TV is a streaming world now with the likes of Netflix, HBO, Roku, Hulu, Apple+ and Amazon delivering on-demand programming to everything from flatscreens to mobile devices. While TV looks nothing like it did a generation ago, TV ads are still pretty much what they were generations ago in a three-network broadcast world.

While that might have made sense in a world of passive audiences; it’s anachronistic in a world where viewers can skip the ads or opt out of them entirely.

Enter BrightLine, an ad technology company that can create, push out and measure the level of engagement viewers have with a brand’s message, turning a passive experience into one that’s interactive.

BrightLine’s co-founder, president and Chief Strategy Officer Rob Aksman believes it’s critical for brands to change how they think about advertising, or viewers will find their old-school styled ads “jarring” to watch. Take a spot the company did with P&G for Swiffer dusters. Viewers saw their image get a bit filmy when the ad began, and were able to “clean” the screen using the remote.

“That is such a great example of generating an attention metric,” he says. “You now know the viewer was paying attention, we see in the data that when a viewer engages even a little bit like that, their awareness goes up, recall goes up, purchase intent lifts, all the brand metrics you’re looking for.”

Hear more from Aksman, including how brands can stop guessing about what viewers want in an ad and ask them instead.

Watch the full conversation or scroll down for the lightly edited transcript:


Rob Aksman, BrightLine co-founder, president and Chief Strategy Officer

So BrightLine is a connected TV technology company. And we are powering all of the interactive, dynamic and shoppable advertising experiences for all of the leading television streamers out there today,

Television is at a pivotal turning point in the way it’s delivered into the home. It’s going from legacy set top box, old-school video delivery to streaming TV delivery through connected devices, whether that be a smart TV, a device, like a Fire TV, Roku, or even a game console. The reason that matters is because a lot of people will point out, and they’re right, it does not change the content you’re watching. The TV shows are the same, the TV networks are the same. The reason that delivery matters, the reason that connected in front of the word TV matters, is what you can do with the experience is dramatically different. And I like to say you wouldn’t pour diesel gasoline in your Tesla, right? You’ve got this beautiful advanced machine that is lightyears ahead of you know historically gas powered vehicles. And that’s how we feel about connected TV devices. They are capable of so much more than just a basic standard 30 second commercial. 

The reason we started the company and the reason we even pivoted the company is to focus on the experience of the viewer. If you think about a 30-second commercial, it was invented back when we had to stand up and physically walk over to a television set and turn a dial right to change the channel. We are now watching TV over high-speed broadband with internet connectivity and processing power that is 10 times what some of the first computers were. That allows us to evolve the overarching TV experience that we’re having. We’re seeing that in the way we watch TV through things like Netflix and Hulu. When you turn it on, it remembers where you left off, right? It makes recommendations based on your viewing habits. So it’s personalized, it will engage you with your favorite sports teams because it learns what you like to watch in specific teams. Then if you move into the other room, it’s going to pick up your viewing and move your experience to that other screen, or even to your phone when you head out the door because you had to leave before the game’s over. So that’s really changed the viewing experience.

The focus of BrightLine is we believe that the TV experience has become so personalized and engaging. We want to make sure advertising keeps pace because if it doesn’t, it’s going to become all the more jarring for a viewer if the advertising experience is still this legacy old school 30-second commercial when everything else is advanced so far. We can personalize the experience so that if, for example, you’re seeing a car ad for a specific dealership, it would automatically show you your closest dealership information and contact information, and even the localized deals, without you having to look anything up, and enter any information. If you’re seeing a commercial and it’s actually relevant for you, you’ll now actually see the deals that are available at your closest dealership without having to enter anything. So we’re going to make that impression more effective and dynamically personalized to a specific household. That’s just one example. Then there’s interactivity. 

