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OTT Rising: How Data From 50 Million Smart TVs Is Fueling Samsung’s Growing Addressable Ad Business

When Tom Fochetta, VP Ad Sales and Operations at Samsung Ads started his job five years ago, over 90% of viewing done on Samsung TVs was linear and just 10% was OTT. In the midst of the recent pandemic, Samsung viewers started watching more OTT than linear, with 58% of viewing time now in streaming. While those numbers may readjust slightly, Fochetta expects OTT viewing to remain high, along with advertiser demand for those viewers. TV[R]EV’s Alan Wolk recently sat down with Fochetta (virtually) to discuss Samsung’s burgeoning ad sales unit and why “finding the unfindables” is so important for advertisers.

Tom Fochetta, VP Ad Sales and Operations at Samsung Ads

Alan Wolk (AW): Let’s start off with an overview of what Samsung’s native inventory looks like. From an advertiser POV, what are you actually selling?

Tom Fochetta (TF): Samsung Ads offers advertisers, agencies and brands, advanced TV advertising at scale. Our platform is built on the largest source of TV data from more than 50 million smart TVs. And we have amassed over 60% of the US ACR [automatic content recognition from smart TVs] footprint. So, with that data and with that footprint, we provide advertisers a holistic view across linear, OTT, gaming and more. And then we take that data and we turn it into analytics and insights to help our advertisers understand how their advertising is working and where to best spend their ad dollars.

AW: Can you tell me more about Samsung’s proprietary ACR data?

TF: It’s all our own first party data. It’s not sold, rented or distributed. The only way to activate on Samsung’s 50 million TV footprint is through our direct sales team. Period.

AW: So if I am an advertiser and I am interested in reaching viewers across these 50 million Samsung Smart TV viewers, what sort of inventory can I actually buy?

TF:  There are two types of native inventory that we offer to our advertisers. The first is called our first screen ad—it’s a tile ad. This is an experience that’s integrated into the onscreen menu that you see when you first turn on the TV. We started with this ad unit five years ago, when we launched Samsung Ads. Our first screen ad was first aimed at the entertainment community, as it gives them an easy way to drive tune in with this type of experience—the ad is right there when the viewer turns on the TV and is deciding what to watch. That ad unit has evolved over the years —we’ve added video, different types of target audience engagement, different ways to execute in terms of tactics like audience takeovers, roadblocks, etc. We are also seeing our first screen ad being leveraged across other verticals as well. 

The second type of inventory we have to offer is thirty and fifteen second addressable TV commercials that run on our connected TV service called Samsung TV Plus. Samsung TV Plus is a free ad-supported TV service (AVOD) distributed exclusively on Samsung Smart TVs. It gives our users access to live TV right out of the box as soon as they turn it on. So imagine you get a brand new 75-inch Samsung Smart TV delivered to your door and you go hang it up on the wall, with Samsung TV Plus you can get TV with your TV immediately, the minute you turn it on, and we aggregate and curate high quality content from brands like CBSN, Vevo and This Old House.  

AW: How popular is Samsung TV Plus? Are you able to offer up any stats on how many people are watching it?

TF: Right now, we are the number two AVOD service on Samsung Smart TVs. Also, Samsung TV Plus is one of the top 10 most watched networks based on time spent on Samsung TVs, and that’s because we work with high quality brands. We have more than 120 channels on Samsung TV Plus now, so advertisers have a broad array of options when it comes to where they can run their ads.

AW: The notion of incremental lift is very hot right now—brands using CTV advertising to reach audiences they can’t find on linear. Can you discuss Samsung Ads approach?

TF: Well to begin with, half of our Samsung Smart TV viewers are cord cutters. And that’s who advertisers want to reach. Particularly at this time, when cord cutting seems to be on the increase. As for incremental reach, that’s the most common use case we’re seeing from brands. We call it a reach multiplier. It’s a consistent ask—they run their traditional linear schedule and then they use Samsung TV Plus to reach those people that weren’t exposed to the ad on linear. There are a lot of people who are only consuming OTT content these days, so reaching those people is very valuable to brands. Some of our advertisers and agencies have said that we help them “find the unfindables”—the people they are never going to reach on linear TV.

AW: How do brands and agencies actually go about buying ads from Samsung Ads? 

TF:  Advertisers work with our direct sales team. And that’s a managed service. You get to talk with a sales rep, and we’ll respond to your RFP. We’ll put together a curated plan to reach your target KPIs, and then—and this is what advertisers and agencies find the most valuable part of our offering—we deliver a very comprehensive set of insights and analytics. So, we like to say they come for the data, and then they stay for the inventory.

AW: Why is that? What makes Samsung Ads data and analytics so special? 

TF:  In terms of targeting for addressable advertising, most advertisers have a good idea of who they’re trying to reach. Samsung Ads is quickly able to pull together nearly any custom audience an advertiser is looking for. We can also integrate first and third-party data segments uploaded through services like LiveRamp. We also have our own off-the-shelf segments, like “cord cutters” or “drama enthusiasts” or “sports enthusiasts” and we can reach those folks that way.

At the same time we can also help advertisers understand audience content, gaming, or other preferences that can help inform how, when and where they should be advertising. 

AW: How has what’s happening right now with the COVID pandemic and lockdown affected your business?

TF: Viewership went up exponentially and it’s now started to stabilize. I do think when people get back to work and the weather permits, that you’ll start to see a slight decrease in viewership from the high in March. We do however anticipate stickiness in the OTT category even as “life goes back to normal” post-COVID-19. I think OTT viewership will be one of those behaviors that sticks, especially now that people see how much content is available.

AW: So summing up, what would you say the key advantages to working with Samsung Ads are—what’s your elevator pitch?

TF:  I would underscore the four key reasons why advertisers continue to work with us: We give them exclusive data. That data is at scale, and we have the ability to deliver a diverse audience from a direct sales team. Combine that with exclusive inventory, and Samsung Ads provides advertisers with the opportunity to reach the missing millions who aren’t getting their message through linear TV