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As ad-funded CTV goes global, marketers should consider ‘silver streamers’

Two hands using sewing needles knit a yellow line that also forms a play button overlaid on a tablet device.

Illustration by Holly Warfield / Getty / The Current

Senior consumers — and viewers — have long been disregarded by marketers, who are usually focused on the newest generation driving cultural trends and earning their first salaries. But all that attention might be misplaced considering seniors now make up the wealthiest consumer cohort in the world.

Defined as viewers aged 55 or older, silver streamers on average make up 10 to 15 percent of countries’ populations worldwide, based on World Bank estimates. By 2030, seniors are projected to spend just under $15 trillion, up from $8.7 trillion in 2020. In the U.S., many of these consumers are known as baby boomers, the generation that is currently 59-77 years old.

American seniors are already driving streaming’s growth in the U.S. And as viewers in Asian, Latin American, and African economies age, they are likely to drive future growth for CTV advertising globally.

“Emerging markets will combine lower discretionary consumer spending with a focus upon ad monetization and emerging third-way streaming monetization, post-subscription and post-ads,” says Tim Mulligan, EVP and research director at Midia Research.

A global ad-funded streaming phenomenon

Even if richer on average, not all older viewers want to pay full price for their entertainment. Indeed, the trend toward ad-funded tiers isn’t just limited to the U.S. and Western countries.

Mulligan tells The Current that Midia’s research in countries including Sweden, South Korea, and Brazil shows that silver streamers already represent 26 percent of all ad-supported streamers. The UN, on the other hand, estimates that less than 15 percent of the world’s population is 60 years or older in 2022, suggesting a disproportional interest from silver streamers in ad-funded plans.

Aside from monetary concerns, older viewers might also just be more used to ads than younger generations. “Silver streamers grew up on ads on both free-to-air and pay TV, so while they may not like ads, they have a learnt tolerance of the hybrid SVOD (subscription video on demand) business model,” says Mulligan.

Viewers in emerging economies already have access to a plethora of streaming plans aimed at accommodating their lower spending power, and many are free or ad-funded. Research from Kantar shows that Southeast Asia alone counts 116 million viewers on ad-funded streaming plans.

For now, Western silver streamers are leading the charge, with the number of streamers and their spending power for subscriptions set to increase, according to Mulligan.

When it comes to CTV consumption habits, the U.S. leads, with American silver streamers aged 55 and over accounting for 32 percent of all binge viewers, says Mulligan. Brazilian silver streamers, on the other hand, make up 20 percent of all binge viewers.

But this is likely to change as the world’s economic center of gravity shifts toward emerging economies. For example, Brazil’s median age sits at 32, compared to the U.S.’s 38, paving the way for further growth in the silver-streamer demographic in younger, developing economies.

Time for a new playbook

So why haven’t brands caught on? “Marketers don’t know where the money is,” says Jeff Weiss, president and CEO at marketing consultancy Age of Majority. He said the firm’s research found that while 41 percent of consumer spending is done by adults 55 and older, marketers surveyed believed that 38 percent of all spending was done by millennials.

Advertising’s obsession with youth perhaps shouldn’t be surprising. For decades, marketers have been influenced by the tobacco industry’s advertising playbook: Once they got a young consumer hooked on their brand, they would often have a customer for life, says David Soberman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

However, much has changed since then. For one, consumers are a lot less brand-loyal, says Soberman, because they can easily find information on competing brands online. But the most important change is a lengthening of life expectancies worldwide, he says.

“If you’re able to attract a consumer who’s in their late 50s, you can have 20 years of good business,” Soberman adds.

With the added specter of a worldwide cost-of-living crisis and economic downturn, creating ads that draw in wealthier silver streamers might be a matter of survival for global brands, especially as fledgling consumers across the world brace for layoffs and scrutinize their budgets.

“The best way of building brands is broad reach, increasing mental and physical availability for more customers across all demographics,” says Jon Evans, chief customer officer at marketing consultancy System 1. “So, in that sense, it’s absolutely true that the brands which focus narrowly on youth or try to reach a niche segment will have a much rougher time than brands that aim to be inclusive and bring in older consumers.”