Nielsen Launches Solution to Help Connected-TV Operators and Advertisers Better Target Consumers

Nielsen Jan. 4 announced the launch of a new research solution, Streaming Signals, which helps connected-TV operators and advertisers better understand who is watching a show within a household, according to the company.

Streaming Signals unbundles household viewing, allowing “both media buyers and media sellers to optimize and measure CTV reach for more efficient advertising, maximizing ad revenue and delivery to streaming audiences,” according to Nielsen.

Using custom machine learning models to determine who is in the household based on historical viewership data, Streaming Signals delivers a signal within 50 milliseconds to CTV operators of who is currently streaming program content instantly, according to Nielsen.

The solution is made possible by using machine-learning algorithms, viewing from Nielsen’s panel data, and CTV provider viewership data, according to Nielsen. Once integrated, the CTV provider will notify the Nielsen system and will receive a signal containing information regarding who is most likely watching within the household.

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“For example, if ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is being watched within a household, the 35-year-old male likely watching the show will be shown an auto ad instead of a yogurt ad, giving CTV operators the ability to sharpen ad delivery from their inventory,” read the Nielsen release.

“Nielsen Streaming Signals brings a layer of unmatched real-time, person-level demographic precision to audience optimization,” Ameneh Atai, GM of digital and advanced TV at Nielsen, said in a statement. “We know that the media industry is going through accelerated change, switching to a streaming-first approach, and with an audience watching programming whenever, wherever and on a number of devices. Nielsen is the only one that is unbundling the household because we are the only ones that sit at the intersection of the streaming behavior and audience data.”

Traditionally, clients have looked at on-target percentage when evaluating advertising on CTV. Streaming Signals lets clients to “positively impact” that percentage by knowing before the ad is served who is behind the CTV screen, according to Nielsen.

FAST, AVOD Services Getting Better, More-Exclusive Content, OTT.X@Pipeline Panelists Say

Free ad-supported TV (FAST) and ad-supported VOD (AVOD) services are becoming the hot ticket in digital distribution, according to panelists at the 14th Annual OTT.X@Pipeline event in Los Angeles Dec. 8.

“Suddenly, AVOD is becoming part of the broader distribution strategy for major studios and indie studios alike, whereas in the early days, AVOD services had just 10, 15-year-old catalog,” said Pluto TV’s Will Gurman.

Now, content owners are looking at an earlier window for ad-supported release, and the business is looking for exclusives.

“There’s a huge opportunity now with indie producers, and we’ve done this with a number of films, where in a traditional pay one window we might come in and provide some level of AVOD exclusivity, and we market and we promote, treat the film the way that you’d see years ago from SVOD services before they started moving more and more into originals,” Gurman said.

The business is projected to reach $4 billion by 2024, said Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia, and “a lot of the growth in this industry has happened in the last 18 months.”

Pluto TV, owned by ViacomCBS, is a FAST service with more than 300 channels in the United States and is in 26 regions globally. The service also has thousands of titles available via AVOD.

“We’re about 8 years old and Pluto’s really founded with the contrarian principle,” Gurman said. “When everyone was going to SVOD and going to VOD, Pluto went the other way and went back to linear and back to ad-supported and presented a platform of channels in a familiar format and familiar content and were really a pioneer in growing and building out the FAST channel space.”

As ad-supported services have joined the space, differentiation is becoming more important to rise above the competition, he said.

“Differentiation is key for us now,” he said. But rather than focusing on originals, the service is looking for original channels.

“Certain platforms are investing heavily into original content,” he noted. “For us at Pluto, one thing we’ve really focused on and continued to focus on is differentiating on our channels and making sure — while we don’t have original content — the majority of channels can’t be found on other platforms,” he said. “A great example of that recently was a channel that we launched with professional bull riders, a fantastic organization with a fan base of over 80 million in the U.S.”

The company had been a niche SVOD service.

“We quickly learned about their marketing strength, how strong and important their fan base was and what their experience had been as a niche SVOD service, looking at potentially transitioning them to a new business model that could help them reach a broader audience,” he said.

Now, the bull-riding content has its own ad-supported channel exclusively on Pluto.

“It’s called PBR Ridepass, and we’re certainly looking to do more types of opportunities like that,” Gorman said.

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In fact, the ad-supported PBR channel launched on Pluto on the day the SVOD service shut down.

“We worked hand and hand with them on marketing to all their subscribers [about the transition],” Gorman said.

“It’s not just about the PBR channel in isolation,” he added. “We have a strong audience that likes content with a strong overlap. We have channels of outdoor content, we have action movies. ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ is a great overlap in content.”

Meanwhile, PBR helps viewers discover other channels they like on Pluto, he said.

“There’s a huge opportunity for SVOD platforms to offer linear channels in the AVOD space,” Gurman noted, adding Pluto TV has a channel with Britbox.

