Disney's Clean Room Brand Activations Grew 573% in 2023

To spur further growth, it's partnering with clean room tech from Google and Amazon

Disney is known for its vast media holdings, but it is working to become an ad-tech juggernaut, too, and marketers are noticing.

Two years ago, Disney launched clean room capabilities. The tool’s main use case in advertising is to match brand and publisher first-party data sets in a privacy-safe way, for targeting, activation and measurement.

So far, the solution has over 140 customers, and momentum is growing: The number of brands activating with Disney’s clean room increased 570% in fiscal year 2023 compared with fiscal 2022, according to Dana McGraw, senior vice president of audience modeling and data science at Disney Advertising. The company wouldn’t share specifics.

And Disney’s clean room customers aren’t just signing up: They’re using the product. So far, the clean room has generated 2,000 reports on behalf of brands since October 2021, 500 of which were added just since October 2023, signaling its growing momentum.

“When we first launched, we intentionally kept it small,” McGraw said. “We spent a lot of 2022 educating … In 2023 … there was significant growth in the number of brands and also holding companies.”

Now, Disney wants to capitalize on this growth, letting advertisers activate using the clean room tech of Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services, which join existing vendors like Habu and Snowflake, the company is announcing at technology conference CES today.

Disney also built a tool called Disney Portal with Habu to make it simpler for advertisers that are less adept at using sophisticated clean room technology. The tool is “the first step toward a self-service clean room,” according to a Disney press release.

The offer is already attracting supporters. Two buy-side clients that had previously deferred from using Disney’s clean room tech because it was too complicated are now reconsidering because of Disney Portal, which was pitched to advertisers before the conference, said Robert Webster, global vp of strategy at CvE.

“It was all quite messy,” Webster added, noting that the problem is more with clean room tech than with Disney. “It will be much more seamless.”

Clean rooms have become important as brands have amassed large stores of first-party data to prepare for the demise of third-party cookies. But clean rooms are not merely a cookieless solution: They allow for more precise data targeting, and for media companies like Disney—where a large swath of inventory is delivered on the often-cookie-free environments of TV and streaming devices—they can unlock the full promise of programmatic television buying.

Brands need activation and measurement

Over the past two years, Disney has learned exactly how brands can most effectively use clean rooms.

At first, Disney assumed that activation and measurement could be separate processes and workstreams, but it soon learned that any brand using a clean room to activate also needed it to work for measurement, McGraw said.

So far, brands have used clean rooms to measure the incrementality of Disney’s audience and execute more accurate targeting; the company says its match rates average between 60% and 80%. Omnicom Media Group told Digiday that the match rate of three clients using Disney was above 92%, compared with 30% to 40% for traditional data on-boarders.

To help brands target beyond the audiences that match, Disney can create lookalike audiences, as job site Indeed used to help lead to double-digit increases in conversions when buying Hulu ads via Disney clean rooms.  

Ceilings to growth

With the clean room partner expansion and the new easier-to-use Disney Portal tool with Habu, more brands should be able to reap these benefits. However, clean rooms are still not applicable to all advertisers that don’t have the resources.

“A clean room only makes sense when you have some meaningful data to share,” said Ameet Shah, senior vp of publisher operations and strategy at Prohaska Consulting.

That means there’s potentially a ceiling for growth on Disney’s clean room, but Shah noted that the hardest part for a publisher to successfully operate a clean room is having enough audience data to make it worth an advertiser’s time, which Disney has already done.

“Data clean room is an add-on capability,” Shah said. “It’s a natural bolt-on to bigger pieces of which [are] already done.”