OTT players like Pluto TV and Tubi are ramping up ad spend to get ahead of the upcoming onslaught of new streaming TV

OTT players like Pluto TV and Tubi are ramping up ad spend to get ahead of the upcoming onslaught of new streaming TV

Bob Bakish Viacom CBS

  • Ad-supported streaming TV companies Pluto TV and Tubi are launching ad campaigns that take aim at subscription-based competitors like Netflix and Hulu.
  • With more media companies set to launch new services over the next two years, the companies are trying to capitalize on subscription fatigue.
  • Pluto TV and Tubi have used targeted billboards to build awareness.
  • Deacon Webster, chief creative officer and co-founder of agency Walrus, compared the companies' increased ad spend to the rise in direct-to-consumer advertising that skews towards cheaper campaigns made with in-house marketing teams.
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Free, ad-supported streaming TV companies like Tubi and Pluto TV are ramping up their ad spending to combat Netflix and Hulu and ahead of the launch of other subscription-based services.

Viacom-owned Pluto TV, Tubi, and Amazon Fire have run recent campaigns that position streaming TV as free for consumers while taking a jab at subscription-based services and TV. Tubi and Pluto TV's outdoor billboards and signs have appeared in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago while Amazon is running ads on digital, social, and its own connected-TV platforms.

  • WarnerMedia plans to launch HBO Max.
  • Disney is set to roll out Disney+.
  • Apple will introduce Apple TV+.
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg's high-profile Quibi will roll out.
  • NBC's streaming service is expected to launch.

Read more: How Disney Plus, HBO Max, and NBC's streaming service stack up in the battle against Netflix

"It's going to be extremely competitive," said Vincent Letang, EVP of global market intelligence at Magna Global.

The streaming companies' ad spend is small but growing, with Amazon Fire being the clear winner in terms of ad spend, according to data from Kantar.

Amazon Fire spent $68 million on advertising in 2018 and $13.8 million in the first quarter of 2019. Pluto TV spent $4.8 million during the first quarter of this year, up from $2.7 million in all of 2018.

OTT companies are vying for consumers' attention

Tubi spent nothing in the first quarter of this year after spending $18 million in 2018. However, it launched its largest campaign to date earlier this month, according to the company.

Tubi is running an out-of-home campaign in cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that compare its free service to Netflix and Hulu's paid services. Tubi later this month plans to expand the campaign to social, programmatic and digital out-of-home ads, said Emily Jordan, VP of Marketing.

Jordan said that Tubi expects the average US household will eventually use two subscription-based video services and one ad-supported video service, leading to a tough market for dozens of streaming services.

"We choose to highlight Netflix and Hulu in a cheeky way so we could gain some eyeballs and social sharing," she said. "'Free' is a place where we differentiate from those services, especially Netflix, and that's one of our key value propositions."

Tubi ads

Last week, Amazon launched a broad digital campaign called "Free your TV" aimed at educating consumers about how streaming works.

"The origins of this campaign stem from our research that indicates customers might not know about all the options they have when it comes to streaming apps, hardware, and functionality," said Erika Takeuchi, head of global integrated marketing for Amazon Fire TV. "There's a bit of a learning curve, especially since every household has different entertainment needs - there's not one right way to cut the cord."

The companies are also trying to get advertisers' attention

Pluto TV ran an eight-week ad blitz targeting industry executives in New York and Los Angeles after Viacom acquired the streaming platform in January. The ads displayed Pluto TV's logo on bright colored backgrounds that read "It's free TV."

A spokeswoman said the campaign was intended to be "broad and abstract" to educate advertisers about Pluto TV's new owner.

Placing ads where they'll be seen by ad buyers is a longstanding tactic of networks and publishers, said Deacon Webster, chief creative officer and co-founder of agency Walrus, which was not involved in any of the campaigns.

A few years ago, AMC Networks bought billboards in New York to promote "Mad Men," one of the advertising industry's favorite shows that depicts life inside agencies. The ads ran in commuter-heavy areas like Penn Station that agency employees frequently pass through.

Streaming TV companies are keeping their messages simple

The campaigns aren't big on flash but are straight and to the point. Pluto TV, Tubi, and Amazon developed their campaigns in-house. Amazon also worked with agencies Contend and WPP's Yale and Olive for creative and media-buying.

All three ad campaigns use similar colors and feature text on a background.

Tubi's Jordan said the creative is designed to reflect Tubi's goal of being "the comfort food of the media world."

"The TV shows and movies that we have are the things that you want to rewatch. We love fan favorites, nostalgia and reality TV," she said.

Walrus' Webster compared the increase in streaming TV advertising to that of direct-to-consumer brands. As OTT companies gain steam, he said he expects them to heavy up on traditional marketing because it can be cheaper than digital ad targeting.

"Advertising is seen as something that mature companies do," he said. "If you're going to a niche audience, it starts to get super expensive."

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