I think when you talk about seeing the same 30-second commercial, what we’ve seen over the years is advertisers invest so much money in the creative for their 30-second commercials. They’re investing in trying to generate awareness and recall and to get your attention and to make the most of that impression when they find you. But it is historically, we’ll call a traditional TV world. It’s a fleeting moment. You see that 30-second commercial and even if that creative touched you in some way, there’s nothing for you to do, it comes in and goes. Maybe you’re interested in that product, or you want to learn more about it, see where you can buy it, or, play around with it a little bit more. You can’t do anything. So we’re solving for that by letting the viewer start to march down the sales funnel just a little bit toward the middle of the funnel, where now I can maybe look at some additional product specs. Or if it’s a retailer talking about their holiday deals, which is very relevant right now, we can show you and you can scroll through the 10 hottest deals at your local retailer without having to look it up or find a circular. You can do that during the commercial, maybe on the second or third time you’re seeing it. If you finally got that viewers attention, what do you want to do with that attention? Because now you can actually act on it in the moment. Those are examples of things you can do toward the top of the funnel.

I think we have some wonderful examples actually with P&G, specifically Swiffer, earlier in the year. In order to demonstrate the Swiffer duster, the commercial was playing and the screen appeared to be a little bit dirty and it prompted the viewer to click on their remote to clean off the screen. So with a few clicks of the remote, you wipe away the dust on the screen with the virtual Swiffer duster. That is such a great example of just generating an attention metric. You now know the viewer was paying attention. We see in the data that when a viewer engages just a little bit, their awareness goes up, recall goes up, purchase intent lifts, all the brand metrics that you’re looking for. That’s just one really great example that we had worked on with P&G earlier in the year. 

Other examples of what you can do in a streaming TV world, you don’t guess at what message might be most relevant to a viewer because you can ask them now. You can actually run things like ad selectors where instead of using any kind of advanced data algorithms to understand who’s doing what, you can just ask them if you know. For Pampers, for example, which ran a campaign, it just asked what stage is your child at, and then it will show you the commercial for the appropriate Pampers based on the life stage of the child of your baby. 

Part of the challenge is education. We’re talking about an industry that did a certain thing a certain way, for so long, there’s a lot of education to be done. I think, for example, most people don’t realize that every single major TV streamer offers these types of ad experiences. In the majority of streaming households, which is the future of TV, one way or another will be streaming TV. So the majority of homes can receive these types of ad experiences. I think that’s part of just educating people. 

One thing we really need to do better is engage advertisers further upstream when they’re strategizing and planning creative, because more often than not, these types of things are pitched to the media buyer, which happens at the last step in the process. All the assets already exist, the buyer says, “Hey, let’s go ahead and buy some of these advanced units or not because we don’t have the right assets.” So we need to do a better job of engaging people earlier during the creative strategy and planning, so by the time it makes it to the media buyer, they have the assets to take advantage of these types of things. 

First and foremost, we’re going to continue to see the great migration of legacy television over to streaming TV. There will to a point where there will be no more old school set top box delivery of TV anymore. So all of the things that we’re talking about today from an experience perspective, and then of course, all the advanced things that can be done with data and targeting and measurement, that is going to be 100% of the TV universe. That is not that migration is not changing. Every single major TV service provider is incented to switch to this new delivery format for economic purposes. So that is the future of TV. In the next three to five years, all TV will be streaming TV over connected devices. The other thing to look at is with that in mind, we’re only going to see the experiences get more advanced. We’re going to see lower funnel opportunities, like click for contact, which is actually available now where you can actually convert a viewer and instantly receive information from an advertiser all the way on through to being able to purchase directly from commercials. That’s certainly gets a lot of buzz, gets a lot of press, because you can now do lower funnel conversion, not appropriate for everyone.

TV still has a major role in just awareness and branding, and we’re going to make sure we don’t forget that. But we’re also going to see advancements in voice and using voice remotes to control and respond to ads as well, in addition to the standard remote control input. The timing of the market is not something that you can control, and in some cases, it might be a little painful at times when you have an idea that might be a little ahead or of where the market is. I think that speaks to the persistence component. Because we were arguably a little too early when we launched this connected TV ad platform six years ago. But in a sense, if we weren’t too early, we would have been too late because we now have the relationships and the technology footprint that is across all of the big streamers to really help capitalize on the growth that is now happening and was really sent into light speed during the pandemic of streaming behavior. So the fact that we weren’t too early has put us in a really nice position to help evolve the landscape pretty rapidly now.