Brightline powers interactive streaming ads as consumers show appetite

While some may question when interactive ads will make their play on streaming, CTV tech company Brightline says it’s already possible at scale with a variety of formats. And the tech vendor’s new white paper shows non-traditional ad units are preferred by consumers and can provide boosts across key advertiser metrics.

Brightline exists on the supply side of the ad ecosystem and its tech already serves major streamers to deliver interactive, dynamic ad formats including Disney, Hulu, ESPN, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max and Discovery+, as well as smart TV maker Vizio on its free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service WatchFree+. Brightline ad units also work across every connected TV device such Roku, Samsung, Apple, Amazon, Xbox and others.

As the CTV tech ecosystem is somewhat bespoke, Brightline does heavy integrations and testing with all of its partners to ensure interactive ad formats work seamlessly across devices, according to Brightline President and Co-founder Robert Aksman. For advertisers that means they can run the same type of interactive ad format or unit across a variety of providers, a capability he told StreamTV Insider some are surprised to hear.

“I think a lot of people still think this [interactive ad capability] is much smaller than it is and are surprised to hear that you can run the same unit across Peacock, Hulu, ESPN and Max – because we are that standard across all,” he said.

Aksman noted Brightline saw a few “crazy years of growth” particularly coming out of the pandemic, and has now aggregated data in its State of the TV Ad (Re)volution Annual Report to showcase, after spending the past few years heads down to make its tech work.

In terms of interactive streaming ads, “this is here, this is now, this is scalable. You could add it to almost every one of your upfront buys in the TV Upfronts,” he said.

And advertisers are already taking notice.  Over 80 of the top 100 advertisers in the U.S. are already in the mix and have run at least one or more of Brightline’s different ad formats across one of these connected TV providers.  According to Brightline, in the past year 56 million households were exposed to an Accelerator Ad experience through a streaming device or CTV, and 17% of households within its footprint engaged with a Brightline campaign in the first half of 2023.

Aksman acknowledged that interactive ads come with a small CPM (cost per thousand impressions) premium over traditional 30-second spots, and different media partners will have their own pricing, but contends that higher price comes with the added value brands get from interactivity and dynamic personalization.

Consumers prefer new formats

According to the report, there’s an appetite for interactive and personalized ad formats, with 75% of respondents who stated a preference favoring interactive TV ads over watching a standard commercial. Meanwhile 85% of viewers agreed they “prefer ads that feel personalized or localized.”

Commenting on consumer sentiment, Aksman said the way TV is viewed has fundamentally changed, where users are now in a streaming era with personalization, data-driven recommendations, and more engaging experiences such as statistics embedded in sports programming.

“The TV experience has been significantly upgraded, and I think that’s going to raise and is raising the viewer expectation that the advertising should follow suit” and go beyond a standard 30-second spot, he said. “And we’re finding when we do that, absolutely, viewers are engaging.”

According to Aksman, historically advertisers have spent big bucks and energy on two key components: the ad creative itself and audience targeting. But once that right creative hits the right consumer at the right time, a traditional 30-second spot doesn’t give them the chance to move down the funnel, by say exploring a car color option or learning more about a product.

If brands aren’t giving consumers a chance to engage with an ad “it’s a squandered opportunity and it’s wasted money in a sense you’re just letting that impression go to waste,” he said.

And Brightline’s tech aims to give consumers something to do once an ad has piqued their interest, moving them down the marketing funnel.

Different ad formats for different KPIs

So what Brightline ad formats are being deployed and what kind of results have they shown? Different ad formats help deliver on different key performance indicators (KPIs), such as engagement, earned media time, brand affinity, purchase intent and recall.

It’s worth noting that Brightline doesn’t consider QR codes in the same vein as other interactive units. Even though 68% of consumers agreed QR codes are useful in ads, Brightline’s internal data shows only 0.02% of users scan a QR code in a video ad. Comparatively, Brightline ad units have an average engagement rate of 1.12% with a remote control click. Aksman categorized the QR format as a “crawl” stage toward conversion, or cherry on top. One step further in the “walk” phase would be a Click-to-Contact ad with a one-click remote integration that sends an offer on screen to a users’ stored email, for example.  WBD is one streamer that in 2022 signed on to use that format, as well as Viewer’s Choice on Discovery+ and at its 2023 Upfront presentation disclosed additional formats.

