No matter your streaming service of choice, you’ve almost certainly come across the same ad. Over, and over, and over again. Repeated in every break, till you vow never to buy from this company in your life. No matter how fabulous the deal, or how much you secretly covet their products. And the company haven’t even done anything wrong here. If anything, kudos to them for such an insanely catchy jingle.
Some would say Hulu and Peacock are the worst offenders. But others have noticed this endless repetition of ads on TikTok as well. And if it’s not the same ad, it’s a plethora of ads for the same thing. It’s enough to make you throw your phone across the room. (Or maybe that’s just me.) What does this all mean for the future of ads on streaming services?
Advertising is coming for the streaming world in a big way
Many streamers, especially those with linear TV legacies, embraced advertising from the start. Yet more recently, giants like Disney and Netflix have adopted ad-supported business models, and both intend to roll out new tiers soon.
But while ad-supported streaming might sound like a great idea, it comes with risks. Most people can’t afford to pay for every streaming service, and ads enable users to access more content without breaking the bank. It’s win–win when done right. But done wrong, it’s a headache inducer.
Ad-based streaming is already mired in complicated ethical debates surrounding user data, viewer tracking, and who gets to know what you’re watching and when. But among all this philosophising, might we pose a humbler suggestion of our own: Can we make the ads themselves a tad more bearable? After all, if I’m going to binge an entire season on Hulu, I’m looking at four ad breaks a show, two ads apiece, for eight episodes straight. That’s 64 ads. If I see the same two ads 32 times each, you can bet your bottom dollar I ain’t purchasing either product or service. On principle. (And that’s not to mention that I might struggle even to reach the end of the season.)
Repetitive ads are seriously annoying, but there’s actually a sound rationale behind them
It all comes down to ad targeting. At a certain level of granularity, there aren’t many people whose interests, living situation, and budget all closely align with yours. Yet what are Peacock to do if they’ve promised an advertiser a certain number of ad impressions? If there were a million people who fit the bill for the target audience, no worries. But if there’s only a thousand of you, and a million impressions to serve, well—prepare to be singing that jingle for weeks on end. And yet there’s evidence to suggest that people are actually less likely to buy from a company if they’ve been repeatedly exposed to the same ad.
It’s a surprisingly tricky problem to solve. Even for a single show on a single platform, ads can come at you from a variety of sources: the network itself, the set-top box you’re watching on, potentially even the manufacturer of your TV.
But it doesn’t have to be like this—and some services are embracing change
A few networks have started embracing the idea of showing a single long ad at the beginning of a show, and then nothing for the duration. Ads on the pause screen are also an unobtrusive way to let me know how to save money on my car insurance without annoying me.
The number of streaming services is growing, and ever more platforms are vying for your cash. Yet there’s still no technology spanning them all to ensure you don’t see the same ad on Netflix, TikTok, YouTube, Disney+. Which means you absolutely will see the same ad in those places. The TV ad business is colossal, and that money is now being funnelled to platforms. So without some change in the way that cash flows, the resultant ads may slowly render those streaming services vaguely unwatchable for more and more people.
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