Roku declares 2022 as the first ‘true streaming’ upfronts as it makes debut

On May 3 Roku will be hosting its first in-person upfront in New York after its virtual debut in 2020. This historic broadcast TV event has become increasingly dominated by the new streamers. Roku’s head of agency partnerships and national brand team lead Kristina Shepard tells The Drum 2022 is the year streaming measures up to broadcast at the upfronts.

“Every year we are getting closer and closer to closing the gap between time spent watching streaming and budgets spent on TV streaming,” says Kristina Shepard, head of agency partnerships and national brand team lead at Roku. “We are starting to see that a large majority of impressions served on linear is to a small minority audience, so while frequency is super high, reach is declining, and so to get the new net incremental audience the best place to find them is streaming.”

The annual upfronts have been a broadcast institution in the US since the 1960s, but over the years streaming has eaten more of the pie. While this was a gradual process pre-Covid, pandemic viewing habits closed the gap.

Now dubbed the NewFronts, ad-supported streaming has officially stolen the show.

“This year our number one goal is to make sure TV streaming is at the forefront of a client’s media strategy, and we are doing that by making sure they see it’s a truly streaming-first upfront,” Shepard says.

Spend at the 2022/2023 upfronts is expected to reach $20.6bn – up from $19.2bn from pre-pandemic 2019 figures. In 2021 digital video ad spending accounted for over $6bn – a 42.5% year-on-year jump. “Time spent on OTT is growing every year, so what a brand should spend this year will look very different to next year,” Shepard says.

Roku’s 2021 upfront closed early in record time, with deals with all seven of the major holding companies and revenue doubled year-on-year – 40% came from new advertisers.

Roku originals

Roku is to roll out its originals slate at the upfronts, with the Liam Hemsworth-fronted drama Most Dangerous Game, Samuel L Jackson-narrated doc The Fix and dating format Singled Out among the line-up. Shepard says Roku will be going big on original content in the coming years. “This is how brands are used to buying in the upfront, and it feels very natural for them when they think about moving those budgets over to Roku.”

Roku will also be presenting a slate of shows from the short-lived short-form video platform Quibi, which it bought last year to top up its original portfolio. As well as buying against Roku originals, there are opportunities for branded content, product placement and sponsorship within its production slate.

Elsewhere, Shepard says Roku’s main focus in 2022 will be on growing Roku’s One View platform that combines buying, planning and measurement. “We want to make sure they are up-leveling their expectations when they move that budget and taking advantage of all the data and measurement capabilities on streaming,” she says. “We are looking to remove barriers and make it really easy by offering TV-first programmatic capabilities. Seeing the full picture and being able to seamlessly move their dollars from one place to another is a real game-changer.”