Connected TV streaming service and remote

The Dark Horses of Connected TV

October 21, 2021

Dominic Johnson
With so many new streaming services arriving every year, it is hard for a marketer to know where they need to advertise to be successful. Gone are the days of a Hulu-only OTT plan, but there are a handful of ad-supported streaming services that marketers should make sure they have a presence on.

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The Dark Horses of Connected TV

While most consumers still think of Netflix and Hulu as the top streaming services, other ad-supported options are needed for a successful ad campaign.

Connected TV streaming service and remote

With so many new streaming services arriving every year, it is hard for a marketer to know where they need to advertise to be successful with their connected TV (CTV) and over-the-top (OTT) media buys.

When you ask a consumer what they think of when you mention streaming services, most will likely focus on the big three: Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video. But as advertisers know, Netflix and Prime Video are not ad-supported, leaving Hulu as the biggest advertising-based video on demand (AVOD) service.

Although Hulu is still a strong player in the ad-supported CTV landscape, marketers who put all of their eggs in the Hulu basket often end up with limited reach and high frequency. Just like a linear television buy where multiple networks are needed to maximize reach, marketers should expand their CTV consideration set beyond just Hulu.

So, what streaming services should an advertiser turn to for mass, unduplicated reach across streaming platforms? There are options, each with their pros and cons.

For example, Peacock, Discovery+, and Paramount+ are new and shiny, but their ad-supported viewership is dwarfed by other options. For example, while Peacock has reported 33 million “sign-ups,” it is reported that only 11 million of those are “monthly active ad-supported accounts,” which is only a fourth of other ad-supported streaming platforms.

However, analyzing performance on your programmatic CTV campaigns can uncover where the most abundant (and still high-quality inventory) resides. And when you do so, three names stick out most frequently:

  • Tubi
  • Pluto TV
  • Samsung TV Plus

These three names, while lacking the built-in cache that Hulu has developed over 13 years, are likely familiar to advertisers due to the large companies that are aligned with them.


Tubi was acquired by Fox Corporation in 2020 and Fox has been promoting the service to consumers with OTT ad campaigns while also adding new streaming content to the platform. Tubi is most similar to streaming giant Netflix, as streamers are presented with shows and movies they can select from on demand.

What makes Tubi a must-have?

  • Tubi has 40 million monthly active users (compared to Hulu’s 43 million paid subscribers)
  • Nearly half of Tubi streamers are cord cutters that can’t be reached by cable; this makes Tubi a good compliment to a linear television buy because it garners incremental reach
  • 68% of Tubi streamers can’t be reached on other AVODs (64% of Tubi streamers aren’t on Hulu, and 69% aren’t on Peacock). That unduplicated reach across cable and other streaming services is key for reaching as many people as you can with your ads
  • On the other hand, Tubi does have significant overlap with Netflix streamers. According to MRI-Simmons, more than three out of five Tubi streamers also use Netflix (which has 209 million paid subscribers that can’t be reached with ads on that service)

Pluto TV

Rather than following Tubi’s on-demand focus, Pluto TV, which was acquired by ViacomCBS in 2019, is a streaming platform that feels most like a linear television layout. Fire up Pluto and you’ll see a guide that looks reminiscent of what you’d see from your cable or satellite guide, but rather than the standard linear channels, you’ll find channels that are more specific to exact shows. Looking for a Survivor-specific channel? CSI? Comedy Central’s animated shows? All there, all free. Advertisers just need to remember that Pluto won’t be an option to reach live events like sports or whatever is running on primetime network television.

How does that compare to Tubi and others?

  • 50 million monthly active users (compared to Hulu’s 43 million paid subscribers).
    This activity is because Pluto is available almost everywhere, as its 30+ distribution partners allow the streaming service to be on virtually all connected TVs and OTT devices
  • Pluto TV also commonly has lower CPM than something like Hulu, which allows advertisers to get more impressions out of their budget
  • 200+ content partners, which allows Pluto to match or dwarf the channel count of offerings like satellite or cable

Samsung TV Plus

Another hot streaming service that media buyers will see frequently is Samsung TV Plus. This service, while very similar to Pluto TV, has the differentiator of being available out of the box on all new Samsung televisions. That gives the platform a built-in install base anytime Samsung sells a television — which they do a lot of as the world’s biggest television company.

  • While not quite as large as Tubi or Pluto, Samsung TV Plus has 9.3 million monthly active users and is growing (it increased 122% year over year in 2020, and streaming has only increased throughout 2021)
  • Over 90% of Samsung TV Plus streamers don’t use a streaming device like a Roku, Fire stick, or Chromecast — they are simply using their televisions. Again, this type of differentiator once again adds incremental reach beyond other services, helping advertisers reach as many consumers as possible
  • When comparing streaming to linear television, streaming stacks up just as well in terms of monthly viewing hours as well, which should make advertisers comfortable in investing linear TV dollars into CTV. For example, a December 2020 study showed Samsung TV Plus had the fourth most monthly viewing hours, behind only ABC, CBS, and NBC and ahead of channels like Fox, CNN, ESPN, and HGTV

In summary

As more and more consumers take to streaming instead of only linear television, it is important for advertisers to invest proportionately in CTV/OTT buys. And while it may be tempting to go with a handful of buys only on the “name-brand” services, advertisers can’t afford to forget the “dark horses” listed above. Not only will streaming services like Tubi, Pluto TV, and Samsung TV Plus get you incremental reach for your linear television buy AND your other OTT buys, their more cost-efficient CPM will allow you to get more bang for your buck while still being served on high-quality OTT content.

Whether bought via direct buys (to guarantee inventory) or run programmatically through a demand side platform (to be a part of a campaign that extends reach to even more additional streaming services), diversifying your OTT buy with these three dark horses and more will benefit your brand’s awareness and consideration among your target audience.

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