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The REVisionists: How VIZIO Is Changing What It Means To Be A Hardware Manufacturer

The following is a selection from our latest report, “TV in the FAST Lane.

“We, along with other smart TV manufacturers are uniquely positioned because we own both the hardware and the operating system, and ultimately the glass that the consumer sees,” says Mike O’Donnell, Chief Revenue Officer of VIZIO’s platform business and the person responsible for the manufacturer’s growing advertising business. “We want to make as much content available as possible and so we’re focused on having as many partners as possible and providing as much content as possible, because we think more engagement with our platform will ultimately lead to a better experience for consumers, which ultimately lets us sell more TVs.” Mike sat down with TVREV recently to talk about how VIZIO is planning to make its free ad-supported content a major part of its long-term strategy.

Alan Wolk: Let’s start off talking about why VIZIO has gotten into the FAST game. You’re a hardware manufacturer. What was the impetus for getting into the content game? 

Mike O’Donnell: One of the core beliefs at VIZIO is to always put the consumer first. So we want the consumer to be able to purchase a VIZIO television, take it out of the box, connect to the internet and have free TV available to them right away. That’s a huge plus in that the minute they turn on the TV for the first time, they have something to watch.

AW: Can you explain what SmartCast and WatchFree are?

MO: SmartCast is our operating system. It’s the interface for the TV. And we’ve really put a lot of time and effort into it, into making sure that it’s easy for consumers to use and to find the content they are looking for. 

One of the options on the SmartCast platform is the WatchFree app, which is our own proprietary FAST. We also have a number of streaming channels that are provided by our partners—we call those our VIZIO channels—and we have subscription apps too, including Peacock, and you can access all those apps directly from the SmartCast home screen.

AW: What’s been your content strategy? What sort of programming do you look for? 

MO:  We started off by focusing on the core categories that have historically worked well for us. We are lucky to have a very well known and respected ACR solution built into our VIZIO TVs called Inscape, and that data helps us understand what our viewers are watching, regardless of whether they are watching linear or streaming. So we can use that data to identify the types of shows that are popular with our users. 

In the past six months, we’ve added some additional categories our users have been asking for, like kids and family content, and Spanish language content. That’s enabled us to offer a broader user experience on the platform.

AW: How has the pandemic affected viewing? Are you seeing more people using SmartCast?

MO: We’ve seen a 125% increase in user engagement on SmartCast in just the past six months. Our goal has been to take those viewers and show them that there’s more out there than just Netflix and Amazon, that there’s a whole world of free ad-supported content on SmartCast and have them make that a part of their daily viewing routine.

AW: Let’s talk about advertising. What sort of inventory do you have available on SmartCast and how can advertisers buy it?

MO:  When you advertise with VIZIO ads, you not only get WatchFree, but you also get the opportunity to advertise across multiple AVOD apps that run across our SmartCast platform across multiple categories. And thanks to our Inscape ACR solution, we’re able to offer data driven advertising solutions to help drive better, smarter outcomes for our advertisers.

In terms of how our advertising is actually bought, right now you can buy it directly through us. And we sell a lot of it directly. We also put some of the inventory on the open marketplace programmatically. My only caveat is that inventory sold on the open marketplace does not come with VIZIO’s data driven approach or with any transparency into what content the ads will be run on.

That said, we understand that the marketplace wants to buy a lot of different ways. There are certain advertisers that want to buy on an addressable basis, they want to buy against specific targets. And thanks to our relationship with Inscape, we’ve got a great built in data solution that we can marry with other customer first party data to let our advertisers reach a very targeted audience. We also have broad reach. We are the number two selling smart TV in the US, we’re on track to sell over 7 million televisions this year. So we have significant scale if an advertiser wants to focus on reaching a larger audience.  And if you want to buy a specific placement, we always make content specific, or category specific buys available.

AW: How are you measuring the ads you’re running?

MO: We’ll work through our own Inscape data as it can help measure what’s been viewed on the screen, regardless of whether it was linear or on demand. We also power a lot of third party partners like iSpot, or Data Plus Math, and we can leverage their measurement tools and their solutions to help manage outcomes for our advertisers.

AW: What makes you unique among the FASTs?

MO:  What’s unique about VIZIO is our audience. If you buy directly through us, you have the ability to reach the 20% of the market that owns a VIZIO TV, and that’s an audience you can’t reach anywhere else.

AW: Can you talk about how you handle frequency capping, which is an issue for brands as they begin running ads on both linear and OTT.

MO: We’re rolling out a product that is tied to universal frequency. Thanks to our Inscape data, we have the ability to recognize what’s happening on linear and what’s happening in a streaming environment. We can control the frequency so that viewers aren’t getting hammered with the same ads over and over.  

Where that gets really interesting though, is when we start marrying that data with Project OAR and the linear addressable opportunities OAR is opening up, because we can start looking at addressable holistically. For instance we can work with networks and their FASTs, like say Fox and Tubi or NBC and Peacock, and then we can help manage universal frequency, whether the ad runs in a linear environment or streaming environment and we can manage the total audience that they’re reaching across all platforms.