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Mike Woods, a veteran of digital content service company Amagi, has started Orka TV to help ad buyers find easier ways to utilize AVOD and FAST services. The digital realm is rapidly becoming the new TV, he said.

“It is all available,” he said. “Everything can be done now.”

He noted that a channel that used to cost $500 million to set up, now costs just thousands.

Gurman and Woods noted that the monthly active users (MAU) measure of ad-supported service success is antiquated and can be fudged — for instance by counting imagined co-viewers. Pluto TV focuses on viewing hours or revenue, for instance. Revenue per hours of viewing is a key metric, Woods said.

“If you’re getting revenue per second, you’re doing pretty good,” he said.

Kino Lorber, Giant Pictures Launch Free Ad-Supported Streaming Service Kino Cult

Kino Lorber has partnered with Giant Pictures to launch Kino Cult, a free ad-supported streaming destination for genre lovers of horror and cult films.

Featuring hundreds of hours of curated, theatrically released films all in high-definition, with new titles added monthly, Kino Cult launches widely in the United States and Canada on Oct. 1 across Web, mobile devices and connected TVs, with VOD apps on major devices, such as Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Google TV, iOS, Android and more.

Giant Pictures is the technology partner for Kino Cult, responsible for the device apps, channel distribution and ad-tech in the new venture.

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“From the arthouse to the haunted house, the channel will dive deep into unapologetically weird genre cinema, blending recent art house discoveries fresh from cinemas with high quality restorations of notorious grindhouse gems,” according to a press release.

Kino Lorber brings 40 years of experience as a theatrical and home entertainment distributor of international and American indie films to Kino Cult, where the focus will be on “the wild and the weird of genre cinema,” according to the release. Kino Cult plans to serve its audience with a deep catalog of hundreds of relevant titles, many of which are streamable for the very first time, all in HD, the press release noted.

The channel will offer cult cinema across action, horror, comedy and sci-fi, both new and rare vintage hits of genre cinema, giving movie fans “access to films that have not been easy to find in the streaming age,” the press release stated.

Distribution Solutions Putting Content on Pluto TV

Distribution Solutions, a division of Alliance Entertainment, has announced a new partnership with Pluto TV to distribute its content through the free streaming TV service across the United States.

Content from Distribution Solutions will begin appearing on Pluto TV channels starting in fall 2021.

“We are excited to partner with Pluto TV,” Ben Means, president of Distribution Solutions, said in a statement. “Through this partnership, premium independent content from our label partners will be available to their impressive audience of 52 million monthly active users.”

More than 450 hours of content from Distribution Solutions’ label partners will be available for streaming on Pluto TV, curated to plug into the Pluto TV channels.

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Notable titles coming to Pluto TV include family favorites such as The Cat in the Hat and Benji; cult classics such as Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), the Andy Sidaris films and “Gumby”; true crime content such as the “Becoming Evil” docuseries; and recent indie horror hits such as Hostile and Open 24 Hours.

“We are thrilled to welcome Alliance Entertainment and its expansive collection of top-quality content to the world of Pluto TV,” Will Gurman, VP of global content partnerships for Pluto TV, said in a statement. “With this partnership, we look forward to bringing our viewers an even wider array of genres and programming to lean back and enjoy, ranging from reality to history, kids content, and more — all for free.”

OTT.X Panelists Discuss Growth and Challenges of OTT Market

While the OTT market is growing exponentially, OTT players are facing several “pain points,” including the need to improve content discovery, better manage data and compete in an ever-more-crowded marketplace, said panelists Sept. 1 during the OTT.X Fall Summit in Los Angeles.

Clunky content discovery is still a problem for consumers and the OTT services that serve them.

“How do we shorten the distance between discovery and either purchase or consumption, either in terms of clicks or in terms of satisfaction to the customer?” said Chris Yates, GM of Redbox on Demand, adding it’s challenging “helping a customer find what they want to watch quickly and in the business model that matters to them.”

And the problem of discovery is only getting more complicated, especially in the ad-supported space, where the number of players is exploding, noted Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of Xumo.

“Today across the ecosystem there are maybe 1,500 linear free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels across all the platforms,” he said. “That’s going to be 10,000 in three years’ time.”

Unlike during the rise of broadcast and cable, the barriers to entry in the digital ad-supported marketplace are lower.

“Linear TV or cable TV used to be one of those places you had to have a lot of money to get access to,” Petrie-Norris said. “It is now being democratized. To get a linear national, even global TV channel is now possible for a much more humble budget.”

And that makes for a competitive landscape.

“The biggest challenge is that the FAST space is a gladiator pit where only the strong will survive,” said Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer at Cinedigm.

“Building our audience is the biggest pain point in the sense that there’s an increasingly fragmented distribution environment,” said Philippe Guelton, president of Crackle.

