No Longer Just Incremental: Roku Enters The 2021 Upfront Pushing Scale And Measurement

"On TV And Video" is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video.

Roku has a message for TV buyers: traditional linear’s decline continues, with a 39% loss in ratings and a median age creeping over 60.

Sure, prices for traditional TV advertising haven’t dipped. But it’s fair to argue that old school programmers are surfing on scarcity and the fact that advertisers are comfortable with tried-and-true TV buying methods.

In Roku’s view, that’s not a recipe for long-term success.

But over the last year, traditional linear networks have mobilized against this trend, with NBCUniversal, Disney, ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia each coming out with powerhouse streaming offerings.

So, will Roku’s messaging still resonate?

Julian Mintz, Roku’s national brand sales lead, claims that Roku views these new offerings as partners rather than competitors.

“We are invested in helping those channels grow their audiences and giving them the toolset that they need to really build audiences,” Mintz said. “We believe that all TV is eventually going to be streamed and all TV advertising is going to be streamed within our own ecosystem. We're invested in helping all of our partner channels grow their audiences.”


Going into upfront season this year, some of Roku’s themes will be familiar, but each will have a slightly different twist.

For instance, when Roku talked about scale last year, it was mostly to do with helping brands drive incremental reach alongside their existing TV advertising.

This year, it’s more about scale, period.

Roku has 51.2 million households as of the end of 2020. (That figure will be updated during the company’s earnings call on Thurs., May 6).

Roku is also trying to paint a picture to demonstrate how streaming reach is growing while linear reach is falling. Mintz noted that during the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, linear reach dipped 24%, while streaming reach rose 85%.

Performance measurement

Last year, Roku’s measurement focused on holistic reach and frequency. This year, though, it’s about proving Roku can drive business outcomes, like sales.

“We're seeing a collapsing of the marketing funnel and TV really being a full funnel opportunity for advertisers,” Mintz said.

Here’s a real-world example. Roku compared data sets with Kroger to prove whether its ads drove sales for pretzel brand Snyder’s of Hanover. (Spoiler alert: There was a 250% return on investment). This ability is in line with the rest of the TV industry as it moves to streaming, with players like NBCU also proclaiming their ability to prove business outcomes.

Roku’s OneView platform also continues to play a big role in terms of measurement. “It gives you a holistic view of your entire media,” Mintz said. “With that, we're able to help connect the upper part of the funnel from branding, all the way down to conversion-related activities online.”

And because OneView originated as the demand-side platform dataxu, it also can buy inventory from other supply siders.

Even so, Roku is still aggressively pushing its OneView buying platform, and Mintz considers it to be the best way to buy Roku inventory.

“It’s the only ad buying platform that has Roku data, and we're releasing Nielsen Audience Guarantees exclusively into OneView,” he said. “And all of the measurement products, as part of our recent acquisition of Nielsen's advanced video advertising division, are going to be in OneView as well.”

Enhanced creative

Unlike during last year’s upfront, Roku will push its capabilities around building unique experiences, such as a hub for March Madness fans to find games and content or a Snapchat AR lens that can read a QR code and whisk users to a microsite to play a mobile game.

Mintz  pointed to the Brand Studio Roku launched in late March, which builds these activations. The best way to think about it is as the equivalent of a creative agency to support Roku’s advertising offering.

It’s still not clear, though, whether the new ad experiences Roku is offering will enable activations across channels or help advertisers reimagine or even replace the traditional 30-second spot.

But Mintz insists that the traditional 30-second ad is not dead.

“We did a study with IPG Media Lab that showed when you combined traditional 30-second video ads with one of these more immersive ad experiences, it drives 4 times greater lift and purchase intent than running just a video spot alone,” Mintz said.

Sounds like unique creative in streaming is less about reimagining the pod – and more about developing creative assets to support and augment the good old, familiar 30-second spot.

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