Upfronts ’21: Bell Media is all-in on AVOD

The broadcaster announces new AVOD ad units, the Bell Marketing Platform, and the inaugural IDEA competition winner that will receive $1 million-worth of free media.
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Bell Media announced a variety of programming positioned to complement both linear and VOD platforms during its Upfront presentation on Thursday, June 10, along with a strong focus on AVOD with new ad formats.

On the advertising side, Perry MacDonald, Bell Media’s VP, advertising sales and partnerships, was eager to headline with news around the new Bell Marketing Platform. “It’s all about making it easier for advertisers to buy,” he says, with a new platform that “brings together a suite of Bell data-enabled products, allowing advertisers to identify, understand and connect with the right audiences.”

The main underpinning of the new platform is Bell’s first-party data, but MacDonald notes clients can integrate their own, or leverage information from Environics. “For the first time, advertisers will be able to push their very own custom-built audiences right from our Bell analytics tool into our demand-side platform and [Strategic Audience Management] (SAM) TV tools.”

He also refers back to the broadcaster’s partnership with Xandr in the spring, as well as the addition of online attribution last year, “an exclusive opportunity in Canada offered by Bell Media to track the drive-to-web performance of TV campaigns, by comparing the online behaviour of consumers exposed to TV advertising versus those non-exposed,” MacDonald explains. “With attribution, we’re establishing a direct cause-to-effect relationship between advertising and consumer response.”

MacDonald also announced new AVOD ad units, including Casting Screen, a full-screen branded experience “when the viewer clicks the ready-to-cast button.” And though it hasn’t launched yet, he said it’s working on another AVOD format called Sponsorship Collections. He uses Canada Day or back-to-school as examples of collections of movies or TV shows a client can attach themselves to, “an exclusive opportunity for brand adjacency and reach against thematic content.”

On the programming front, “we tried a lot of new stuff this year,” Justin Stockman, VP content development and programming for Bell Media, tells MiC. “But it was really about trying to find stability.” Consistent hits are still there, he notes, while acknowledging they can’t rest on their laurels.

“The formula for a lot of these new shows is very different than what we’ve seen over the last few years,” he says, describing formats with people starting their lives over, realizing their dreams and reemerging into the world, a COVID-fuelled theme across many of the pickups, which, he stresses, are all available via the CTV app and CTV.ca.

“SVOD is pretty established now,” Stockman explains, “and AVOD is the next frontier,” noting that the channel has grown “incredibly” over the past year. Specifically, CTV.ca’s average total minutes grew 103% in Q1 2021 versus the same period last year (source: Comscore Media Metrix Multi-Platform, 3-month average ending Mar 2021 vs. same period 2020, desktop 2+ universe and mobile 18+ universe, total Canada, CTV.CA, Total Minutes per month).

The key, though, is being where the viewers want to be, so Bell Media’s Upfront strategy was designed to ensure it had formats that appealed to both audiences.

More specifically, Stockman refers to properties like The Masked Singer, which he feels is best suited for live viewing (#spoilers), versus shows like Grey’s Anatomy, “which, while it feels more traditionally linear, does really well on AVOD when people want to catch up on episodes.”

“Different titles pop in different places,” he says. “I’m not concerned about driving them to one place over another. It’s more just making sure that wherever they go, we’re there.”

On top of the traditional programming announcement, both Stockman and MacDonald were excited to speak to the MuchMusic relaunch, in partnership with TikTok, that would be a huge opportunity for branded content integrations going forward.

Bell Media also announced the inaugural winner of the ICA Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity in Advertising (IDEA) competition in partnership with Bell. This year’s focus was on campaigns highlighting Indigenous communities, and Cheekbone Beauty, its agency, Sid Lee, and its campaign “Right the Story” (pictured), were awarded $1 million worth of ad media inventory on Bell Media platforms.

Featuring a positive news “smear campaign,” the award-winning creative blocks out negative headlines about Indigenous communities, focusing audience attention on good news championing positivity and defiance, seeking to “right the story” of Indigenous people in the media.