Getting the viewership data for digital content and evaluating what to do with it is a challenge as well.

Some platforms are “walled gardens” and do not share data, Opeka noted.

“In this ostensibly purely digital environment, you would think aggregating data and getting insights from the ecosystem would be much easier,” he said.

Data can also be overwhelming.

“We’re drowning in data and getting really good at making smart decisions out of it is tough,” he said.

Despite the challenges, the market for digital ads is hot.

“We see much more advertising demand than we have supply, which in my 30 years in working in ad-supported media I’ve never seen before,” Guelton said.

“I think advertisers today, frankly they just love the space,” Petrie-Norris added. “It’s all digital. You can track results. … It’s almost magic.”

Still, panelists said that delivering those ads could use some improvement.

Yates pointed to the “coming back soon” screens that pop up sometimes for minutes at a time when an ad doesn’t load.

“That’s an experience that the industry needs to solve,” he said.

Ad placement could also become more attuned to the viewer, perhaps with a smaller load while a consumer is casting around for something to watch and with more ads once the consumer is hooked.

Panelists also addressed the growth of PVOD — a higher-priced digital rental early in or concurrent with the theatrical window — during the pandemic as theaters shuttered.

“The real question is how long is this model sustainable,” Opeka said. “We’ve seen some pretty fantastic revenues out of the few [titles] that we’ve experimented with, way beyond what we would have thought possible … three or four times what we would have thought would be the potential pre-pandemic.”

“The one thing I can predict is if the revenues for PVOD continue to be as astronomical even for independent releases I can almost guarantee the market will be flooded with them,” he added.

Data: 60% of Connected-TV Households Stream Ad-Supported Content

Consumer interest in free ad-supported VOD (AVOD) content and live television (FAST) continues to proliferate. New data from The Diffusion Group suggests 60% of connected-TV households stream ad-supported content across myriad platforms — spearheaded by YouTube.

AVOD and FAST services driving the market include ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, Fox Entertainment’s Tubi, Comcast-owned Xumo and Amazon’s IMDb TV, among others.

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TDG found that 24% of connected-TV households consume ad-supported streaming content on a daily basis, while 32% stream weekly. Among AVOD/FAST consumers, 76% stream YouTube, the longest-running streaming video platform, followed by Pluto TV, Tubi and Xumo.

“Clearly the effects of work-from-home and lack of traditional leisure options during the pandemic accelerated consumer use of free ad-supported streaming services,” Doug Montgomery, senior analyst and author of Back to the Future: The Rise of Ad-Supported Streaming Video, said in a statement. “Most major video providers have been preparing for this moment for years and thus able to quickly adapt to an accelerated timeline. It is a unique moment in the history of the entertainment business and those who move quickly and boldly will likely reap the benefits for years to come.”

Vizio Updates Free TV Streaming Service

Vizio Aug. 2 updated its free streaming video service, WatchFree+, with a new program guide and an expanded content offerings based on user data.

“WatchFree+ provides audiences with access to the channels and programming you expect with cable, but in a free streaming environment that makes it easy to personalize and customize the entertainment experience,” Katherine Pond, VP of business development, said in a statement.

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To support what it characterizes as a “growing consumer shift” to streaming, Vizio’s WatchFree+ offers 24/7 access to live and local programming, premium content and an ever-expanding library of hundreds of free channels across movies, news, sports, lifestyle, music, kids, family and multicultural content.

The platform includes new navigation features that allow for advanced search and discovery of the latest and best free entertainment. Streamlined search also enables users to access movies, shows and more in fewer steps, serving up content that’s curated around each viewer’s interests.

The program guide supports voice navigation for new SmartCast TVs that come with the latest remote control. Additionally, audiences can use voice navigation through the free SmartCast app for iOS and Android devices.

The latest update leverages Vizio’s “Inscape” viewing data to inform programming preferences with context and is key in the redesign of Vizio’s full-screen program guide and curated channels.

Using first-party viewership data, the program guide now includes custom curated channels, a new “Featured” category with seasonal programming, themed collections, and pop-up channels, including:

  • Fork & Flight: A unique mix of today’s most popular culinary and travel TV shows alongside top digital creators and trendsetters. Fork & Flight will take you to the kitchen, the farm and France — all in one day.
  • Investigation: Unlocks the door to real crime and the unknown, giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at investigations, as well as in-depth explorations.

Pluto TV Adds Julia Child, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ Channels

AVOD service Pluto TV has added a Julia Child channel and a channel of the classic Western “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

Pluto TV is owned by ViacomCBS.

The Julia Child channel, located on channel 519, features more than 165 hours of 24/7 content from the legendary chef’s cooking shows. The channel includes episodes of “The French Chef,” “Baking With Julia” and “Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs.”

The 24/7 “Wanted: Dead or Alive” channel features the full run of the groundbreaking Western starring Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.

