Roku serves up AI for contextual advertising on The Roku Channel

AI is an increasing topic of interest in the streaming industry and Roku is prepared to put it to use for more relevant ad placements on its free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service The Roku Channel.

During Roku’s NewFronts presentation Tuesday, the company announced AI-powered contextual capabilities that will allow brands to automatically run ads next to relevant moments in every movie and show on The Roku Channel. The AI implementation, coming this year, searches Roku’s library for key plot moments that align with a brand’s message and then places an ad in real-time.

“Showing up in your big moments is critical and doing so in all of the best content is business changing,” said Roku’s co-head of U.S. brand sales Julian Mintz on stage, adding that the new capability helps match brands with just the right moment. He pointed to examples of a wireless company promoting a new phone line in the ad break every time after ET phones home, or an apparel line advertising after Tim Gunn says “make it work” on Project Runway.

“You tell us your campaign theme and our AI will scour our entire library filled with some of the best content ever made, and in the blink of an eye our tech will match your brand with those magical moments,” Mintz said. “As we host you on the streamer’s journey, this is content meets context meets concierge. Big reach in all of the best content made easy.”

The Roku Channel already boasts a large ad-supported audience, reaching 100 million people in the U.S. and is among the top five apps on the Roku platform.

Contextual advertising is a method others are working to employ, such as music video network Vevo, which has turned to AI to curate genre or theme-specific CTV programming blocks which advertisers can then run campaigns against. It leverages AI company Hive to process music videos and label different visual components within each video, which is then fed into a proprietary machine learning model to group music videos together with similar elements.  Then, for example, a “beach party” music video viewing hour could be sponsored by a specific brand.

Another key message from Roku at NewFronts is its streaming scale, with over 71 million active accounts and the leading U.S. TVOS and making brands “unmissable” throughout the TV experience.

During the presentation Alison Levin, head of advertising at Roku, said that while hours on Roku have boomed, “the top streaming app is opened only three days per month, just three days. Roku powers TV for nearly half of U.S. broadband homes every day,” highlighting the importance of the overall platform and getting in front of viewers throughout their time spent watching TV.

That includes from powering the TV on with home screen opportunities, to placements throughout content discovery experiences, as well as screen savers, and in-stream ads that can also leverage interactive and shoppable capabilities.

On stage Roku touted advertising opportunities on its streaming platform home screen, with brands able to participate in content discovery before viewers start streaming – including through new home and garden, and sports experiences that curate content from various providers. It also pointed to the Roku City branded experience, with McDonald’s as the first brand to tap into the avenue and be highlighted to the nearly 40 million homes that access the Roku City screen saver each month.

For more on Roku’s NewFront pitch, including interactivity, commerce and a Primetime Reach Guarantee, with insights from co-head of U.S. brand sales Kristina Shepard, read here.