With the ubiquity of smart TVs and streaming devices and the rise of cord-cutters, advertisers are changing their approach to reach younger viewers, embracing Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms like Hulu and YouTube as the best way to reach this demographic.

For those just catching up: OTT is a term for services which deliver online video without requiring you to watch a television channel. Though these platforms and streaming players like Roku and Google’s Chromecast line have been on the market—and taking up market share—for years, advertising on OTT platforms is still a relative novelty. And some OTT services, like Netflix and HBO Go, currently don’t air advertisements.

While advertising through dongles or boxes like Roku is similar to doing so through smart TVs, both differ significantly from advertising to viewers watching streaming content on their desktops or mobile devices. Luckily, it isn’t complicated.

Good To Know

A few points before we dive into OTT best practices: Advertising on traditional broadcast and cable television is relatively restricted. With few exceptions, ads are in a traditional 30-second format and targeting is pre-algorithmic: Ads correspond to shows’ perceived audiences, rather than being targeted at individual viewers.

OTT advertisements, in comparison, are anarchy. YouTube advertisements are highly targeted and range across a variety of formats from quick, five-second pre-roll to long, 10-minute quasi-infomercials. Although Hulu skews to the traditional format, the company is increasingly improving their ad targeting capabilities. There are even newer emerging advertising venues, such as in-dashboard/in-home screen advertisements on Roku and Xbox Live.

Many advertisers make the mistake of assuming that watching OTT ads is a similar experience whether users are viewing the same content on their laptop or on their television. However, viewing experiences vary wildly. An advertisement that entrances viewers on a computer screen can fail when ported to a home television screen, and vice versa.

Three OTT Points To Remember

1. Understand Your Platform

There are plenty of resources out there for advertisers placing YouTube ads. However, it’s easy to make the mistake of assuming the same content is interchangeable on different viewing platforms. Advertisements steering viewers to websites or mobile apps, for instance, are largely a waste of time if viewers are watching on their television. Similarly, longer seven-to-12-minute infomercials can work great on more intimate platforms like smartphones but are less effective on televisions.

Analytics also differ across platforms. Keith Johnson, COO of Made in Network, tells AListDaily by email that “Tracking performance on ads viewed on settop boxes (including Roku, smart tvs, Chromecast and game consoles) can be frustrating because AdWords does not provide information on them as a separate device. Instead, all ads are categorized as mobile phone, computer, or tablet views. Still, by monitoring traffic sources within YouTube analytics, it’s clear that ads are regularly run on settop boxes.”

2. Don’t Treat Hulu Like Conventional Television

In 2017, Hulu made more than $1 billion in advertising revenue for the first time. Although things are changing, especially with Disney becoming Hulu’s majority shareholder, Hulu is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for big brands.

While YouTube is still welcoming to advertisers of all shapes and sizes, Hulu is mainly attracting the big fish. Unlike conventional television, Hulu offers a range of video formats—including seven-second ads, ad selectors, extended pre-roll videos viewers can watch instead of 30-second commercials, and a number of other formats. They even offer bespoke assistance for advertisers that essentially creates ads for them.

3. Embrace The Weird

Unlike conventional television ads, OTT ads for streaming players can include interactive aspects, target niche interests or both. Marketers can find good results by targeting high-quality advertisements to small interest-based or demographic audiences, and by creating advertisements which offer experiences you can’t find through your cable box or laptop screen.

Mark Williams, senior director of media operations at Fullscreen, added that “People say television is dying. That’s not [the] case; it’s just shifting a bit. We’re seeing some reallocation, but it won’t go away for the foreseeable future.” However, the rise of OTT advertising does offer advertisers and marketers new opportunities. For instance, Williams notes that advertisers can target ads to television viewers based on their individual or household interests—something that traditionally has been the province of desktop and mobile streaming video.

New Advertising Formats Mean New Opportunities

While these platforms are still relatively new, reaching viewers through streaming boxes, dongles and smart televisions is accomplished with a hybrid of both new and old tactics.

Advertisers and talent still deal with Google Adsense even when YouTube ads are viewed on big screen televisions, while advertisers can microtarget ads to individual households watching big-budget television shows on Hulu.

“Most of our advertisers today are looking to capture audiences that they’re not able to reach through a traditional television buy,” noted Seth Walters, vice president of demand partnerships at Roku. “They’re looking to leverage perhaps their own first party or third party data to reach a more qualified audience that’s more traffic for them and manage the sequencing of messaging against that audience.” In other words: Web-style ad targeting, but for television.