linear, Roku media and any other campaign running through OneView. We’ve seen interest from buyers who might not have leveraged a programmatic platform in this way.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

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