Choice-based ads: This ad format still uses a traditional creative but lets users pick between options of which ad they’d prefer to see. For example, the viewer could be served a travel ad but opt for to see a trip to the beach versus a trip to the mountains. Per the report, choice-based ads deliver a 10.43% selection rate. And in survey results, 85% of respondents said they’d prefer the chance to pick which ad they see. In this format, Aksman likened it to self-selecting an addressable ad.

Trivia ad units: In-stream trivia ads that prompt a viewer to answer a question before the spot ends have shown some of the highest engagement rates at 2.53% with 2.33 average interactions.  Aksman said that units like trivia are “so simple to executive, people love them, [and] they get very high response rates.”  Brightline units can run for both on-demand content as well as live streaming, such as during live sports, he noted. 

Other formats of in-stream interactive ads include polls, which garner an average 1.06% engagement, games/reveal 1.27% engagement, and carousels that let viewers browse branded content averaging 0.73% engagement.  

Marketers could also be looking to achieve goals such as earned media time, Joshua Blum, director of Research & Analytics at Brightline noted, pointing to expandable formats that let viewers click from a commercial spot to stop the stream and interact with a full screen experience. Blum explained these various formats not only provide engagement in the moment, but drive impact later on in terms of brand and ad recall.

According to Brightline, whether or not a user engages with an interactive ad unit, simply being exposed to it resulted in lifts to brand awareness and ad recall – for example with a pharmaceutical brand running a campaign that saw a 23% and 46% bump respectively for those metrics in households with income of $100,000+.

In-stream interactive are by far the most popular with advertisers using Brightline at 67% (where trivia is the most popular with a 29% share), followed by expandable 11%, dynamic addressable 10%, choice-based 8% and static overlay at 5%.

Brightline’s first in-program ads will be launching in Q4, where Aksman thinks formats like trivia and choice-based will continue to grow.

Driving experience, attributable attention

The survey results also found that over three-fourths (76%) agreed they’re more likely to pay attention to an interactive ad than standard TV commercial.

Attention is a key metric but one that can be harder to quantify in terms of whether a consumer actually paid attention to a traditional 30-second spot. But with interactivity that prompts an action on-screen, there’s direct attribution or data points to rely on.

“I think we're hopeful and seeing a small growing trend that advertisers are going to start to value quality and actual attribution and attention versus a cheap CPM. Because those cheap CPMs are probably fraud, probably high frequency,” Aksman said. “I think what we’re doing here is creating a more quality experience that can be attributed with actual data and response clicks.”

In the white paper, Brightline found that more frequency is useful for its interactive units, finding that with fewer than five impressions, households engage at a rate of about 2.1%. That rate grows to 5.5% when impression frequency exceeds ten.  

Over frequency of ads or seeing the same commercial multiple times within a certain timeframe or even same ad break, can be a frustrating consumer and advertiser pain point. However, Aksman explained that Brightline’s approach to frequency isn’t running the same interactive ad unit over and over again, but instead sequencing the engagement component to serve different interactive elements or formats using the same unit at different points of exposure.

For example, an auto company where after seeing the commercial once, on second viewing consumers could play around with the color on the car, on third exposure the viewer could rotate or explore different vehicle features – helping to offset over frequency concerns by giving viewers something distinct to engage with each time.

“If we can do quick, nimble, engagement tidbits that can be sequenced throughout the campaign, at least we’re giving the viewer something new and different to click and respond to,” he said.

Road to shoppable TV

Interactive ads could be seen as a likely stepping stone to shoppable TV, where featured products are purchased directly through the TV.

Some are separately already employing tests, such as Roku with Walmart and more recently integration of Shopify merchants in one-click shoppable ads, and NBCU’s Peacock introducing shoppable TV capabilities starting with certain Bravo shows, in part powered by KERV Interactive.

Brightline last month announced its Proteus Experience Engine, which will allow streamers to overlay dynamic, interactive and shoppable moments across TV, film and sports, outside of traditional ad pods and directly within content. Allen Media Group’s The Weather Channel TV app and Local Now FAST app are among launch partners.

Right now, in Aksman view, the biggest barrier to interactive streaming TV ads is education. That’s both for consumers becoming acclimated to engaging with new ad formats as well as advertisers understanding they can run interactive ads across providers and platforms.

He foresees “a long few years of training viewers to keep engaging and get more and more comfortable, which we’re seeing across the board.”

Shoppable TV will be a natural eventual next step, he said, though not right for every brand or every moment in the viewing experience.