In this episode, we speak to Dan Robbins, VP of Marketing at Roku, the number one TV streaming platform in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, about all things streaming media and the future of advertising.
In this episode, we speak to Dan Robbins, VP of Marketing at Roku, the number one TV streaming platform in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, about all things streaming media and the future of advertising.
Dan Robbins is Vice President, Ad Marketing & Partner Solutions at Roku, where he leads the marketing, measurement/research, design, events, and communications teams for the ad business. Prior to Roku, he worked on several strategic partnerships and product rollouts at Nielsen. Dan was named to the 2018 Broadcasting & Cable “40 Under 40” List, the 2019 GRIT Future List, and the 2019 Fellows Program at the Economic Club of New York. Dan is a graduate of Cornell University and based in New York.
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Peter: [00:00:00] Hey Dan, thank you so much for being on the next CMO podcast. To get us started, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about Roku for the two people in the audience who may not understand who Roku is.
Dan: Thanks Peter. I'm excited to be here. My name is Dan Robbins. I'm Vice President of Marketing at Roku. Roku's mission is better TV for everyone, and we started by making players. that plug into your TV to help get entertainment, movies, and television to the largest screen in the home over the internet instead of over pay tv.
And we've since expanded, not only into Smart TVs and into audio, but also into being a true platform business. And what's really exciting about streaming at the moment is that we have moved into the streaming decade. For the first time ever this year, adults 18 to 49 spent more time on streaming TV than they did [00:01:00] on linear tv.
That's a huge deal. That's something that's accelerated super fast in the last couple of years, and so our vision is that all TV will be streamed, and that also means that all TB ads will be streamed. And we've been working really hard to build a better TV experience for consumers, for content owners, and for marketers.
Peter: Well, first of all, it's great to have you here, Dan, and I am not surprised at all that streaming has overtaken linear TV and in fact, I cannot remember the last time I watched something. On on linear tv. I didn't even know that's what you called it. And and it probably because I'm not a huge sports fan and it's probably one of the few reasons people watch watch normal normal TV these days.
So, but it, again, it's not surprising just because in, in my house, nearly a hundred percent of all large screen content is streamed, which is amazing. And I know for our marketers out there in the audience understanding [00:02:00] this world and understanding media in this world is really interesting.
And should be critical for us to all get our arms around. But I wanted to go back a little. About about Roku though, because it's a fascinating story because Roku started out, as you said, in the, they were a device business, a hardware business specifically. So what was the spark that, that inspired the company to to expand the business more broadly into a platform?
Dan: ad business has been around for about seven or eight years. And the spark really came from this realization that streaming television offered the best of traditional tv, largest screen in the home, full screen ads, a hundred percent Nons skippable site sound in motion. And then also asked all the power of digital advertising, the personalization.
So you get one video ad to one specific. All of the optimization. So you could change [00:03:00] your marketing plans in real time, like you do in social or in digital, and all of the attribution. So when somebody sees an ad, do they actually sign up for a service, buy a product off the shelf, visit a website? The power of those two things together, the branding of tv the precision and the measurement of digital, that was a really exciting prospect for us and what we realized seven or eight years ago.
As America's number one TV streaming platform, we've got the scale, the data, and the canvas to really do something special. And it's been a really exciting journey over these last few years because marketers have really gone from a place of, Oh, this is interesting to, this is where the consumer is. And this becomes front and center of how I think about the future of media within a much broader marketing.
Peter: So as you think about the new advertisers that come to Roku as an example do most of them come as, [00:04:00] Hey, I'm a traditional TV buyer and I want to try this new. More interactive format or do they come from, Hey, I'm a digital buyer and I want to get into more of a multimedia streaming kind of format, Or is it something else?
So where do new people come from?
Dan: It's a mix of both. And nine in 10 of the adage, 200 marketers have advertised with Roku. Those are the largest brands in the world. And then we also have tons of small and medium sized businesses direct to consumer companies that also advertise on our platform, and they're coming from it often. With a different angle, which is, I'm pretty well invested in search.
I'm pretty well invested in social now I'm looking for the third leg of the stool, and we've seen both of those grow tremendously over the last few years.
Peter: Yeah, it's interesting. So I did a fair amount in my past, a fair amount of direct response TV [00:05:00] back in the day. And and it was a format that actually worked pretty well for us. Do you get a lot of do a lot of your advertisers do sort of that direct to purchase experience within the Roku?
