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Streaming drives this year’s upfronts

May 10, 2022 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

The buzz this upfront season is all about streaming. As Tim Peterson at Digiday put it, “Historically streaming has taken a backseat to traditional TV in the annual upfront market. This year, however, streaming will be sitting shotgun as it gets closer to seizing the wheel.” Many upfront presentations this year emphasized the value of ad-supported services like Peacock, Hulu, and HBO Max. In particular, networks focused on the value proposition for advertisers to buy inventory on their ad-supported streaming offerings – to keep those dollars in their family of brands.

The strategy this upfront season contrasts with to Wall Street analysts’ concerns over the long-term viability of the streaming marketplace. In the wake of Netflix’s quarterly performance, Quibi’s short life, and CNN+’s untimely demise, analysts have been skeptical about the marketplace’s growth potential. BofA Global Research analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich reports, “We believe investors are now questioning the long-term market potential in streaming.” However, networks are not only confident that their streamers will continue to attract audiences, they are betting on their connected TV extensions to attract this year’s upfront dollars.

Networks believe that consumer viewing habits, particularly for those who ante up for subscriptions, will prove a viable market for advertising dollars. Streaming service penetration is strong among U.S. households. Deloitte research reports that approximately 80% of U.S. households in the United States paid for a streaming service in 2021, with about 35% churn across the member base. Monitoring engagement is essential to understanding churn. Subscriber growth and retention work hand in hand in monetizing the streaming ecosystem.

Streaming is nearly one-third of TV viewing

Time spent is an essential metric of engagement and retention. The Gauge, Nielsen’s total TV and streaming snapshot for March 2022, shows that streaming audiences spent nearly 30% of their total TV time watching over-the-top video content. Streaming gained a full share point over February as broadcast networks transitioned away from NFL football and the Olympics. The Gauge offers a monthly macroanalysis of how consumers access content across television delivery platforms.

There was a slight decrease of 0.7% in total streaming viewing when comparing total television viewing last month. Viewing share across all streaming providers, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and Other Streaming was either flat or gained slightly in March.

The slight dip in streaming usage is significantly less than the drop in total TV usage, down 4.2%. March’s drop-in TV usage is consistent with historical declines this time of year due to the increase in warmer weather and more time spent outside.

Advertisers chase audiences on CTV

Broadcast programming also lost more than a full share point, and sports viewing was down 53%. NASCAR and the NCAA basketball tournaments are big March events. However, “sports event programming” share of viewing dropped from 25% to 12% in March.

An important question for marketers and agencies is where to place their advertising bets; in other words: how much of their ad budgets should they be transitioning to connected-TV audiences? While linear TV still possesses strong advertising muscle, linear ratings are a dwindling sales proposition. Undoubtedly, audiences can increasingly be found streaming content and that’s where advertisers are looking for them.

Networks and content producers are looking to direct to consumer distribution and connect-TV is center stage. There’s still much to work out, especially around audience fragmentation and measurement. Importantly, connected-TV advertising offers quality and relevance and the ability to implement cross-channel media planning. No doubt that this year’s upfronts require a careful analysis of audiences’ video content consumption in order to make savvy decisions about where ad dollars will be best spent.

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