Adaptive Media Research: Blending Media Measurement and Market Research to Effectively Plan for Streaming Ads

By Heather O’Shea, Alter Agents

If you don’t subscribe to a streaming video service, you’re part of the one percent. According to Forbes, a massive 99% of households are now subscribed to at least one streaming service. This is reshaping the way audiences consume content, and understanding the implications of this shift is critical for media planners and advertisers.

In the past, traditional television advertising has been a key avenue for brands seeking to connect with target audiences, introduce new offerings and raise brand awareness. But if we’re honest, when was the last time we really tuned into a television ad? While many people await and watch the annual super bowl ads and revel in the clever, star-studded endorsements (who can deny the power of Ben Affleck’s boy band “DunKings” after he has been trolled for years on gossip sites for his Dunkin Donuts coffee addiction?), they probably watch ad-free for the rest of the year, either streaming without ads, or fast-forwarding and tuning out ads.

While there is a place and time for more traditional TV ads in the media planner’s toolkit, streaming video is a space that must be incorporated into the mix to keep a competitive edge. While it previously was a medium that lacked advertising potential, now many of the large streaming services are growing their ad-supported user base and FAST platforms are gaining usage as well. To effectively enter this arena, media planners need to take a balanced approach. Instead of just comparing it to TV, it’s important to understand its unique performance abilities and adjust plans accordingly.

Because almost 100% of households subscribe to a streaming service, there is the obvious potential to reach a high number of people, similar to the golden days of traditional television. But the audience is wildly diverse, spanning various demographics and interests. Unlike TV ads with fixed schedules, streaming allows for more flexibility in ad placement and targeting, more similar to digital media. Media planners should use this to deliver personalized messages that connect with viewers. By leveraging data analytics and audience insights, media planners can identify the most relevant platforms and content for their target demographics.

In-context testing for streaming audience metrics

Many media planners still have a lot of questions about how to best implement advertising on streaming platforms. This medium lands somewhere in the middle between traditional TV, which has primarily been used as an awareness tool, and digital advertising which is heavily utilized as a direct response tool. The right research approach can help define best practices and provide a framework for reaching consumers.

Without getting into too much detail about the types of advertising available on streaming platforms (e.g., OTT – over-the-top, CTV – connected TV, etc), I want to focus on gathering the data and insights you need for defining your best practices. The advertiser’s job is transforming already with the pending demise of the cookie, and the loss of other avenues for tracking advertising effectiveness and targeting consumers. New techniques and technologies to help uncover the data they need are hitting the marketplace at a rapid pace.

One approach where we’ve had significant success is using in-context advertising testing. In-context testing can track how well ads maintain audience interest and measure ad impact on things like product awareness, consideration and purchase intent, all within the chosen streaming environment. It facilitates a unique and highly scalable approach to optimizing ad effectiveness and campaigns, and results in a deep set of insights that media planners and advertisers can put to work right away.

For example in-context testing can help:

  • Provide a data-driven foundation: Through in-context testing, brands can gather insights that inform content, design, and user experience iterations. These insights are derived from actual user behavior and reactions, allowing brands to make informed decisions that drive meaningful improvements.
  • Deliver engagement data: By observing how users interact with content in real-life situations, brands can discern the factors influencing their decision-making. This insight is invaluable for optimizing sales funnels, conversion paths, and calls to action to enhance user engagement and drive conversions.
  • Compare contextual insights: In-context testing allows brands to compare the performance of different variations of content or design within specific contexts. This facilitates A/B testing and iterative improvements, enabling brands to refine their strategies based on what resonates most effectively with their audience.
  • Provide view retention metrics: Ad performance can be deeply understood through this approach, as respondent behavior is followed up with a survey. We can ask people why they may have skipped a specific ad, as well as seeing when they ceased visible playtime, helping to inform the creative design optimization process.

Flexibility in an ever-changing streaming environment

While in-context testing can be extremely powerful in this situation, I’m also a fan of what I call “adaptive media research” – or a mix between media measurement and more traditional market research. Every brand is different, every audience is different, so one size doesn’t fit all. Building in that flexibility from the start, knowing the toolkit that’s available, and even blending multiple approaches to get the most holistic views, can be the best path to success. As the streaming ecosystem evolves rapidly, conducting ongoing testing and using new techniques, allows marketers to refine their strategies and stay ahead of the curve.

Streaming video certainly presents exciting opportunities for advertisers, but many unknowns remain. For instance, measuring the effectiveness of streaming ads poses a unique set of hurdles, given the fragmented nature of the landscape and the lack of standardized metrics.

There’s no question that streaming will continue to redefine the media landscape. As many services have begun introducing ad-supported subscription tiers, more opportunities are cropping up daily to connect with audiences in this medium. Media planners must adapt their approaches to effectively harness its potential. By adopting a nuanced understanding of streaming’s unique nature by collecting and leveraging data-driven insights, media planners can position themselves and their clients for success in the streaming era.

About the Author

Heather O’Shea is a passionate insights leader with over 17 years of experience in market research and consumer insights. She has held positions at media agencies, publishers, tech platforms and research companies. She is currently the Chief Research Officer of Alter Agents, where she oversees the research functions within the company.  Prior to this, she was the head of global ad research & insights at Snap.