Dan: Yes, and it's interesting because the fundamental difference between older school dial one 800 direct response traditional TV advertising, and what exists now is the measurement and the connection, and so you have the ability to say, My ad was served and now can I see if somebody visited the website, downloaded the app, purchased my product.
So it makes that traditional direct response even more efficient and effective for a performance marketer. We've actually been taking that a step further. We most recently announced this year's shoppable ads, and what we're actually doing is bringing commerce to the television screen. Our mission is to make shopping on TV as easy as it is on social.
And we announced the partnership [00:06:00] with Walmart, bringing together America's number one TV streaming platform and the world's largest retailer. So you can actually buy products on your Roku device and immediately have it added to cart shipped and confirmed by Walmart. And we're tremendously excited about that because we think, again, it makes television the next big screen for commerce.
Peter: Yeah that's pretty cool. I can tell you that when I did direct response TV in the past it, it worked sort of through tonnage for us. And I, but it was incredibly difficult to measure and to optimize and and. We tended to have a very seasonal approach. We had I was the general manager for a business inside Nuance, the voice people called Dragon, which was the voice recognition software that was sold directly to consumers.
And we sold a lot through direct response tv, a lot at Christmas. It was very gifty kind of product for a lot of people. But again, the measurement was really challenging. So now [00:07:00] Changing gears a little bit to if you look at where most marketers are struggling today a lot of marketers have been have been focused on have been focused on digital and they've.
Seen they've seen the conversions go down, The prices go up in digital because of some of the changes going on in the privacy world. Are those issues the same in this format? Are they a little bit different? So talk to us about how you see performance trending in this format. Dan?
Dan: They're different, and the fundamental reason why is that. Streaming TV and Roku specifically is a platform and as an operating system, we are first and foremost a consumer company, which means we know the homes that we work in, which is more than 63 million active accounts and billions of hours streamed.
We know who they are and as a result, some of the issues that you're referring to with cookies and desktop or ad IDs and mobile. [00:08:00] We have a very clear sense of who your ad is reaching within streaming television, and that's what's made it attractive, particularly for performance marketers because a lot of 'em have said, Look, I'm gonna need to diversify my media mix.
I have to start testing different channels because the market's changing and streaming TV provides a really interesting platform to start to expand. And d.
Peter: Yeah, I it's certainly is an exciting platform and I'd imagine you must think about things a little bit differently. Do you think about targeting at a household level? Are people using individual profiles so you can get down to the individual or is it a mixture of those things?
Dan: It's a mix in the sense that marketers bring their view of who that target. Consumers, and so that could mean I wanna reach people of a certain demographic. It could mean I just wanna reach cord cutters. To your [00:09:00] earlier point, Peter, about one in three homes in the US no longer have traditional pay tv, which is a huge transformation from just a decade ago or two decades ago, when that was north of 80 or 90.
And so there are a lot of marketers who say, Look, I want to reach these people who are cordless and I can't find anywhere else. There are other marketers who are bringing their own customer files and their own data and saying, I want to engage my most loyal customers, or I want to find people who used to use my product or service and no longer do, or I want to expand and conquest.
All of that is part of the way the media plans are built in stream. And I think another really exciting and unique component is ACR or automatic content recognition, which is an opt-in data set that allows us to see the types of content and ads that people see on traditional TV on Roku televisions.
And [00:10:00] so what that means is that a marketer can start to build profiles based on the type of genres that people are interested in watching, or the types of ads that they've. It opens up a whole new world to both performance. But also to your question, Peter, how do you build the audience You go after.
Peter: So explain that a little more. Dan, It sounds like there's there's a opt-in profile that's built for for the household or the viewer in this case. And you collect information about the content that they consume. And it's not like content targeting in this case, it's more about profiling and in understanding, sort of developing an understanding of the viewer so you can target based on most based on those pro profile attributes versus the content specifically, is that.
Dan: similar to digital advertising in that you're able to look at building an audience [00:11:00] on. The type of content they're interested, the type of demographics that they fit, and the way that they fit within your own customer or CRM database and all of that is part of the way I'd say the leading marketers build their plan because they look at this as first and foremost, a way to deliver precision, to deliver attribution, and that's what's really exciting about it.
