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CTV in the time of COVID-19: More avails and branding opportunities

If you’ve been feeling the urge to find new series to stave off cabin fever under quarantine, you’re not alone. During its first 10 days on Netflix, Tiger King averaged 19 million US viewers per minute, according to Variety. Overall, connected television (CTV) viewership rates have skyrocketed (Sling and Hulu viewership rates doubling week over week) across the United States since shelter-in-place orders have been issued across the country.

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This is further substantiated in our own research study where we saw one-third of respondents reporting significantly more movie and television streaming since the start of the pandemic. As marketers, this presents us with a unique opportunity to get vital messaging to consumers, whether around e-commerce, tips for accessing services under these new living circumstances or even potentially life-saving PSAs.

The shift in viewing habits changed dramatically, almost overnight.

According to the Trade Desk, both Sling and Hulu avails have almost doubled when comparing March 11th (~200M avails) to March 21st (~400m avails).

This trend has been augmented by the dearth of live sports. Users who are typically heavy sports-viewers are not turning to linear TV, but instead to CTV/OTT streaming. Sports-viewers’ streaming times have doubled the rate of the average Roku viewer; without live sports, linear television packages lose a bit of their allure.

Though many brands are pulling back budgets, AdAge reports global ad spend outlook is set to decrease 7.4% to $691B (down from $712B), maintaining a presence amongst these newfound audiences is key. Moments of crisis allow for brands to break through the noise, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. This pattern has held steady throughout our recent history, whether Kellogg’s during the Great Depression, Toyota during the energy crisis in the 70s, or Amazon during the recession in 2009. The focus of these success stories involve highlighting innovations: industrialized nutrition, fuel efficiency, and one-tap convenience. 

“If delivered with a deft hand, this can be a golden opportunity to position a brand. Upper-funnel branding and a focus on core strengths can help navigate the current advertising landscape.”

If delivered with a deft hand, this can be a golden opportunity to position a brand. Rather than focusing on conversion-driving tactics or pulling back spend altogether, upper-funnel branding and a focus on core strengths can help navigate the current advertising landscape. Essential services should focus on how customers can continue to utilize them. For example, ads around how to access banking accounts remotely can be crucial in maintaining order and social distancing guidelines.

Sectors of the economy that are most directly impacted by the restrictions — travel, retirement homes and quick serve restaurants — can focus on what makes them a source of strength for the community, reinforcing the nuances that separate them from the pack. Whether focusing on practical information or the ways in which your brand can offer a sense of normalcy and stability, these messages can have a lasting impact beyond COVID-19. Facebook has cited 66% of users are likely to change their purchase behavior based on how a brand responds to the COVID-19 crisis. 

While CTV has become the best medium for delivering these messages, quarantine has complicated targeting in new and unforeseen ways. CTV and OTT devices tend to be shared. With everyone on lockdown, roommates or quarantined family members are likely to access the same accounts or watch content together. Due to the rise in temporary (and unusual) housing arrangements caused by COVID-19, the end result is an unexpected mixture of demographics different than how they’re usually represented, causing the accuracy of traditional household-level CTV targeting to lose focus. 

Image credit: Alexander Dummer, Unsplash

Hero Digital recommends avoiding demographic targeting altogether. Instead, leverage in-market audiences and look-alike modeling to expand prospecting audiences and find new pockets of the population who may be receptive to your messaging during this time. Retargeting and CRM list targeting are two essential tactics for sharing messaging with the most attentive and relevant users possible. Regional brands might be able to forego targeting altogether, doubling down on how your brand serves its community can be applicable to just about any viewer in that geographic area.

“Since there are more eyes on CTV, brands can add value, distinguishing themselves as proactive, innovative and compassionate towards their communities.”

This is a unique time. Quarantine will eventually be lifted, people will spend less time watching television and bread-baking won’t hold the same cultural cache it currently enjoys. Since there are more eyes on CTV while our nation reels from the effects of COVID-19, brands can add value, distinguishing themselves as proactive, innovative and compassionate towards their communities. If the past is any indication, the opportunity to take the leap is now. Contact us to get started.