Independent streamers tout value for advertisers but say ecosystem needs to evolve

New York - As advertisers look to invest dollars in streaming, smaller and independent services that tout niche and engaged audiences want a piece of a pie, but executives at this week’s CIMM Summit suggested measurement and best practices within the ecosystem need to evolve in order to show their value to brands.

Part of the issue is that taken individually independent streamers may not immediately provide reach that advertisers desire, though together they account for a sizable share of viewership. It’s one of the reasons 10 leading indie streamers banded together earlier this year to form the Independent Streaming Alliance (ISA), including Allen Media Group, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Cineverse, Scripps, Future Today, kewliTV, Revry, Tastemade, Trusted Media Brands (TMB) and Vevo.

Speaking at the 12th annual CIMM Summit in New York on Tuesday, Evan Bregman, GM of Streaming at Tastemade, laid out some of the opportunities and challenges for independent streamers as the ecosystem shifts from a legacy linear model to the advent of free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels and AVOD environments.

Tastemade offers four lifestyle FAST channels in the U.S. including its flagship food channel, along with travel, home and Tastemade en Espanol, and according to Bregman is one of the most distributed programmers among FAST and MVPDs.

In the past with traditional linear, the number of channels was “very strictly gate-kept,” he said. And while many were available it was not to the extent of major FAST aggregators today, some of which count over 1,000 channels in their guides.

“The net result of that is you’ve got this huge long-tail of programmers that each in their own right have what could be a very valuable audience to an advertiser,” Bregman commented. He acknowledged the scale is quite different but likened it to viewership of YouTube Channels (except with premium content).

“As a result of that you have, I think, a really great opportunity as an advertiser to find hyper engaged audiences that are contextually relevant to whatever it is you’re looking to market,” he said. “But right now the ecosystem is not necessarily set up in such a way that you could find them.”

The streaming and FAST ecosystem for ad buying is in relative infancy, and Bregman noted it took other digital environments years to be able to build the right infrastructure. He cited two sides converging for opportunity: one is advertisers who traditionally buy linear, and are told by major media companies that now with measurement advances they can buy streaming as well.

“Typically, that’s how some of these bigger buyers are checking the box, ‘yes, I bought streaming,” he said.

There are also digital buyers that may have previously bought on social or YouTube but are starting to come into the CTV space, some for the first time, where they can access high-end CTV inventory. CTV is something those advertisers want to be able to buy in the same manner as the digital inventory they’re used to, he said, “sliced and diced any which way,” with third party measurement attached to it.

“Those two forces are a huge boon for what could be a nice, healthy, long-tail monetization, but until we get the measurement right, it’s pretty difficult to actually make that case back to the buyers,” Bregman said.

In an effort to quantify and show that value, the ISA enlisted measurement vendor iSpot to conduct a study in June that calculated aggregate reach of eight of the 10 independent streaming services. The results, released Wednesday, found a sizable number of households consume premium video programming from ISA members, with aggregate reach of nearly 18 million U.S. TV households, equaling nearly 15% of the country.

The iSpot study measured a cross-section of the advertising campaigns that ran across ISA publishers and FAST channels in a two-month window from mid-June to mid-August. It leveraged iSpot’s ad measurement tools and panel of 40 million smart TVs, including co-viewing capabilities. Household impressions during the study surpassed 1.5 billion. The report was also “blind,” based on the arrangement among ISA members, so that the streaming services didn’t expose proprietary usage data to each other.


"We have always believed in the value of independent streamers," said Cameron Saless, chief business officer at TMB, in a statement. "Many of us were early adopters of FAST and have experience that can be critical in solving challenges in the marketplace while continuing to offer diverse programming to our audiences."

During the Tuesday panel at CIMM, Timothy Ware, SVP of Programmatic Sales & Partnerships at Crackle, said ISA thinks the study numbers are “darn good” and said it “reinforces the diversity of our viewership, the diversity of our content” and the value proposition.

Katya Shkolnik, head of Partnerships at Future Today, an AVOD player with free streaming channel properties including HappyKids, zeroed in on the need for diversification of offerings of different publishers and supplies, saying the “more the merrier” for brands that want to tap into many different audiences.

“I think it’s really important to note that here with ISA…we’re kind of bundling ourselves up and offering ourselves up as a niche audience that can actually provide a lot of value,” she said.

Need for standards, best practices

Stuart Schwartzapfel, EVP of Media Partnerships at iSpot, noted during the panel that in the founding of ISA there’s an element of best practices that the independent streamers want to bring to the ecosystem in terms of how media investment is made for indie streaming publishers, alongside giving buyers a different view on what collective media spending could look like.

“If you view all of these great publishers together as opposed to separately – where it’s very challenged for them and they get essentially buried when they’re by themselves – but they’re so much stronger together,” he said.

Bregman also pointed to the need for standards, contending that the issue for independent streamers isn’t even necessarily a technical decision as there are a number of ways to solve (an issue itself), but more a business one. As more viewership comes into streaming, he said that as an ecosystem, CTV needs to come together to identify types of standards for measurement and best practices around measurement and buying because it will begin to attract more dollars to the space.

“It doesn’t matter where those dollars flow, there will be more of them once there is a standard language going across all of it,” he said, noting increasing the overall size of the proverbial pie benefits everyone.

“If there’s more in the pie overall, Tastemade does better, I can make even better content, which means everywhere where I’m distributed will have more people watching.”

Blockers currently are business decisions, he asserted, pointing to the need for partners. “If we just come together as a JIC, as an ISA…to be able make those business decisions, then I think this whole thing will speed up.”

Better together

And the streaming GM touted Tastemade’s engaged audience as part of its value proposition to advertisers. According to Bregman 80% of people that watch Tastemade actually go and make something, be it a recipe or craft for their home, based on what they watched.

“If you want an engaged audience that is going to walk into your big box store to do a project because they were inspired by something that they saw on television, you’ve got to be buying Tastemade,” he commented. “Being able to sell that audience at scale, not only on Tastemade but elsewhere, that’s how we try to stand out.”

Future Today’s Shkolnik noted the service focused on scale and developing on OEM platforms, while pointing out it also has deep libraries of contextual titles that could be utilized.

“We’re also hoping there’s more adoption of any contextual markers that would actually give you specifics on an audience instead of extrapolations,” she said.

As for Crackle and parent Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Ware noted from a programming perspective it’s diversifying and becoming longer-tail, including lifestyle, sports and documentaries. Like Future Today, Crackle had been more AVOD focused but is moving into the FAST space where Tastemade has long planted a flag, sharing common interests with both.

“It really makes also for kind of ‘better together’ that we can share best practices, as well to help us…learn and better program for viewers,” Ware said.

Updated to correct spelling of Evan Bregman's first name in the third graph.