Peter: So if you're out there advertising on Facebook today, as an example should you be advertising in this medium too? Is this or are there, or is it, does it take a very specific kind of product or message or marketer to fit into this medium?
Dan: I'd say the answer is, it depends. In my mind, there's really three key things for somebody who, let's say is a Facebook or a social marketer who wants to expand onto the large screen. I'd say the first is that what we know from the research is that the most important driver of advertising effectiveness is quality, creative.
And so that means you have to have [00:12:00] really good video, ad or work to build a really good customer experience and streaming to get your message across. And one thing that's exciting is we help those marketers create really great experiences for the streaming tv. The second thing is build is bringing everything you've learned from social media marketing into television.
So if you have a sense of how you want to reach consumers, what your message is, we see that a lot of that can drive performance on this screen here. And then the third is really thinking a little bit more widely about the marketing funnel. And so one of the advantages of site sound in motion is, It allows you to tell more of a story.
You can build brand equity, you could do things that you maybe couldn't do on a small screen with a few pixels. And so we also, in addition to great creative and building your audience strategy based on what you've learned, we really look to help marketers expand that canvas, Avis.[00:13:00]
Peter: Yeah. I'm glad you brought up the creative, Dan, because because certainly I've seen some really innovative things done in, in streaming advertising. But what, in your mind, are there any real standout advertisers that you've seen come up with something that's really compelling from a creative perspective that, and what kinds of things are come to mind when you think about.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, there's a ton. I'd say one that comes to mind most recently for us was we worked with HBO on the LA launch of House of the Dragon. And what HBO had come and said, Look, this is a really important program and tempo for us to market, and we wanna figure out how we go beyond the 32nd TV spot and do something really special and exciting.
And so we did a couple things with them. The first is that we used this streaming platform as a canvas to do a take. And so you had the whole House of the Dragon experience on your [00:14:00] Roku, right when you turned on the home screen. The second is we built a special hub just on our home screen that was dedicated to finding House of the Dragon when it premiered.
The third was we actually created a program called Roku Rundown, which actually gave a sort of look at the past of what you need to know about Game of Thrones. If you want to catch up for this. And then lastly, we did interactive sweepstakes where you could win special edition Rokus and so forth. Now, that's obviously an entertainment marketer, but I think the important takeaway is that going beyond 30 is something that every marketer can do, and it's a key part of what we offer just to, take a step back.
We think of our ad business as not only our overall platform, but also three other key pillar. The first is the Roku Channel, which is now a top five streaming service on our platform, and it's our own free ad supported streaming service, which where it has been tremendously successful. [00:15:00] And most recently we launched more than 80 Roku Originals that you can only get on Roku and that are entirely for free with talent like Kevin Hart and Daniel Radcliffe and more.
The second is one View, which is our ad platform built for TV stream. That gives you hands on keyboard access to set up campaigns, manage them in real time, measure how they're doing. And then the third big piece is the Roku Brand Studio, which is all about creating ad experiences that own the entire streamer's journey.
Go beyond the 32nd spot, just like that house or the Dragon and HBO example. I was talking. So to come back, Peter, to your question about creativity, to me the most exciting are those marketers who are breaking the platform and saying, Let's go beyond the traditional TV spot and do something really unique and exciting.
Peter: So, so now you told us about something that's really cool, but it sounds like someone who's got the world's largest budget to do this with. Right? So, so, is is [00:16:00] this format accessible to people who have more down to earth kind of add budgets that they're working with or is it really. Does it really only shine if you've got HBO or Coca-Cola level ad budgets?
Dan: It absolutely can shine across the board. You can set up a video ad campaign. On Roku for tens of thousands of dollars. You can also get involved beyond 30 with our brand studio doing things like sponsoring segments of franchises we run like Roku recommends, which is a weekly show on our platform hosted by Maria Mannos and Andrew Hawkins, where we answer a key question for the more than one in three homes that stream stuff on Roku.
What should I watch next? And Roku recommends, looks at the data and actually brings forward the top five picks every week, and brands can come in and sponsor that. So the takeaway is you can go really big or start small. And I think that's fundamentally different than [00:17:00] TV historically, which is it was a medium for big brands with big budgets, and it was harder for small businesses or direct to consumer brands to break.
Peter: That that's very helpful. And I'm hopeful that someday we can participate in that too with our very small advertising budgets that we're dealing with in my company.
