Disney is rolling out a new ad platform in India, and it shows how the media giant is betting on advertising to grow its streaming business globally

  • Disney India is ramping up its ad pitch with a new platform that sells ads across linear TV and Disney Plus.
  • India is a big focus for Disney in expanding Disney Plus globally, and the country is experimenting with advertising to offset high prices.
  • The ad platform also shows how Disney is building its own version of a walled garden to compete against Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
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Disney has big ambitions to become a streaming-first company with Disney Plus, and a new initiative shows how the media company is leaning on advertising to grow overseas.

Star India, the Indian version of Disney's direct-to-consumer service, Star, is rolling out a new platform that advertisers use to buy ads across linear and streaming channels, including its Disney Plus equivalent Disney Plus Hotstar. While Disney Plus does not have ads in the US, Hotstar sells pre-roll, mid-roll, and native ads across TV and the streaming app. 

Star India said that consumer-packaged goods and automakers, which it wouldn't name, have tested the platform. 

India is a key market for Disney's bet in the streaming wars. Star India reaches 700 million monthly viewers, and Disney Plus Hotstar played a big role in helping Disney Plus reach 60.5 million paying subscribers in its first nine months. Disney Plus was bundled with Hotstar when it launched earlier this year with two subscription plans for domestic and international programming.

Read more: Disney Plus has shown that international audiences are key to scaling a streaming business quickly. Experts unpack the hurdles legacy-TV companies face as they go global.

One of Disney's challenges with growing abroad is that Netflix and others have already snapped up a lot of content through licensing deals. High prices are another challenge when growing internationally, and advertising is one way Disney is keeping subscription prices down in India.

"We want to be able to provide brands with reliable tools that would extend audience intelligence across Star India's TV network and Disney+ Hotstar," said Nitin Bawankule, head of ad sales at Star & Disney India. "This solution will enable advertisers to reach viewers where they are rather than second-guess where to reach them."

The ad platform, which Disney worked with Mediaocean-owned adtech firm 4C Insights to build, lets advertisers target people using first-party data. For example, automakers can target people in the market to buy a car, and fashion brands can target past customers. Mediaocean then combines that data with viewing data to further fine-tune ad targeting.

Disney is likely pursuing data-based advertising in India because most TV ad inventory in the country is sold through the so-called scatter market where advertisers buy individual campaigns, whereas in the US, most TV ad buying is done through yearlong deals, said Alok Choudhary, chief scientist at Mediaocean.

Mediaocean has a similar deal with NBCUniversal that plugs its technology into the media company. The Disney partnership includes ads sold on Disney's own platforms while NBCU's also includes YouTube and other types of advertising outside of NBCU.

Disney's goal to build its own version of a walled garden for advertisers is one way that broadcasters are fending off pressure from Facebook, Google, and Amazon's chokehold of digital advertising budgets, said Mediaocean CEO Bill Wise.

"Broadcasters are under a lot of pressure not only from a yield perspective but from a control and data perspective and making sure that 80 cents from every incremental dollar isn't going to the walled gardens," he said. "A great way to do that is to become a walled garden yourself."

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