Balancing Ad Load in the Era of Multi-Platform, Multi-Screen Viewers

By Emmanuel Josserand, Senior Director of Brand, Agency and Industry Relations, FreeWheel

When we think of premium video’s defining factors, many elements will likely come to mind: quality production, strong brand safety, good transparency into media trading, measurability and, most importantly, a great viewer experience.

With European audiences now watching a broad mix of premium video content from a multitude of platforms on a range of devices, providers are under pressure to ensure a high quality viewer experience on all screens. Meticulously managing ad loads for each type of content and device is an integral component of this, as premium video providers must make certain that ad volume, ad break duration, and advertising’s position in content respects the viewing experience.

So, how exactly are viewing habits diversifying and how are premium video providers adapting in tandem?

The convergence of digital and linear TV is fuelling fluid viewing habits

Streaming and on-demand services are enabling audiences to watch what they want, when they want, on many different screens. While diversification in the TV and video landscape is far from new, fresh opportunities — and challenges — continue to emerge for the premium video ecosystem as a result of it.

Advertisers and their agencies are well aware of the continually expanding potential to reach target audiences with impactful ads, especially in premium environments where engagement levels tend to be greater. Ad completion rates for content above five minutes are an unmatched 94% versus online video’s 70% often considered as ‘good’.

What’s more, viewer drop offs usually happen during the content not the ads, less than a quarter (22%) of streams are interrupted during an ad break. One reason for these strong levels of engagement is due to premium video providers effectively configuring their ad loads, but this is no easy task as audiences flip between channels and screens.

Shedding light on viewer preferences, findings from FreeWheel’s The Delicate Art of Balancing Ad Load report show that carefully managing ad loads across screens is particularly crucial in Europe, with 30% of ad views occurring on set-top-box video-on-demand, 29% on mobile, 26% on CTV, and 15% on desktop. Regarding types of content, long-form (>30mins) accounts for 68% of ads views, while short-form (<5mins) has risen 10% since 2020 and now makes up the remaining 32%. This paints a varied and changing picture of viewing habits, emphasising the need to perpetually adapt the advertising experience.

How media companies are optimising ad loads in practice

By refining ad loads, programmers can both meet audience expectations for premium video and help brands achieve their campaign goals; they are preserving premium video’s reputation as an uncluttered ad environment; FreeWheel’s The Delicate Art of Balancing Ad Load report found ad volumes have decreased by 40% in the past six years.

Channel 4, for instance, has recently experimented with shortening break lengths from three or four minutes to 60 seconds in a bid to maximise impact for brands. Reducing clutter better enables brands to cut through with highly creative and interactive formats, while audiences receive a less disruptive and more enjoyable viewer experience.

Peacock is another example of a service that has successfully trialled new ad loads, creating a cinematic-style ad experience for its film content. With viewers growing more agnostic about screens and platforms, premium video providers are curating broader selections of entertainment to heighten the appeal of their offering, expand their audience bases, and unlock greater advertising revenue.

This is critical for funding the production and acquisition of more content and driving further growth, but it also adds another dimension to ad load optimisation as premium video providers must craft their ad loads for specific types of content.

The key takeaway is that premium video providers should continually test and refine ad load for all screens and forms of content. This unlocks a data-driven approach to ad load optimisation and enables providers to uphold premium video’s quality viewer experience for audiences, maintain its value as an ad environment for brands, and maximise their advertising revenues.