DIMENSION 2019: Subscription Services – The Shifting Balance

Advertisers need audiences. The more opportunities to reach a relevant audience, the better. It’s an industry ‘known-known’, a dynamic that hasn’t been challenged – perhaps until now.

The skipping or blocking of advertising and the growth in subscriptions, registrations and membership-funded models are posing new conundrums for advertisers.

What do consumers feel about paying for content? How is the industry overcoming the barriers to reach particular audiences? And is there a future for subscription-only models?

Kantar’s 2019 DIMENSION report, now in its third year, explores issues like the shifting balance between advertising and subscription-funded models for media owners. The findings of the report are results of consumer surveys and interviews with industry leaders across five of the largest media markets in the world. Here, we look at how subscription services are growing, and how the platforms are using traditional media to win over consumers.

Subscription services lean on traditional

Consumers today have more options than ever before when it comes to consuming content, thanks in large part to the ever-growing landscape of subscription services including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, and the list goes on.

The subscription model is still evolving, with new services constantly being introduced like the new Disney+, but there’s no question that subscription as a means of funding media is impacting advertising. Many media owners are discovering new ways to monetize their platforms through subscription, either replacing or sitting alongside advertising.

But while these services may be disrupting the advertising landscape, they are also infusing dollars into it as they promote their platforms using traditional advertising. Indeed, during Q1 2019, we have seen advertising investments of $122 million allocated towards national TV from streaming platforms trying to win over consumers from the very media they are using to promote themselves. The top five streaming services accounted for 78 percent of national TV spend during this period.

We’ve also monitored $20 million earmarked towards print advertising. More than half of this came from Netflix, who used print for a highly targeted media buy earlier this year when promoting its Oscar contender, Roma.

Does subscription deliver scale?

Despite the growth of subscription services, and their efforts to get consumers to cut the cord, one size does not fit all according to the Audiences, Advertisers & Applications portion of our DIMENSION study.

The proportion of people prepared to pay for something thought to be available to them for free elsewhere (albeit in a lesser form or indirectly via a social platform) is always going to be comparatively small – a factor that will affect reach and effectiveness.

Even allowing for definitional differences, our study has found that in the markets surveyed:

Consumers Streaming

Subscription services are an important and growing part of the ecosystem, but free-to-air is still hugely popular. It would be wrong to forget the power of mass-media forms while the industry talks about narrowcasting and subscription services.

Consumer choice rules: Embracing a hybrid funding model

Subscription numbers and (we can assume) revenues are rising, leading to a change in the balance between subscription and ad-funded income.

We believe that a hybrid model is emerging.

In this hybrid, consumer choice rules – and subscription numbers vary depending on a number of factors including the overall price being paid. Once consumers start paying more and more per month for content then the balance could shift.

Quite where the tipping point comes in terms of outlay is not yet clear.

One expert we spoke to, Harold Geller, Executive Director, Ad-ID, USA, says “It isn’t just a binary subscription versus ad-supported. Look at CBS All Access and Hulu – both offer an ad-free and a hybrid model, but the majority of subscribers opt for the hybrid model. I think we’re going to see the pendulum swinging towards more subscription but then it swings back towards the hybrid model because of the cost of content.”

Ad avoidance will remain one factor in the consumer’s decision-making process – but not, we feel, the main one.


DIMENSION is our latest thinking on some of the biggest communication planning, buying and measurement issues faced by the industry. Uniquely, the study reflects the response and attitudes from twin perspectives: those of the industry’s practitioners and those of the consumers they are trying to reach.

Now in its third year, the findings send a strong message that the recurring issues haven’t gone away, and the imperfect balance our industry finds itself in remains. While data isn’t the answer in itself, it can empower those shaping media and communications planning to deliver insights and drive material outcomes to gain competitive advantage.

Learn more about DIMENSION here

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