How Disney is taking a page from Hulu to capture streaming TV ad dollars

  • Disney is incorporating more of Hulu’s technology into its pitch for TV ad dollars this year.
  • Disney plans to launch a self-serve ad platform after a test with Hulu advertisers.
  • Disney is also rolling out an ad exchange with the goal of 50% of its revenue coming from automated ad-buying by 2024.
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Disney is betting big on Hulu to accelerate its ad sales.

Disney is adopting Hulu’s technology as part of its ambitions to make TV advertising more automated.

Advertisers have long asked big broadcasters like Disney, NBCUniversal, and Viacom for more data, targeting, and flexible pricing when negotiating for big TV ad deals during the upfronts buying season. Disney’s push this year heavily focuses on Hulu, which it acquired in 2019 by buying out Comcast’s stake in the streaming service.

Hulu is credited as helping shift traditional TV ad budgets to digital. Last year, Disney merged its adtech teams into one sales group led by Jeremy Helfrand, previously Hulu’s VP and head of advertising platforms.

Hulu is playing a bigger role in Disney’s advertising business in a few ways:

  • Disney plans to launch a self-serve ad platform after testing it with Hulu advertisers.
  • Disney is plugging Hulu’s first-party data about viewers into its own first-party data marketplace.
  • Disney is adopting Hulu’s measurement tool that tracks what people do after seeing an ad. Hulu has tested the tool with 75 advertisers.

Disney announced the new features at a tech showcase event for advertisers ahead of the upfronts that take place in May.

When the pandemic hit last year and cancelled live sports and programming, some advertisers cut long-term TV ad commitments and shifted advertising to programmatic buying.

Disney claims to have added 1,000 new advertisers over the past year through such programmatic deals and is aiming for an 80% revenue increase from automated advertising this year. Disney expects for programmatic to make up to 50% of its total ad revenue by 2024.

“The makeup and mix of a Disney deal now looks very different,” said Lisa Valentino, EVP of client and brand solutions at Disney. 

As more ad spend goes programmatic, Disney is rolling out an ad exchange called Disney Real-Time Ad Exchange that helps advertisers view and buy Disney’s streaming ads. Disney plans to eventually sell linear TV ads this way so that advertisers can take advantage of viewership spikes — like during a college football game, said Rita Ferro, president of ad sales at Disney.

Disney is also beefing up on first-party data to help advertisers as Apple and Google clamp down on third-party cookies. Disney’s data platform includes more than 1,000 audiences based on household characteristics, purchase intent, and psychographics that advertisers can use to target ads across Disney’s portfolio.

Hulu’s self-serve ad platform test is also giving Disney an opening with new small business and direct-to-consumer advertisers. Such brands don’t typically buy upfront packages and are experimenting with regional OTT buys and performance metrics that direct-to-consumer brands demand.

Hulu is known for rolling out ad formats designed for streaming TV, like ads that appear when people pause a program or binge-watch, which Disney also sees as a big opportunity.

“One of the biggest advantages of integrating Hulu is that they’ve been spending the last decade thinking about viewer-first experiences,” Valentino said.

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