Dan: Let's do it.
Peter: Yeah, absolutely. No, my, my creative juices are already are already flowing, so I'm sure there's some interesting stuff that can be done in that in that area.
So, one, one other thing I was gonna ask you about Dan is is your marketing. So how do you market to acquire. New viewers, obviously you can't especially use your own platform to do that. So, where are you going today to find new people?
Dan: What's exciting for us as America's number one TV streaming platform is we've put a lot into our mission, which is better TV for everyone. And [00:18:00] Roku's got a bunch of different product offerings, whether it's, again, the players that we sell, the Roku Power televisions, we're now the largest TV operating system that's licensed in North America, but we also operate in dozens of countries, and then we've got audio products as well.
So where we find that next customer varies a lot based on the type of product we're selling and the price it's at. I'd say what's really the driver for us is. As a brand, we are all about value, about choice, and about convenience, and great marketing is gonna be extension of the product values that we bring to streamers.
We've put a lot of focus on really showing up in store and making sure that for consumers we've got a clear and compelling value pro. We've put a lot into Roku Originals and making them really front and center, and we've done a lot as we've expanded internationally and in each market, and for each product, it's [00:19:00] gonna be a bit different, but I'd say what's most exciting for us as an organization has been the secular shift to streaming and the way that we can focus on ease, choice, and convenience and surprising and delighting consumer.
Peter: Yeah it makes a lot of sense. And and I'd imagine that the the in-store kind of experience is a good opportunity for you. And I assume in-store also means sort of in, in digital store. So you probably can promote in in, as people are shopping for their home entertainment.
I suspect you probably have a fair amount of effort that you put into that, but you're also going beyond just consumers. So you're marketing to a lot of different audiences at Roku these days. You're marketing to advertisers as an example. You're marketing to oem. Who you're marketing to to end consumers.
So it's a little bit of everything. And so how does that all fit and how do you think of all those things sort of connecting up to the top level Roku brand?
Dan: The main thing for us is [00:20:00] that North Star a better TV for everyone and to bring up the different constituents or partners we work with as a platform. For consumers, you wanna sit down on that tv, turn on a very simple Roku remote that doesn't have a zillion buttons, and know that it's just gonna work.
And as a content owner, you want to have a better TV experience where you can find viewers and build your audience and run a business around it. And for our TV partners, you're gonna want an operating system that's going to sit right into your hardware and create a really excellent experience that you move TVs off the shelf.
And for marketers, you want a better TV experience that's going to actually help you build your business. Make sure that marketing is working, drive creativity and building brand. And so we think about it within that house, and it really does touch everything that we do as a true platform [00:21:00] business.
Peter: So what do you think about the the. The challenge that I see in this in the streaming business is there's lots of competition for the echo system that you're gonna be in, whether it's an Apple TV thing, whether it's a native, smart TV thing, whether it's a Roku thing, whether it's something else.
And I think there's some consumer confusion out there about even knowing which one I know. That my wife always asks me which remote do I use? Hey, my show isn't remembered on this one because I've signed in a different way. How do you deal with that? Because I think that's one of the things that may be still limiting some of the potential of the medium.
Dan: I think what you're referring to, Peter, is also the launch of all of these different streaming services over the last couple years, and what's really exciting about that is. It shows that every major media company and platform are now all in on streaming. The future is streaming, and we're gonna move into a world in this decade where [00:22:00] all TV will be streamed.
And that's actually really exciting for consumers because you have more choice, more entertainment at your fingertips than you've ever had before. that, we view our goal as a platform to make it as easy and as simple as possible to quickly find the stuff you're gonna love. And one of the things we do is really focus on simplicity.
So from that moment you turn your Roku on, you want to have an experience that is convenient that your grandma can figure out easily, and that is gonna get you right to where you need to. and it's one of the reasons we've won seen at Editor's Choice and other awards is because that's been our singular focus.
And I actually think it is very much founded on a really exciting time for the industry, an exciting time for the consumer.
Peter: Yeah I do think it's really an important thing. I see a, it's a similar thing is going on in my mind in the automotive industry right now because it's sort of this battle [00:23:00] between the oem Head unit and navigation system. And then the over the top kind of approach that they have with with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as an example.
