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Roku’s Head of Ad Marketing Jordan Rost On Blurring the Line Between Traditional and Streaming TV

Jordan Rost, Roku’s Head of Ad Marketing, joins Cross Screen Media CEO Michael Beach to share his perspective on video ad planning strategies while making user experiences seamless across multiple screens, in our latest ScreenBytes Executive Interview. Watch the interview here and read the full transcript below.

Michael Beach: Hello, and welcome to another edition of ScreenBytes. This week we’re excited to have Jordan Rost join us. Jordan is the Head of Ad Marketing at Roku. Prior to Roku, Jordan has 10 plus years of experience in the convergent TV space with stints at Google and Nielsen, just to name a few. Welcome, Jordan.

Jordan Rost: Hello, great to be here.

MB: Well, I’ll start off with our normal icebreaker. What was your first job and what did you take away from that as you built your career?

JR: My first job in advertising, I was actually a fledgling art director. I thought I’d try my hand at being a creative. I learned a few things – One, I wasn’t very good at being an art director. My copywriter actually did a lot of my work for me, which made me realize that was probably not a long pursuit I should endeavor. Two, I loved what went into campaigns, what drove the big idea and I loved the data we got out of the campaigns, to know what worked, why did it work, and I’ve spent the time since trying to pursue those thoughts. For example, “how do you apply data to big ideas and put better communications in front of audiences?” I’m probably an odd nerd that I genuinely love advertising and all the science that goes into it.

MB: I’m sure if you’re an ad nerd, you could be worse places than Roku.

JR: It’s worked well. We have a lot of data, we’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s a great place to learn and obviously see a lot of really big change happening.

MB: Absolutely. Going back to the experience we talked about earlier, how’d you get your start in the convergent TV space?

JR: I feel like TV has been converging for decades now. When I was at Google 10 or 15 years ago, they were in the TV advertising business. We had Google TV advertising. Data has been trying to work its way into the television space for as long as there’s been television, and so I think what’s been really exciting over the last few years is it’s actually happening on a meaningful scale and in meaningful ways that brands can actually take advantage of. Really, the entirety of my career has been thinking about how data could apply to the largest screen in the house and really bring the worlds of digital and programmatic together with the TV space that brands have loved playing in.

MB: Excellent, and before we jump deeper into the conversation, would you mind walking our community through where Roku sits exactly in that convergent TV space?

JR: Most people from our user base, the 43 million households that have a Roku in their home, know us as the way that they get television. We’ve got many cord-cutters who are using Roku to find great free television, much of it being ad-supported. We love the connection we have with all of our end users. By being a part of their TV viewing experience, we get to also then provide great content distributed through the Roku platform from all of our great publishers and partners. Because of that, we get to work with brands and help them get advertising in front of some of those users. We’ve built this ecosystem of great consumer connection and really deep publisher partnerships that advertisers can use to reach their audiences. More recently we’ve worked on building technologies and tools to help advertisers manage a lot of the advertising and the messaging that they operate, both within that Roku ecosystem that I just mentioned along with the rest of their digital advertising ecosystem. That’s culminated with the release of the OneView Ad Platform, and then the other things that we’ve tried to put into the advertiser’s hands to help them make use of the entire streaming ecosystem.

MB: I definitely want to dig deeper into the OneView Platform here a little bit. That’s a huge investment, and on the advertisers’ side, probably something that a lot of our community would be interested in. Before we get there, we’re doing this interview in late October, and I think you do earnings in early November. You may not be ready to release any user statistics yet, but you’ve still got 43 million accounts. What else can you tell us about your user base?

