Amazon's IMDB TV may have the worst ad experience in all of streaming
Connected TV's laughable ad tech mess shows no signs of improvement
A few months back, I had one of those ideas that sounds good at the time - I’m going to rewatch Mad Men. I absolutely loved the show, and hadn’t seen an episode since the finale in 2015.
Of course, I had this inspiration right after Netflix let Mad Men go, and Amazon had taken over the rights, making it available not on Prime but on its free, ad-supported IMDB.
While I thought about buying the whole series, I also wondered if my commitment t this binge would waver. So I streamed a few episodes and thought - yikes, this ad experience is bad. At a time when media companies like NBCU were pledging restraint in connected TV, the ad interruptions during Mad Men were frequent, jarring and repetitive, and completely untargeted.
Still, I wanted to be fair - maybe IMDB just wasn’t ready for primetime.
I then abandoned this project until a few weeks ago, when I had lunch with an industry friend who revealed something shameful - he’d never seen Mad Men (which is like working in the bar business and never having seen Cocktail or Road House).
Anyway, he told me he tried viewing via IMDB TV, and had the same rocky experience.
So I went back, mostly out of morbid curiosity (but also because Mad Men is that good) and watched an episode the other night.
Here’s how it went:
Five (!) commercial breaks - which feels like an awfully high number in streaming
Some breaks were 90 seconds, some 60, one I think was 70?
Four Sling TV ads
Four Kia ads
Four Google Shopping ads (on Amazon, mind you)
Several house ads, a Geico spot, Mountain Dew
The worst part - the ads weren’t even timed to the commercial breaks. They would just randomly interrupt a scene, even at times mid dialogue.
This is a show that ran on commercial television previously, and nobody at Amazon even bother to line up the ad breaks with the serving of video ads. Machines were just shoving them in wherever to hit a number.
I don’t mean to pile on Amazon here. Anybody who works in CTV, or has watched any ad-supported streaming content over the past year knows that the frequency thing is a disaster, and generally speaking, targeting is nowhere.
I’ve watched shows on Hulu, the granddaddy of CTV, as well as Paramount+, even Pluto, and got the same ads during the same episode more than once.
The industry is playing with fire here and everyone is pointing fingers. It’s the networks fault, it’s the ad tech guys, it’s the agencies, etc. At a certain point, it starts to resemble the supply chain mess. Nobody cares if it’s the truckers’ fault or the shipping yards or the chip makers or whatever. Just fix it already.
I talked to a few industry experts on this ham-handed yet booming CTV ad marketplace. I wondered if this could alienate consumers, turning them off from the medium. In a word, the folks I talked to said - no chance. Consumers might be annoyed, but they like free.
However there is a risk, these execs said, to advertisers. You might like Geico ads, but after five in a row, you want to punch the gecko in the face.
There’s even a risk that brands could get turned off on CTV to a degree if things don’t improve, because, besides annoying people, all this unmitigated frequency leads to a lot of wasted dollars.
I asked, why is it so bad right now? Isn’t CTV booming, and isn’t the targeting just like digital? Well, as one source explained, many companies can be selling into the same inventory, so theoretically a Roku, a network, an SSP, and even a self serve platform could be pushing ads into the same shows and nobodies talking to one another.
There are also, believe it or not, probably not enough brands spending in CTV right now, even as the available AVOD inventory swells.
So you get loads of Kia ads.
Still, I’ve never seen the ads shoved at me with total disregard like IMDB TV. - which Amazon is planning to rename, per The Information. They need to go further than that. Think about the fact that this is Amazon, which has all the resources and cash and software and data expertise in the world. The company has built a $20 billion-plus ad business in just a few years. How can they not get ad serving in video right?
Even worse, this is the company that knows everything about what you buy! I’ve had an account for at least 15 years. The best they can do are Google Shopping ads?
I checked another Mad Men episode right before I wrote this. Roughly eight minutes in, Don and his wife Betsy are in bed together on the verge of making love- and bam! Here comes an ad for - pampers.
I did use to buy diapers and all sorts of baby stuff on Amazon. But my twins are now in third grade.