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Paramount+ Launches Lower-Priced Service, Expands Content Slate

Paramount+ June 7 officially launched its lower-priced ($4.99) ad-supported subscription streaming service.

The platform also reported it would significantly expand its content offering this summer, starting with the exclusive June 10 premiere of the sci-fi action movie Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor and directed by Antoine Fuqua, and the introduction of more than 1,000 premium movies this week. The new summer slate will roll out over the next several weeks.

The new plan combines sports, including NFL games and more than 1,600 soccer matches each year, with on-demand entertainment options including current and upcoming shows and movies, as well as breaking news through CBSN (but will no longer include local live CBS station programming).

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The Paramount+ premium plan ($9.99) features commercial-free, on-demand entertainment with 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision and mobile downloads; an extended roster of sports; and live streams of local affiliates in more than 200 markets across the United States.

“The breadth and depth of premium feature films and exclusive series coming to the service further strengthens our position in the market … [and] makes us even more accessible to a wide consumer audience,” Tom Ryan, CEO of ViacomCBS Streaming, said in a statement.

Building on the brand’s studio legacy, Paramount+ is scaling its feature film offerings to include more than 2,500 titles by the end of summer 2021. The first 1,000 films will be available starting June 10. Paw Patrol: The Movie bows Aug. 20, the same day it hits theaters; and A Quiet Place Part II begins streaming following its successful theatrical release.

Beginning this week, Paramount+ subs will have access to movie action and adventure films, including Terminator: Dark Fate, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Red Dawn, Skyfall, The Avengers, Gemini Man and The Rhythm Section. Other titles include Rocketman, Judy, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Wolf of Wall Street, Revolutionary Road, 71, The Soloist, The Birdcage, The Full Monty and Little Women.

The service is also streaming select kids and family movies, horror titles and comedies.

The films will be available to watch along with franchises currently featured on the service, including “Indiana Jones,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Star Trek,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Jackass.”

Paramount+ original series include “iCarly” (June 17), “Evil” (June 20), “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars” (June 24),RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked!” (June 24), “The Good Fight” (June 24), “Behind the Music” (July 29) and “Star Trek: Lower Decks” (Aug. 12), among others.

Tubi Execs See Bright Future in AVOD

LAS VEGAS — The ad-supported video-on-demand streaming service Tubi touts itself as having the largest library in the space, at about 20,000 titles, four times that of Netflix, and Tubi executives see a bright future in the free alternative to subscription VOD.

“I think 2020 is going to be the year of AVOD,” said Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi in an interview with Media Play News at CES. “I think there are going to be a lot of new players in the space, and I very much welcome it.”

Mark Rotblat

Tubi logged 20 million monthly active users as of June 2019, and 132 million hours a month as of September, noted chief revenue officer Mark Rotblat.

The service is on more than two dozen platforms, including Vizio, Samsung, Sony and Google; at CES, Tubi announced the addition of its service to Hisense’s Vidaa platform in spring 2020.

AVOD is gaining ground as cord cutting accelerates. In the third quarter of 2019, 2 million households cut the cord, up from a half million in the previous-year quarter, Massoudi noted.

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Also, the consumer is being inundated with existing and new SVOD platforms, with longtime players Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu joined by recent entrants Disney+ and Apple TV+ and upcoming services, such as WarnerMedia’s HBO Max.

“Subscription fatigue is a real problem,” Massoudi said. “The idea of subscribing to all these services is just crazy.”

SVOD services will increasingly focus on original content, he noted.

“The role of SVOD will be providing original content to justify the expense on your bill,” he said.

Meanwhile, AVOD services such as Tubi are mining catalog, and deep catalog at that.

“By definition AVOD is not a content forward property,” Massoudi said. “We will never get a shiny title like ‘Friends’ [for which WarnerMedia paid nearly half a billion dollars for streaming rights].”

In contrast, Tubi is judicious about spending on content.

“If I have $1, I can put it on one title or I can aggregate five titles for that dollar and have more viewership,” Massoudi said.

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While Tubi welcomes competitors, Massoudi said the service has a technological jump on new entrants.

“We’re well ahead of the market,” he said, adding studios or other companies looking to enter the AVOD space “would have to do a massive tech investment,” such as the investment Tubi has made in its recommendation engine.

“Content isn’t enough,” he said.

Tubi’s machine learning helps viewers personalize their content and wade through the thousands of available titles.

Massoudi and Rotblat would not reveal any revenue numbers for the independent company. They noted that over the past nine years, the company has raised a mere $35 million, meaning ad revenues are a key driver of the business.

“We are doing financially very well,” said the CEO, noting the staff has doubled to more than 220 in the past year.

While Viacom snapped up AVOD player Pluto TV, Massoudi said Tubi isn’t interested in being acquired.

“We’re focused on being independent,” he said. “We want to take this public.”