Top media companies are getting more flexibility to sell ads on YouTube and YouTube TV using more advanced targeting, as part of a new deal through FreeWheel, the connected TV advertising platform owned by Comcast.
FreeWheel announced today that it has a new arrangement with YouTube, the video platform owned by Google, to give major publishers more control over the ad experience when they post high-quality clips to the site. Google has historically kept YouTube ad inventory closed off from other parts of the connected TV advertising world, so that a publisher like NBCUniversal or AMC Networks could not fully incorporate the content they post there into the rest of their ad deals. But that’s about to change, according to Mark McKee, FreeWheel’s general manager.
“FreeWheel becomes a fully supported ad serving platform on YouTube and YouTube TV,” McKee said.
FreeWheel works with hundreds of media companies, including major broadcasters such as NBCU, Warner Bros. Discovery, AMC, Paramount and Fox among others. These companies all run websites, streaming apps, and appear on platforms like YouTube and YouTube TV. FreeWheel is the connected TV ad buying and selling platform that enables, say, NBC to serve video ads into “Saturday Night Live” clips on YouTube. But Google has not allowed advanced targeting on those ads; the ads have been more of a blunt instrument, where the publishers have little control over how often they run or the targeting.
Now, FreeWheel said it has worked out a deal, and the technological connection, with YouTube to target people by location, age, gender and other demographic data. The publishers can also do “frequency capping,” which is when they adjust how many times they serve an ad to the same person. These technical capabilities were severely lacking on YouTube for years for some of the most prestigious content providers, and it limited the ability for the media companies to make YouTube an enticing service for brands, according to a number of publishers and media buyers. Publishers have been creating new shows for YouTube and posting clips of their most-watched broadcast shows. And their channels stream on YouTube TV, which has become an important digital TV package—it’s an alternative to cable TV that costs about $65 a month.
“There’s not this silo out there of YouTube or YouTube TV inventory that our publishers can’t access, or have to use different systems to access,” McKee said, “because it’s now standardized and brought into the same liquid pool of available inventory.”
McKee said the change is a big deal for the media companies, because advanced targeting options, with greater audience numbers, increase the value of the ads. The announcement comes just as TV networks are getting into upfront season, when they sell a meaningful amount of their ad inventory. The more ad inventory they can guarantee to brands, the more they could make, and this development adds YouTube to that mix.
“When we include that [YouTube] content in an advertising buy, we want to be able to include it with all our other inventory,” said Ryan McConville, executive VP of ad platforms at NBCUniversal, “so those campaigns can flow seamlessly.”
NBCUniversal, like FreeWheel, is owned by Comcast. NBCU also uses FreeWheel as its core ad server to get commercials to its websites, apps and streaming service Peacock. NBCU also is a prolific poster of content on YouTube, with clips of “SNL,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and “The Office.”
YouTube has always been a bit of a pain for publishers to maximize their revenue, though. Google had reserved the most sophisticated ad targeting to be done through its own Google Ad Manager, keeping YouTube inventory within its walled garden. The discrepancy complicated ad buys, according to many publishers and advertisers.
YouTube has had to open up, especially as it tries to become more of a full-service connected TV offering. Last week, YouTube made a new measurment pact with DoubleVerify to give advertisers a third-party perspective on the viewability of ads, showing that it is loosening up to outsiders.
“We're committed to finding ways to make advertising easier and more effective for the industry,” a Google spokesperson said in an email statement. “These integrations that build upon a longstanding relationship with FreeWheel help make video advertising across devices simpler and more intuitive.”
Meanwhile, YouTube is participating for the first time this year in TV upfront events. In the past, YouTube has held a show called Brandcast, an advertising sales show, during digital NewFronts. YouTube will have a presence at both TV upfront events and NewFronts, now.
“YouTube was very limiting on what targeting capability they could do over there,” said Tal Chalozin, chief technology officer and co-founder of Innovid, a connected TV ad platform.
YouTube's targeting limitations represented a “massive hurdle” for broadcasters, Chalozin said, because their ad deals could not fully include the growing sway of the YouTube audience. YouTube TV was a “severe problem,” too, Chalozin said, because as a "virtual multichannel video programming distributor"—digital TV—it was not easy for advertisers to weave into the rest of their campaign goals.
“It’s a massive win altogether for YouTube,” Chalozin said of the new integration with FreeWheel, “because YouTube wants to be the distributor of the future, and closing the gap on some of those features, puts them in a very good place.”