Hulu’s Ad Sales Chief Talks Changing the Shape of TV With New Formats

'We know our viewer is one click away from going to an ad-free experience'

Naylor said he’s focused not on potential competitors, but on innovating inside Hulu’s own framework.
Austin Hargrave/Hulu

Hulu’s ad sales chief Peter Naylor is out to change television advertising for the better.

Amid an ever-increasingly competitive landscape for streaming services, Naylor, who headed up digital advertising sales at NBCUniversal before making the jump to Hulu in 2014, is working on honing the platform’s offerings for users and for advertisers, including non-interruptive binge ads and pause ad formats that Naylor says are intended to respect users.

“Just because they have opted into seeing ads doesn’t mean we can take advantage of it,” Naylor said. “We know our viewer is one click away from going to an ad-free experience, so that keeps us on our toes.”

As the competitive landscape for Hulu gets even more crowded, Naylor said he’s focused not on potential competitors, but on innovating inside Hulu’s own framework.

“We’re in this massive area of opportunity where things should be challenged, questioned and reimagined,” Naylor said. “I’m most excited about the ability to change the shape of TV.”

I’ll be talking with Naylor on stage at Adweek’s NexTech event in New York on July 24. In the lead-up to our onstage conversation, we chatted in June about the state of OTT and what marketers wanted to talk about at Cannes.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Adweek: You just came back from Cannes Lions. What were advertisers most interested in talking to you about there?
Peter Naylor:
There’s this massive surge of requests for research. In the sales business, we call that a buy signal. They’re asking because they intend to move the money, and they need supporting research that shows it’s a good idea. They just need some hand-holding and some proof.

Another big topic is creative. Creatively, so much of what we run at Hulu are 15 and 30-second spots, but the real opportunity is to break some of those molds. I can do any length that the marketer needs to tell their story effectively. People need to remember that all on-demand viewing happens through an IP address, so anything that can happen in the browser creatively can happen in the TV space creatively. You can also go outside of the conventional break or interruptive ad. We introduced a pause ad [format] because we know that about a billion times a month, 30 million times a day, people hit pause. We also announced we’re going to have a series of binge ad [formats], because only we can see this kind of viewing behavior.

Everybody is interested in the opportunity for content integration. Content is such a big differentiator for everybody, and when there’s a chance to integrate into those shows creatively, brands are looking for a way to associate their brands with our IP.

What has the upfront demand been like for your new binge and pause ad formats? How are they being deployed?
For the pause ads, we have two beta advertisers from some of the worlds’ biggest advertisers: Coca-Cola and P&G. For Coca-Cola, it’s the master brand Coke itself. When you hit pause, imagine copy that says, “For a pause that refreshes.” It’s contextually relevant. Then there’s Charmin, which is the brand from P&G, and when you hit pause it says, “Enjoy the go” with the Charmin bear. It’s contextually cute and interesting.

When it comes to the binge ad, we haven’t launched our beta yet, but I can give you some examples for how we intend to use it. If someone’s watching the second episode of a series in a row, we can anticipate that they’re going to watch a third and can serve an ad that says, “If you want to watch this long-form piece of content from our advertiser, we’ll serve your next piece of content commercial-free.” Or if someone is on their second or third episode, a brand like DoorDash or UberEats might serve a message saying, “Before another episode, how about some food to power you through your binge of this series?”

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