5 Content and Audience Predictions for the Advertising Upfront Season

By Rob Christensen, SVP, US Sales & Global Distribution, Vevo

Photo courtesy of Vevo

Digital media consumption habits have truly transformed viewers’ expectations of modern day television, and technology has greatly improved how content is delivered to the big screen. People want loads of programming catering to their interests, and they want it available 24/7 and without friction 

This is already having an impact on the TV industry where distributors new and old have emerged with robust free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) offerings. Then you layer in established leaders such as Hulu and more recently Netflix, offering lower cost subscription options that feature advertising. It makes a lot of sense. Especially in a down economy, people will often cut costs and be extra willing to give their attention to ads in exchange for free or lower cost content. In a lot of ways, this age-old truth is what makes the marriage between digital and TV so fitting.

On the back of popular content, the TV medium will thrive while platforms battle to be the main point of entry for viewers. And as the connected TV (CTV) infrastructure becomes more digital-like, media companies are finding smarter ways to tailor their programming experience for all viewers.

As we consider the macroeconomic climate and TV-digital convergence, here are five things to keep an eye on as we approach the Upfront advertising cycle:

(1) Ad-Supported Programming Will Become The Dominant CTV Viewing Experience

Ad-supported TV programming will continue to proliferate as the economy slows and people increasingly demand less costly offerings. The Roku Channel. Hulu Live TV. Vizio WatchFree+. Samsung TV Plus. These and a growing list of ad-supported CTV offerings are becoming the standard way people consume TV. Much like traditional cable, these line-ups are presented in a linear channel-based fashion. The user experience is similar (and familiar) as well. Turn on a smart TV such as a Vizio, and front and center is Vizio WatchFree available to immediately begin surfing channels in what looks exactly like traditional cable TV.

(2) Diverse Audiences Will Demand Diverse Programming

Viewers are more diverse than ever and deserve content that reflects their identity. There’s no denying the majority of the American population will soon be non-white, made up of diverse races, cultures and origins. According to the latest U.S. Census numbers, nearly 20% of the country identify as Hispanic American; 14% identify as Black American; and 6% identify as Asian and Pacific Islander American. In order to remain culturally relevant to the growing diversity in America, TV platforms will need to ensure diverse voices and backgrounds are represented on screen and behind the camera. Viewers demand programming that accurately reflects and resonates with their background.

(3) Popular Content With Strong Fandoms Will Dictate TV Platform Success

Content providers that curate niche, always-on programming that draws in passionate fandoms will be in high demand. From Star Trek to CSI to Emily in Paris, to music videos, and everything in between, modern TV offerings can’t afford to have programming blind spots. Bingeable content that is a part of popular culture keeps fans engaged and coming back for more.

(4) Content Will Remain King, Platforms That ‘Get It’ Will Be the MVPDs of Tomorrow

After all, content is king, and great content will drive the TV attention economy as it always has. TV platforms would be wise to diversify their content and programming to satisfy mass appeal. Expect more TV platforms and TV makers to cut more deals across the media landscape to ensure their offerings are robust and available wherever and whenever viewers are watching. This trend began to take shape with Paramount announcing in January 2023 that it will be bundling Showtime with Paramount+. For the streaming platforms such as Roku and Vizio, the content arms race will become a race for who can best resemble an MVPD with as little channel flipping friction as possible.

(5) User Experience Enhancements Will Address Streaming TV’s Search & Discovery Gaps

Discoverability is a growing challenge in CTV. People want to choose their entertainment, but they also want options easily displayed and available. As the living room and technology converge, features like voice-enabled search will help to address this matter, but the lack of a comprehensive menu across all programming within the streaming world is still needed. Media providers and platforms who develop advanced ways to display content, while inviting choice, will win the TV UX wars of tomorrow. 

Historically, a traditional cable TV network wouldn’t lead people to any one multichannel video programming distributor partner (MVPD). However, with walled gardens galore causing CTV viewership friction, it’s only a matter of time before OEMs, streaming providers and networks collectively embrace a more uniform TV user experience (UX) and standards to improve the discoverability, personalization, and fluidity of the CTV viewing experience.

Further, the CTV point of entry represents an attention land grab opportunity. I may own a Vizio or Samsung TV, but if my favorite content is in the Hulu Live TV line-up, I’ll make Hulu my main point of entry on the TV. This is significant because where someone begins their TV discovery journey, dramatically influences what they watch.

Parting Words

With streaming and CTV, reaching 87% of US households, it is now the dominant format for television viewing and yet it’s a complicated and fragmented landscape for buyers. As advertisers embrace the ‘year of performance’ in a struggling economy, marketers would be wise to find media companies that offer programming ubiquitously across the CTV and FAST platforms available to the masses.

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