SANTA BARBARA — Most TV services want to show ads to viewers when the viewers are watching shows.

Last year, Hulu began asking a different question – what if it served an ad when viewers stopped watching?

In January, it launched a new ad format, “Pause Ad“, and the first results from tests with Coca-Cola and P&G’s Charmin toilet paper are in…

“We’ve seen a 68% increase in brand lift associated with those campaigns, which is 5X the industry benchmark for similar types of ad executions,” says Jeremy Helfand, the long-time Adobe exec who has been Hulu’s VP of ad platforms since 2018, in this video interview with Beet.TV.

For Hulu, the launch was about embracing under-exploited behavior already evident on the platform.

“Our viewers at Hulu pause on content over 30 million times a day,” Helfand says. “If they’re pausing in order to get up to go to the bathroom or to answer the phone or get something to drink out of the refrigerator, we think that that’s a much better opportunity to introduce a brand message in an advertisement as opposed to stopping their content storytelling experience and introducing an ad.”

In other words, if you are leaving Modern Family for the bathroom, you may be primed to know about toilet paper. If you are pausing Futurama to head to the fridge, have you considered a soda?

“If they’re not using it in order to scrub forward or backwards on the content, we then will introduce the pause ad,” Helfand says. “The pause ad is an overlay that sits over top of the content so it’s translucent and you still see the content behind you

“It’ll persist on the screen with some sort of catchy, great visual and message, and it’ll stay there until the viewer returns to wanting to watch content again.

“Viewers love it because it’s not disruptive to their storytelling experience. It’s relevant to the situation that they’re in, and they really appreciate the fact that we have used a unique way to help connect them with a brand without disrupting the storytelling experience and the journey that they’re having with the content.”

For Helfand, Pause Ad is one expression of Hulu’s goal to deliver “viewer-first advertising”.

The company has reduced ad load and has radically capped the frequency with which viewers are exposed to brands, doubling the variety of ads they see per hour of content.

This video is from a series leading up to, and covering, the Xandr Relevance Conference in Santa Barbara.  This Beet.TV series is sponsored by Xandr.   Please visit this page to find more videos from the series.