Blog Media & Marketing

Will ‘Pause Ads’ Flourish or Fail?

Photo of Georgia Meyer
by Georgia Meyer

AT&T and Hulu have announced a trial for a new ‘pause’ ad format, whereby ads are placed on screens the moment a user literally presses ‘pause’ on content.

As consumers become more adept at avoiding unwanted advertising, these unsolicited insertions may well be seen as yet more unwelcome interruptions. On the other hand, if creativity and relevance are deployed successfully and meaningfully, this otherwise ‘dead time’, could unlock further value for consumers and advertisers alike.

The pitch

AT&T-owned Xandr Media — a buy-side and sell-side advertising platform striving for relevance between end user and message — is, of course, excited about the potential of pause ads. Matt Van Houten, VP of product at Xandr Media, told Variety that they are a prime opportunity since 100% visibility is guaranteed at the moment the content is paused and the ad begins or displays.

Jeremy Helfand, VP and head of Ad Platforms at Hulu, argues that ‘pause ad’ opportunities are set to grow as binge viewing grows (in fact MIDiA Research data shows that binge viewing peaked in Q3 2017 at 39% and fell to 27% in Q3 2018). He also explained that they are natural breaks in the content experience so the ads could feel more seamless.

The pitfalls

It could be argued that the typical pre-roll video ad has a greater chance of guaranteeing visibility than pause ads — since users are waiting for the content to start, not pausing it so they can do something else. Moreover, it might be that the alternative activity requires them to be in another room, where they’d be out of reach completely.

Another potential problem to consider is the fact that some users may be pausing, not to re-stock their snacks, but for activities they deem to be important and demanding of their attention like taking a phone call. If an ad comes on at exactly that moment the chance of irritation and alienation is not insignificant. Creatively-led ads without sound may go some way in addressing this potential pitfall.

One final UX question that pause ads raise is: what will become of pausing to freeze frame? Users may be pausing content to take a closer look at what’s happening in a scene—will they then be required to click out of the ad first? It seems strange that platforms would willingly create more friction in the consumer experience.

The practical

AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner Inc. was one of the biggest media deals in history, the consequences of which will undoubtedly impact the way the digital direct-to-consumer media landscape. Since Xandr Media (which launched this year) is also AT&T owned, learnings from early experimentation with pause ads will become an integral part of the way AT&T balances subscriptions with ad-supported revenues from its suite of Warner Media products in the future.

Whilst pause ads will create more ad revenue for platforms it is not yet clear whether they will provide value to consumers. In fact, their placement at these unexpected moments runs the risk of seriously alienating consumers. This raises questions as to whether they will be able to create ROI for brands, at the same time as creating ROI for AT&T and Hulu.

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