JR: That 43 million is really as of Q2, and so of the things that we’ve seen is prior to this year, streaming had already gone mainstream. What we’ve seen this year is a really dramatic acceleration of that. That 43 million really represents the fact that we are really touching a massive amount of the US and global population. By our latest numbers, 85% of Americans are streaming, and so what people probably thought of, as I mentioned 10, 15 years ago a really niche audience, really has become mainstream. And I think this year we’ve seen an acceleration of that. We’ve seen it become even more mainstream where people are spending more of their time. The most staggering stat that I’ve seen this year is that more than half of TV time amongst adults is now spent streaming for the first time. Now, what was a channel of incremental reach for advertisers and thinking about “how do I layer on additional opportunity above and beyond a linear traditional television plan?” has become much more central to the future of television and the future of reaching audiences as we go forward.

MB: I know the user base obviously is growing rapidly, but what did you see in the last six months, in terms of time spent, since the pandemic started and where we’re going with that?

JR: There was a massive surge in streaming related to when we are all at home that has largely been sustained. The pandemic has forced people to think about saving money and cord-cutting has been a beneficiary of that. More people are cord-cutting, and we’ve seen that in the volume of activity on Roku. The value that shoppers look for when cutting the cord is something that they really enjoy still seeing within the streaming environment. There’s a lot of shift to ad-supported viewership on the platform and we expect that to continue to grow. What’s been really interesting is when people cut the cord, they still want access to live news, live sports. Thankfully we still have live sports amongst us, and streaming’s providing that as well. One of the things that we saw, even early on this year, back in Q1, is really rapid adoption of live streaming in the Roku channel. People really want that free really cord-cutter-friendly channel that still provides free, unfiltered access to live programming. The thought of streaming as this environment that is only about on-demand programming is changing pretty rapidly. Those cord-cutters really want the ease, the value, the access that they’ve always gotten from TV. They also want the convenience that streaming provides layered on top of that.

MB: On a personal note, I had a presidential debate banner on the top of my TV’s UI, reminding me I can watch it on a Roku. I got the email at some point last week, and then I got an app notification right before the debate started. I think you start to think about live events and how you can change behavior, whereas before I just naturally thought I have to turn on the TV and figure out the news channel, but you actually brought the live content directly to me. I think it’s a big feature there in both news and sports.

JR: I think we’ll continue to see a blurring of the boundary between linear and traditional television in the streaming environment. As I said, cord-cutters ultimately want access to the content that they want, and so for us as Roku, it’s really on us to make that content accessible. Increasingly more and more of that content is ad-supported so that it’s free for the end-user. There’s a really great value exchange that emerges between brands, publishers, the end consumer, and ultimately everybody has a better experience at the end of the day.

MB: A significant part of our community is on the retail side, both brand and agency. As we prepare for the holidays, what should people be looking for? Different planning? Are we going to see changes to consumption? What should a brand do differently this year?

JR: We were actually curious to dig into this ourselves. We actually just released a holiday shopping study, really looking at understanding the streamers’ behavior and how they were going to obviously both continue to watch television and how might that impact how they might shop this year? We found a couple of interesting things. To no one’s surprise, streamers are spending more and more of their time streaming versus watching linear television, and that really reflects the overall shift in viewership to streaming, but some of that behavior is also coloring how they’re looking to shop. What we’ve found is streamers are far more likely to shop online than in-store compared to the non-streamer.

They’re also far more likely to shop earlier in the season as well as later in the season, which I think is a reflection of that choice, the control people are used to being able to have, at their fingertips. Whether the type of content they want to view on-demand or live, they expect more and more of that same experience from their shopping. We’ve also seen that translate from the biggest screen in the living room, down to their mobile device as well. With that in mind, some of their shopping influencers are things like an easy mobile checkout experience. They expect that frictionless experience, not just on the one screen that’s in front of them, but really on all the screens in their life. I think the key to winning this season is probably not different from past holiday seasons, but it’s now about acceleration- being where consumers are, being frictionless across screens, making it really easy for shoppers to find products, and getting products to the shopper. This year more than ever, people enjoy the experience of products coming to their homes more than them having to go to stores, and nowhere is that truer than with streamers.

