TV Ads For Streaming Services Soared 205% To Pass $1B In First Half Of 2020; Hulu Leads, Netflix Stays On Sidelines

An LA bowling alley in February before a party for Amazon Prime Video's "Hunters." The show was the most heavily advertised of many during a surge of streaming TV spots in the first half of 2020, according to a new study. Amazon Prime

Streaming services binged on TV ads in the first half of 2020, even without major events like live sports where they could put their messages, according to a new report by ad-tracking firm iSpot.

Overall spending in the category between January 1 and June 30 exploded past $1 billion, the report said, up 205% from the same period in 2019. Especially once COVID-19 prompted stay-at-home orders in March and overall streaming shot through the roof, spending followed a similar trajectory. Disney’s spending on Disney+ and Hulu comprised nearly one in three dollars shelled out on TV from March 12 to June 30.

The fierce competition among a quintet of new services — Disney+, Apple TV+, Quibi, Peacock and HBO Max — accounts for a good amount of the uptick. HBO Max, Quibi and Peacock accounted for nearly 10% of ad impressions in 2020. But established players, notably Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, have spent lavishly on TV spots.

Hulu racked up 8.76 billion impressions, up 200%, for everything from its live TV bundle to individual shows. Expanding the audience for Hulu and sub-brands like FX on Hulu has been a corporate priority for Disney after the merger with 21st Century Fox closed last year. Amazon spent the most of any service — $169.8 million, iSpot said, while garnering 6.42 billion impressions. In the rankings of “media value,” a proxy for spending (see the top 10 below), Hulu, Disney+ and Apple TV+ took the respective second, third and fourth spots.

Netflix, interestingly, largely has stayed on the TV sidelines apart from occasional splashes during major TV tentpoles like the Super Bowl or top awards shows. In the first half of 2020, it spent only about $20.2 million, with more than one-quarter of its 800 million impressions going to Extraction, the action movie that is currently its most-watched film of all time. Unlike its competitors, Netflix doesn’t need to raise awareness that it exists or that its programming stirs the pot, freeing it to explore alternative channels like digital and social media.

“Along with the effects of COVID-19, the year 2020 has also shown what happens when broadcast networks are more invested in streaming,” the report concluded. “The extra resources meant not just new services, but a drastic increase in the number of impressions and minutes of ads appearing on TV.”

On a total-minute basis, 2020 has seen 93,774 minutes of streaming ads, compared with 42,627 in the first half of 2019. Specific shows with the highest impression counts were Amazon’s  Hunters and Hulu’s Mrs. America. ABC was the top network destination, barely edging the surprising No. 2 place to find streaming ads: Fox News.

Industry politics also play a role in where ads turn up. Media companies with major networks as well as burgeoning streaming services have in some cases started clamping down on running spots for competitors.

Here are the top spenders:

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