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How streamers can optimize viewer experience through ad podding 

Ad podding provides a means to improve the way advertising fits into an optimal viewing experience

April 15, 2024 | By Emmanuel Josserand, Senior Director, Brand, Agency and Industry Relations – FreeWheel @FreeWheel

Today’s viewers are used to watching their favorite content across a variety of platforms and services. And an increasing number of these are ad supported. Ad-supported environments are a win-win for all parties: audiences enjoy content at a lower price, brands connect with highly-engaged viewers, and content providers keep improving the value of their inventory while boosting revenues. However, in order to reap these benefits, it’s vital to ensure that ads augment, rather than detract from, the viewer experience.  

Ad podding technology enables media companies to balance quality viewing with brand results. This article will explore how digital publishers can best design their ad pods in order to craft optimal experiences for viewers. We’ll focus on three areas: pod length, structure and ad frequency. 

On ad pod length: less is more, but there is a sweet spot 

It’s crucial that ads do not feel like a disruption to the viewing experience because this can create a poor environment for brands to connect with viewers. With this in mind, digital publishers will do well to limit length when ad podding.

Consumers perceived one and two-minute ad pods as less intrusive than longer pods, according to FreeWheel’s report, Designing A Better Ad Pod. When an ad pod hit three minutes, the number of viewers citing the ads as intrusive doubled. Ad recall was specifically impacted, dropping by half when viewers watched three- rather than two-minute pods. 

Despite the overall impression that limiting ad pod length pleases audiences, there may in fact be a sweet spot. Just under two-thirds (62%) of viewers said that two minutes of ads met their expectations and almost half (45%) of participants who viewed one-minute ad breaks reported that they were shorter than they had anticipated, according to the same report

Digital publishers should also keep in mind the importance of aligning ad pod durations with content length. The report additionally found long pods in the middle of shorter-form content to be less tolerated than pods that were proportionate to content length. And, according to another FreeWheel report, The State of TV Advertising Viewer Experience, a correlation between ad and content length was a preference for almost 72% of respondents. 

Building brand recall with ad architecture – consistency is key 

It’s not only ad pod length that impacts viewer experience; digital publishers need to turn finer attention to the length of each ad within the pod. Our Designing A Better Ad Pod report found that consistent duration of single spots enhances the overall ad experience. Over half (56%) of respondents felt that pods with a combination of 15-second and 30-second ads seemed longer than expected. Meanwhile, when ads were the same length within pods, this figure dropped to 41% for pods containing only 15-second ads, and to 21% for pods with only 30-second ads. 

Varying ad length is sometimes necessary to meet brands’ needs and budgets. However, our  findings suggest that publishers stand to create a better platform for audiences to engage with ads by prioritizing consistent ad lengths within a pod. 

Viewers’ preferences even extend to what qualities they see in an ad. When ads were placed with others of the same length, participants were 7% more likely to see them as cutting-edge and innovative, and 5% were more likely to say they liked the ads. This data is likely grounded in predictability being pleasing to audiences – viewers are more able to relax and immerse themselves in the content rather than being distracted by elements of surprise in ad format. 

Ad podding uses ad frequency to surprising effect 

In an era where publishers and advertisers alike are wary of the impact of over-exposure to ads, frequency is top of the agenda. Viewers have low tolerance of excessive ad repetition. A full 67% say they are irritated by seeing the same ad more than once within the same ad pod and visual attention plummeting when they are exposed to the same ad within two minutes. 

To mitigate this issue, publishers can use frequency capping to control how often an ad is seen. The frequency can be set the length of content or for a defined amount of time such as one impression per 30 minutes. In fact, capping was applied to over half (54%) of all streaming ad placements in the first quarter of 2023. 

However, the risks of frequency might be overestimated, especially when ads are not repeated within the same pod. FreeWheel’s report reveals that when viewers saw the same ad twice in a single 30-minute program, ad recognition and brand purchase intent increased by 22%, and remained at a high level even after three exposures within a 30-minute program. When evaluating measures of engagement – quality and ad liking – the report found that ads were rated similarly even if audiences were exposed to creative up to three times in one program. 

Our research into ad podding has highlighted some instructive and often surprising findings on its impact on viewers engagement and favorability. And it points to the need for digital publishers to carry out careful calibrations across ad pod size, architecture, and frequency in the ads they serve to their audiences. 

Viewers’ habits and preferences are always evolving, but agile and future-facing digital publishers can harness such insights and further optimize the viewer experience while providing brands with the results they need. 

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