Does Advertising on Streaming Services Have to Suck?
Amazon recently announced that starting January 29 movies and TV shows on Prime Video will include ads for the first time since the “free” streaming service for Prime members launched in 2011.
Amazon notes the ads will be “limited”, with the company stating: “We aim to have meaningfully fewer ads than linear TV and other streaming TV providers.” Of course, customers can also opt to pay $2.99 more each month to avoid ads altogether.
Is Streaming Just Cable Wearing a Fake Mustache?
Amazon is not the first streamer to offer an ad-supported tier (see also: Hulu, Netflix, Disney+). But this news can be seen as a harbinger that streaming—once the great hope of cord-cutting consumers—is increasingly looking more and more like traditional cable.
Streaming costs keep rising; it can be challenging to find something you actually want to watch (despite endless choices); and the ads are becoming more frequent and obtrusive. Sure sounds a lot like cable—which headlines like this one have been happy to point out.
Dropping the Golden Advertising Egg
The problem isn’t just that there’s advertising on streaming services; it’s how there’s advertising on streaming services. Many people actually enjoy watching commercials to some degree—at least when they are executed creatively, employed at the right time, and given the proper expectations. The Super Bowl, where ads have become part of the attraction and discussion, is a great example.
The problem is streaming has fumbled (or maybe ignored) a golden opportunity to integrate ads in a more innovative way than cable or even completely reshape the television advertising experience. They could’ve built something new, better, or even (gulp) fun. Instead they’ve given us more of the same.
3 Ways Streamers Can Provide a Better Ad Experience
So what does a better advertising experience look like on streaming? Here are a few ideas:
1. Make the ads more creative
Commercials on streaming more or less look like commercials on cable. But what if they didn’t? What if they looked like something else entirely? What if they looked more like social content? Or short films? What if they were bolder, wilder, more engaging?
You may be thinking: Isn’t that on the brands, not the streamers? Well, not if the streamer creates the “rules” for the ad experience—either by offering an in-house agency to create all ads, or having an established philosophy and set of practices brands must follow (ala the way you must work within the rules of TikTok when posting on the platform).
2. Avoid overkill and play ads at the right times
One of the biggest problems with streaming ads is if you watch enough of a platform you see the same ads over and over. Some might say that’s good branding. It’s also a good way to drive people insane. And an annoyed customer is unlikely to carry your message positively.
Ads should also not just be inserted into content wherever/whenever; they should be added to create the least amount of friction for the viewing experience. Some examples: You don’t want to interrupt movies in the middle of the action (it happens). And customers should not receive more than one commercial break in a 20-minute program (it also happens). Here’s a crazy thought: Could your ads somehow enhance the viewing experience?
3. Deliver ads that feel closely connected to content
One great way to engage viewers is to create commercials that are connected to what people are watching. Binging The Last of Us? Maybe you get ads that are darker or more violent in tone. Watching The Bear? Maybe you get ads from food or restaurant focused brands. And that’s just on the simplest level.
Getting actors/characters from the platform’s most popular shows to appear in ads or even to personally talk through an entire advertising segment could help take streaming advertising to the next level–making the transition from program to ad more seamless and natural. How can your ads deliver more of what people came to the streaming platform for in the first place: entertainment.
If ads are part of the future of streaming (as they seem to be), let’s at least make it an original rather than a remake of something we already saw—and didn’t love—in the past.