MB: Shifting now to the advertising side a little bit, one high-level question I’d like to ask, do you still see siloed video teams on the planning side? If so, what’s your best entry point for Roku’s products?

JR: There’s no one model, which can be confusing and challenging for some. I know a lot of businesses grapple with this; do we in-house aspects of it? Do we work with an agency? Is that agency dividing between online video versus traditional video investment? I think a lot of the decision-making has to do with some of these campaigns and who’s running everything. It really comes down to the brand objectives, the brand goals, and your entry points. For many who are steeped in traditional linear television buying, they view streaming as an incremental layer on top of the plans that they’re already executing, and that absolutely can work. For others who have been really active in the online video space or come from a programmatic background, OTT and streaming is really the only way to bring the pedigree that they have and apply it to the largest screen in the house, where they can drive a lot of the same region frequency optimization and measure true performance outcomes by simply applying that to the television screen, which is really exciting.

There’s no one right path. I think having an eye towards what the other side of the house might be doing or thinking about if I’m a traditional TV buyer or planner is important. Thinking about what it would mean if I actually could, in real-time, optimize my campaigns against an actual business outcome is pretty transformative. The same is true from a traditional digital perspective. How do I think about a massive reach and really getting in front of the audience that I want to reach wherever they are? Thinking about applying the different methodologies that each of the other sides might bring to bear and incorporating that in a way that helps achieve your brand’s objective is really key. At Roku, we play across the entire ecosystem. We have very deep relationships with the largest of agencies and the smallest and most nimble D2C brands, and I think that really reflects the diversity of outcomes that streaming and OTT can provide.

MB: I would definitely agree. Going back to a topic you brought up earlier, the purchase of Dataxu was a big step as you continue to build out the OneView Platform. What is your overall vision for that product?

JR: Well, there are a few things. We think the future of advertising is in automation, measurement, and the free data flow in and out of systems so that buyers and planners can buy more effectively, plan and optimize in real-time, and then measure outcomes. We believe data is really key. What’s unique to the streaming environment is every week there’s a new service in which more and more advertising is really key to that service’s effectiveness. From the Roku channel to Peacock, many other publishers are actively betting on advertising being the future of how they participate in the streaming ecosystem. From an advertiser’s perspective, managing your campaigns across those ecosystems can be challenging, where you’ve got ads bumping into one another, you don’t have a full view of the entirety of your campaign.

Advertisers wonder “am I being intrusive to consumers or am I actually helping their viewing experience with reach and frequency?” OneView is our attempt to connect the dots across all those, really be one place where advertisers can manage the entirety of their entire digital plan. We’re putting this all in one place, so you have a holistic understanding of who am I reaching? Am I putting one ad in front of 30 people or the same ad 30 times in front of one person? OneView will help manage that over time so that you have a full view of what your campaign is doing, how that’s changing over time, and will help give control back to advertisers who want to really pull those levers for themselves, and the same would be true of agencies who are leaning in as well.

MB: That’s great. Looking all way back through your time at Google, what’s the single biggest change that you’ve seen in the video ad marketplace?

JR: Thinking back to my time at Google, we talked a lot about what this is the year of mobile looks like. I remember we were constantly looking at the ticker to see when the 50% mark would occur on mobile, more searches happening on mobile than on desktop, and I feel like we’re seeing a similar dynamic emerge here within the TV space. We have now crossed that threshold, where more people are spending time streaming versus watching on traditional TV. I think one of the lessons I’ve learned throughout all of that is things move extremely slow and then they move rapidly, and the challenge for advertisers and marketers like myself is how do you put the seeds in play and plant those seeds early enough where you understand the dynamics and shifts before that acceleration actually occurs.

