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Hulu’s Interactive Ad Lets Viewers Buy Movie Tickets With a Remote Control

Subscribers to Hulu sometimes use the streaming-video site to watch movies. Now they can use certain ads on the service to buy movie tickets.

You might call it a commercial interruption interruption: In recent days, some Hulu users have been served a video trailer for the Warner Bros. and MGM movie “Tomb Raider” that asks them to use their remote to order tickets if they’d like to see the film in a nearby movie theater. Viewers can toggle to a new page to check out showtimes, see the format in which the movie will be shown, and find the closest movie house.They can then offer their email address to get a link sent to their phones allowing them to pay for tickets.

Younger consumers who have grown up in an era when ads can be skipped or ignored “come with different expectations for TV,” said Peter Naylor, senior vice president of ad sales for Hulu, in an interview. “The game is changing, and we have to run new plays.” Warner Bros. is expected to use a similar ad format on Hulu to support the Dwayne Johnson movie “Rampage.”

Studio executives think the marketing initiative helps close the gap between the time a potential moviegoer sees a trailer and the time she or he decides to go see the film being advertised, says JP Richards, the studio’s executive vice president of worldwide marketing and chief data strategist.“We are definitely trying to connect the experiences of watching a piece of content to buying a piece of content – a movie ticket,” he said.  With affluent, younger consumers migrating to streaming services from linear TV, he added, finding new ways to connect with them is of growing importance.

Futurists have predicted such stuff for years. When “Friends” was a big hit on NBC in the mid to late 1990s, executives loved to talk up the notion of a consumer who sees a sweater being worn by Jennifer Aniston on screen being able to order it immediately with the toggle of a mouse.

Indeed, media companies have worked for years to build what Hulu’s Naylor called a “transactional commercial.”  Earlier this decade, for instance, Cablevision – now part of Altice – would run cable channels that were essentially interactive pages sponsored by advertisers. Subscribers could use a remote control to input information that would spur a phone call from employees of Walt Disney Co. to help plan a trip to one of the entertainment company’s vacation parks. Or they could ask Royal Caribbean to send info about a rewards program. In 2010, Mattel ran interactive efforts on Cablevision, Dish and AT&T’s U-verse that let them stream videos about Barbie, play games and request information be sent to them.

But the format had its limits. The technical requirements of a Cablevision often varied from those pertaining to Comcast, DirecTV or Cox. If a big advertiser wanted to run an interactive ad across the nation, the company would essentially have to build a different version of the ad for each cable or satellite distributor it needed to use.

Streaming services, however, have a broader geographic reach, noted Jaqueline Corbelli, Chairman and CEO of BrightLine, a company that helps build commercials for digital and on-demand venues and worked with Hulu to develop its new ad unit. “This is the first step in a much broader strategy and approach to the marketplace to bring the transcation closer to the viewer,” she said, noting that several TV networks are working to offer similar concepts.

Hulu and other streaming-video sites have long offered ads that consumers can play with. When Hulu, owned by Comcast, 21st Century Fox, Walt Disney and Time Warner, launched in 2007, it touted its ability to let viewers in some instances choose the type of ad they wanted to see. Fox accelerated the push for interactive ads when it purchased ad-tech firm TrueX for around $200 million in late 2014. That firm created a product that asks video viewers to interact with an advertising unit in exchange for some kind of offer, like the opportunity to preview a movie.

Coming up with interactive formats could be key for streaming-video providers.  Expectations are high among executives that Amazon will likely roll out technology that lets viewers of its Amazon Prime Video make purchases related to the programs they watch in its popular e-commerce portal, raising the specter of heightened competition.

Besides, advertisers need to maximize the streaming environment as more consumers adopt it. Streaming “is growing in prominence,” said Warner Bros.’ Richards.

Hulu’s research shows the interactive ads are easier to recall and remember, said Naylor, while spurring purchase intent.  “This is the first transactional ad” on Hulu, he said, “but it’s not going to be the last.”

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