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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How optimizing ads reinforces premium video experiences

October 18, 2023 | By Emmanuel Josserand, Senior Director, Brand, Agency and Industry Relations – FreeWheel @FreeWheel

Premium video is plentiful and streaming options abound. This high quality, ‘TV-like’ video content occupies multiple screens and is accessible via many channels. Its appeal and impact has helped media companies foster a unique relationship with audiences.

Continuing to preserve this relationship is critical for retaining and growing their viewer bases, as well as monetizing their content. In an increasingly crowded streaming marketplace shaped by the rise of ad supported tiers, media companies need to deliver viewer experiences that go beyond great content, taking into account the ad experience itself.

With premium video diversifying rapidly, FreeWheel’s latest report, The Delicate Art of Balancing Ad Load, uncovers how media companies across European markets are tailoring their ad loads in response to this and how their efforts influence the quality of the viewer’s experience. Here, we look at the key findings from the report and provide actionable takeaway for media executives looking to tailor their ad loads to deliver the best possible experiences to their audiences. 

Understanding premium video audiences: how, where, and what they watch

The data – ad views occur across a range of devices:    

  • Mobile 29%
  • Set-top-box video-on-demand (VOD) 30% 
  • CTV 26%
  • Desktop 15%

The takeaway — Big screens and mobile are the home of premium video content

Over half of ad views happen via set-top-box VOD or CTV. This suggests that audiences are consuming premium video at home on bigger screens, in what is most likely a shared environment with family and friends.

However, mobile accounts for more than one-quarter of ad views, so audiences may be viewing on-the-go. In light of these distinct possibilities, media companies must tailor their ad loads for device types, as this is necessary to preserve the quality viewer experience for all the moments audiences engage with premium video.

The data — Ad view composition across content type:

  • Live content accounts for 22% of ad views.
  • Video-on-demand (VOD) content accounts for 78% of ad views.
  • Breaking down that 78%, over two-thirds (68%) of VOD ad views come from long-form content (longer than 30 minutes) and 32% from short-form content (less than five minutes).

The takeaway — On-demand, long-form content is top preference

Current ad view compositions indicate that audiences continue to largely prefer on-demand video entertainment that runs for more than five minutes.

But just as audiences are now also using smaller screens when accessing premium video content, so too are they watching shorter forms of entertainment with 32% of VOD ad views occurring in short-form clips. Additionally, live ad views, while still relatively small have more than doubled from 10% in 2020, highlighting that the mix of premium video environments audiences engage with is always in flux.

What does the optimum ad load look like for media companies?

The data — Ad break lengths and ad volume

  • The longest ad break: Prerolls for long-form content (90 seconds).
  • The shortest ad break: Midrolls for short-form content (under 20 seconds).
  • Across all content, ad breaks consist of three ads on average.

The takeaways — Breaks should mirror content and minimize disruptions

Media companies will seek to reduce interruptions to the viewing experience in order to align with audience preferences. According to our CTV Uncovered 2023 consumer study, almost half of European CTV viewers surveyed favour pre-roll ads followed by unbroken content. Furthermore, average ad volumes per break have dropped 40% since 2016, suggesting that shorter disruptions also help to ensure a high-quality viewing experience.

The variation in ad load across types of content also emphasises there is no “one size fits all” optimum ad load. The length of ad breaks, the quantity of ads per break, and the position of the break within content must all be fine-tuned to ensure premium video continues capturing the high levels of audience engagement it is renowned for.

The importance of ad load in premium video environments

The data — Ad completion rates across content

  • Long-form and mid-form content achieve an ad completion rate of 94%.
  • Short-form content achieves an ad completion rate of 80%.

The takeaway — premium video delivers unrivalled levels of audience engagement

Audiences’ interest in premium video content is largely due to the fact they can select precisely how, when, and where they watch their content of choice. This makes premium video an extraordinarily impactful advertising environment — one where audiences are receptive to viewing ads in exchange for quality, professionally produced content.

Media companies’ efforts to optimize ad loads are proving successful and are sustaining the superior viewer experience. However, it is critical to keep in touch with audience habits and preferences in a rapidly evolving landscape. This will uphold the reputation of premium video as a highly engaging environment for audiences and an exceptionally effective one for brands, in turn supporting media companies ability to monetize their quality content.

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