I’m a cycling fan. There’s this concept when you’re going down the road and you hit a crosswind, it separates the gap between the riders that are in front and the riders that are in the back. The crosswind is almost more challenging than a headwind that is coming at you. There’s certainly a lot about this year that was a headwind, but there’s also a lot about this year that has been a crosswind, where it separated those that were ready for this shift to streaming and are ready for the shift to e-commerce in the retail space. I think it’s important to really place your bets early and understand shifts early because by the time it becomes really meaningful, it may be too late. It can be hard betting on something that feels nascent, but I think we’ve certainly seen within streaming, what may feel nascent can become mainstream seemingly overnight. We’ve seen that happen prior to this year, but it’s definitely proven out in this environment.

MB: It’s funny you bring up mobile. Last year, before this huge shift to streaming, some of the younger members of our team were getting frustrated that they didn’t think streaming was getting the attention that it deserved based on viewership, and I’d often use the five years of mobile, that “this is the year of mobile, this is the year of mobile.” It seemed like from 2010 to about 2015, and then boom, it happened overnight.

JR: Yep. It happened overnight over the course of five years. I think that’s the idea – how do you certainly take a long view? I think it requires experimentation and an aptitude for test and learn, but also being true to understanding the pretty systemic shifts that are very clearly happening. Younger consumers are more likely to be cord-cutters. We increasingly see linear TV audiences skewing older so there are pretty obvious shifts. As an advertiser, it’s important to rest on what’s worked. But, it’s also really important to experiment and understand new methods of buying, measuring an audience, and understanding performance and optimization based on that.

MB: Looking ahead, what’s the one development you’re most excited about in the convergent TV space?

JR: We’ve talked about OneView. I’m incredibly excited about what that true convergence of programmatic buying and programmatic technology means for the TV ecosystem. I’m excited that there are lots of other players who are coming to the same conclusion as well. We’re really excited about taking what’s always been really impactful about advertising and bringing it back to that direct connection that we have with consumers. As of Q2, and the 43 million households as part of that exchange, we truly understand who those streamers are, what they’re looking for on the TV screen, but with OneView, we can now reflect that across all the screens in their life.

From an advertiser’s perspective, OTT and streaming are not standalone channels that I can play off of linear or play off of programmatic. It really becomes an integral part of the entire media mix with something like OneView. The more that we get that into buyers’ and brands’ hands, the more that we see their eyes open up and say, “Oh wow, I can truly bring all this together and really maximize the incrementality, the measurability, the targeting that streaming provides,” and then incorporate that into the context of both a linear plan and a programmatic plan as well. It really does feel like that convergence is finally coming to fruition.

MB: One more question here. In the current environment, if you could get your entire team to read one book, what would that book be?

JR: It’s funny, I’m not a big fan of rereading books, but I actually just recently went back to one of the books I first read when I got into advertising and that’s Ogilvy On Advertising, which I think is 60 years old at this point. I was curious recently; does it hold up? Is what marketers and advertisers were thinking about in the sixties still relevant today? It was actually instructive highlighting the clarity of understanding your audience and clarity of the message that you put back in front of that audience. Applying these principles is probably more important now and possibly more challenging now than ever, despite how challenging it was back in the sixties. I took a chance to go back to something I read many years ago, early in my career, but it wound up being a fruitful read and one that was pretty prescient at the time.

MB: Excellent. Well, Jordan, I appreciate your time, and I’m sure our community’s going to love this content. Thank you.

JR: Great. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

See the rest of the ScreenBytes executive interview series here!

Jordan Rost leads marketing for Roku’s advertising business. He and his team help marketers understand shifting media behavior, re-imagine storytelling for the Streaming Decade, and make better ads. Prior to joining Roku, Jordan held leadership roles at Google, Nielsen, Adaptly, and Accenture.

Cross Screen Media is a marketing analytics and software company helping brands, agencies, and networks succeed in the Convergent TV space. Our platform creates a common currency across linear TV, digital, and CTV views so ad buyers can build a single optimized plan and sellers can prove the value of their inventory. For more information, please visit our website.

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