Ad spend increased as brands gravitated to the space.

While linear TV got pummeled by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, connected TV and direct-to-consumer players have been thriving over the past year.

For instance, Vizio saw a 95% increase in streaming hours on its platform from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020. “That’s a seismic sea change in the business,” Adam Bergman, vp of national ad sales for Vizio, said during a panel at Adweek’s Mediaweek event moderated by TV Editor Jason Lynch. “It was just the accelerant of being home. We accelerated a huge amount of our free streaming product.”

Bergman noted that prior to the pandemic, Vizio had a few hundred channels of free, ad-supported television, but in the early months of 2020 and the first three months of the pandemic, the company added an additional 150 channels to its SmartCast platform.

NBCUniversal first unveiled its One Platform offering in January 2020, enabling the company to sell ad inventory across all its screens. The company was set to debut its streaming service Peacock nationally in July 2020, following a soft launch for Xfinity customers in April. Despite the challenges of rolling out during a pandemic, Peacock has logged 33 million subscribers since its launch.

“Last year was just filled with so many obstacles and tragedy, but also gave marketers and places like NBCU permission to just break legacy,” said Brian Norris, svp of direct to scale at NBCUniversal. “And really specifically, really be able to meet advertisers where they are and what they’re looking to accomplish.”

Norris said for NBCUniversal, that meant being able to accelerate transformation across every aspect of the media and entertainment space.

“We had built the framework of this direct-to-consumer and direct to scale team, so when the pandemic hit, it was like, OK, we have already gone to market with One Platform, we had already gone to market with our direct to scale offering, we had already gone to market with our One Platform commerce opportunities,” said Norris. “And so during the pandemic, it gave us permission to just really accelerate the growth within those areas.”

‘Everybody knows that connected TV is only going to grow’

The upcoming Tokyo Olympics are set to be a huge opportunity for NBCUniversal’s direct to scale team.

“When we think specifically about the brands that I work with, whether it’s in a connected TV environment or not, we have completely opened up our doors for sale, no matter what the brand is,” said Norris. “Everybody knows that connected TV is only going to grow.”

Vizio is seeing that spend growth in connected TV, specifically with companies raising their investment into connected TV over linear television.

“We start with every one of our brand partners in the planning space,” said Bergman, noting that the team uses ACR data to look at linear campaigns to understand how much of the Vizio audience brands are reaching with linear and streaming ad campaigns.

“What we’re finding is that even with the heaviest of GRP spenders, major brands are missing upwards of 40-50% of our audience,” said Bergman. “And what we’re seeing is that those campaigns are only getting a one, two, maybe three frequency on linear alone. So what that means is the two have to work in concert. Every brand not only needs to potentially consider raising their overall budget, but use it more effectively.”

Bergman said that Vizio has been able to prove extended reach and frequency returns for brands without changing its overall budget, and instead using share shift to think about how linear and OTT can work together.

“It isn’t just about raising your whole budget. It’s getting it in the right places for effective reach,” said Bergman. “I don’t think there’s many marketers and agencies that you have to convince that streaming is where dollars need to go. I think what every advertiser knows is that they’re just not going to hit the required reach frequency they need by just being on one platform or the other. They have to be thinking about linear and streaming collectively.”

Norris observed similar trends in the connected and DTC space. “These brands have no real thought process on how to reach audiences,” he said. “They’re really looking to us to give them solutions of how to operate in a One Platform world. We’re finding the audiences where they reside. More specifically, we have found that brands that have gotten their start in a social environment, they’ve leaned a little bit more into streaming and CTV. It’s a less cluttered environment, and the measurability and the targetability that exists within that environment are all areas that they lean into.”