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Opinion: Are we approaching the end of the ad break?

As Amazon Prime Video introduces adverts into its content, Lelde Ardava, sales and account manager at Veset, looks at how broadcasters and advertisers can move towards more engaging methods to keep viewers interested

For decades, when it came to raising brand awareness, building trust, and driving sales, TV advertising was the most popular and effective tool in an advertiser’s arsenal. However, when viewers were presented with the choice of on-demand, ad-free services, for many, the traditional linear model with its lengthy ad breaks became less appealing. 

As traditional linear TV viewership continues to fall, TV ad spending has seen a similar trajectory. At the same time while digital marketing has evolved considerably, traditional TV advertising has remained largely unchanged. As a result, maintaining engagement during traditional linear ad breaks continues to be a real challenge. Is it time for broadcasters and advertisers to rethink the format of TV ads to better engage viewers? What might this look like and what does this mean for the ad break?

Challenges around viewer experience and engagement

Keeping viewers engaged throughout the ad break is an age-old challenge for broadcasters. The quantity and length of ad breaks significantly impacts the overall viewing experience, and there’s no getting around the fact that ad breaks which interrupt the content are intrusive. Too many ads and viewers will quickly get frustrated and disengage, leaving broadcasters faced with the complex challenge of balancing viewer experience with the needs of advertisers, and the requirement to generate ad revenue. 

The relevancy of ads is another key factor in viewer engagement. Advertisers and broadcasters are increasingly using contextual advertising as a method of serving viewers more relevant ads. Rather than using data about the user, with contextual advertising, ads are shown that are relevant to the content viewers are watching. A travel show may include ads for travel agencies, travel insurance or hotels for example. By showing relevant ads that align with users’ immediate interests or needs, contextual advertising makes the advertising experience more targeted and personalised. 

Better targeting is not the only tactic that advertisers and broadcasters are adopting to improve engagement. Other innovative strategies such as interactive ads and innovative ad formats are also being explored. 

Shoppable ads are coming

A recent survey of over 1200 US consumers found that over half of CTV viewers expressed a desire for TV advertisements to offer a quick option to purchase products directly. Amazon experimented with shoppable ads recently during the Black Friday NFL game. Ads featured on-screen QR codes linking to Amazon’s Black Friday deals, enabling viewers to scan codes with mobile devices to go straight to the offers. Viewers watching the game with an Amazon Fire TV Stick could use the remote to open the deal on their phone. Amazon hasn’t published how well the shoppable ads shown at the game performed, however, it seems that viewers did engage with the ads, and many went on to purchase advertised items.

Perhaps we’ll see more innovation around shoppable and interactive ads now that Amazon Prime has switched its standard offering to show ads. Disney has also recently launched a beta program that allows consumers to purchase products without leaving the content, by connecting the stream to a shopping cart using Gateway Shop. 

What about traditional linear TV? According to YouGov analysis of 17 markets, the majority of consumers often use their mobile devices while watching TV. With so many viewers using a second device while watching TV, shoppable ads are not just limited to OTT content. Traditional TV ads can also use on-screen QR codes to enable viewers to use their mobile devices to find out more about a product and make a purchase. This not only adds value for the advertiser but also makes ads more interactive and engaging for viewers.

Innovative ad formats are challenging the ad break

Advertising technology is continually advancing, and this is enabling video providers and broadcasters to experiment with different types of ad formats. Many streaming services such as Hulu, Peacock and Max have started using ‘pause ads’ where ads play when the user pauses the content. Ads are delivered in an unobtrusive way because the ad break is initiated by the viewer. 

Advancements in ad tech have also made it possible to insert ads that are displayed alongside the content. This removes the need for a traditional ad break, thereby reducing the chance that viewers will disengage. Veset’s new AdWise solution uses dynamic squeezing technology to literally squeeze the content to make room for the ad to display on the screen alongside the programme. This means that the main content stream is still visible alongside the displayed ad. The parallel streams can be served at various ratios, with the most popular being 1:1. While this format of ad delivery can be used for any type of content, it may be particularly useful for live sports broadcasting, news, and other live events where the ad break can’t be inserted easily because of a risk that the viewer will miss a crucial goal or key announcement. 

Will the ad break endure?

As broadcasters look to improve ad revenue and better engage viewers, we’ll likely see more and more innovative solutions come to market that allow ads to be delivered in a way that is both more engaging and less intrusive. However, regardless of what form the ad break takes in the future, whether ads are interactive, shoppable, viewed alongside content or when the viewer pauses the content, or even something entirely different again, the key fundamentals remain the same. The quantity of ads must be carefully considered, user experience must not be compromised, and ads must be relevant. TV advertising is moving towards more engaging methods, and this will benefit not only advertisers and broadcasters but also viewers who will enjoy a better quality viewing experience.