And it's a similar kind of thing, right, where you've got now these sort of multiple layers and I assume the battle that Roku. Is fighting, ultimately is how do we, like you said, make that a delightful experience. So you gotta make sure that you have, all of the core streaming services accessible through your platform so that someone can get a hundred percent of what they need in this case is probably one thing.
And then two is making it feel deeply integrated and really easy to go get and find and source between the things. It's, are those the key things that you focus on?
Dan: Yeah, and we've invested a lot in that. A few examples we launched within our home screen featured free, which pulls together great movies and television across different [00:24:00] services on our platform, all in one tab so that you can figure out what can I watch without signing up for anything that's going to really speak to.
We really invested in the Roku channel as a way to bring together great content. So that's movies and television that we've licensed from studios. It's premium subscriptions that include dozens of services like Discovery Plus Showtime and more that you can subscribe to all within one hub on the Roku channel, as well as Roku Originals, which require no signup.
No registration, no. And so that's become a real home for finding that content. And then we've also really invested in helping, again, create shows that are going to point streamers to where they might wanna watch next. Like Roku recommends, again, that weekly show that helps to recommend great content on our platform.
We also work really closely with entertainment [00:25:00] marketers who have services on our platform to help them promote the launch of their shows. To drive tune in and they really use the full suite of our platform for that. Everything from right when you sign up and register for the first time through to when you turn on your TV and you're on the home screen and you want to figure out what to watch.
So all of which is just to say we put a lot of investment into this and we're really excited about how that's born fruit in the last couple years.
Peter: Well, it's interesting cuz you just highlighted in that last piece of a lot of different business models that are inside Roku, right? So if you think about it, it's a really fascinating business cuz you've got, you sell things, right? You sell devices you sell technology, embedded technology that goes through OEMs.
You sell subscription services to consumers and and you sell media products to advertisers. And maybe there's more, but that's a bunch of stuff. So if you think about what's at the center for Roku, what are those [00:26:00] key, What are the key things that gets the Roku board up and run up and motivated every day?
Is it ad revenue? Is it subscriptions? So what are the things that really drives the business overall? What's the key? If there is a single focus, what would that be? Inside Ro.
Dan: What I think is unique about Roku is that we are singularly focused. On streaming across the board. We don't have other, we're not focused on email or servers or other businesses for us. Everybody wakes up every day thinking about better TV for everyone that starts in store in retail and the aisle, and it goes all the way through to the ads that run on our.
And it's one of the main reasons we are America's number one TV streaming platform cuz we have a very singular mission and focus that's helped us be the marketplace.
Peter: Excellent. No, that, that's great to hear. So believe it or not we're coming up to the end of our time here, Dan. This has been super [00:27:00] educational for me and hopefully for a couple of our listeners too. And, but I've learned a lot and I. Appreciate you sharing your insights, cuz I think this is an incredibly important medium for for marketers to really deeply understand where it fits within their overall plans.
Cuz it's gotta fit somewhere. If you're not in in streaming media today you should be in at least running some experiments if you haven't done so at this point. So I really do you appreciate you demystifying some of this for us. La last question that we ask all of our Is, what advice would you give to current or aspiring CMOs?
Dan: I think it actually speaks to what you were mentioning, Peter, which is experimenting and learning about streaming tv. , this is gonna be a key part of the media toolkit for any marketer going forward. And to understand what works, how does it work, what creative is important, how do I become an expert in this space?
I think that's gonna be table stakes for CMOs. [00:28:00] And the reason is that it's becoming table stakes for the consumer. When we look at the end of this streaming decade, most folks aren't gonna have pay tv. They're gonna start by thinking about, what should I stream now? And that's where the market already is today.
More people, 18 to 49, again streaming them. They're watching traditional TV coming on. Half of Americans not having cable or satellite. All of that is imperative for the marketer, the future, so that wherever they are, whatever they're doing, they can build brands. Thinking about the largest screen in the home.
Peter: Well, excellent. Well, great advice and Dan Robbins from Roku. Thanks so much for being on the next CMO podcast. Really appreciated your time here and your insights. And for those of you who are listening, if you have ideas about other guests you'd like to hear or topics you'd like to cover, just drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow. On Twitter and LinkedIn and all those other good places that you might [00:29:00] see us. And thanks for listening again. Thanks Dan. Great discussion.
Dan: Thanks for having me, Peter.