This post is by Rebecca Newman, research executive at MEC.

As streaming services, such as Netflix, grow in popularity, advertisers should be aware of audience discomfort over what is seen as inappropriate content.

With the continuing rise of consumers taking control over their viewing by streaming video content to watch; whatever and whenever they want, new services are being launched and existing services continuously developed. In March, news emerged that YouTube is allegedly releasing a subscription-based video-on-demand service to bring it in direct competition with other streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime and market leader, Netflix. While on 30th March, Channel 4 launched its new digital hub, All 4, which now acts as one digital hub for all of Channel 4's linear channels, digital content and other online services.

With a variety of services, paid and unpaid, now available, VoD is well established as part of the UK consumer's lives – three-quarters of adults claim to have viewed on-demand and online content at least once and this is even higher among 16-24 year olds at 94% (Source: Ofcom, Attitudes to Online and On-demand Content, April 2015).

Netflix has over 57 million subscribers globally and dominates the UK paid-video streaming market, attracting 19% of VoD customers within the past year. Memberships of subscription services are driving the growth of digital, with subscription revenues increasing by 56% in 2014 to £437million. Predictably, the free video content platforms acquire the highest reach, with YouTube the preferred choice and BBC iPlayer the most popular catchup service (Source: Mintel).

As expected, viewers of online and on-demand content are more likely to view it via non-TV-based devices; 74% use a PC/Mac/laptop, 49% a smartphone and 40% a tablet. When viewing is TV-based, it is typically through a set-top box or games console. Not surprisingly, younger viewers (teens and 16-24-year-olds) are more likely to use tablets and smartphones than adults and 16-24 year olds are much more likely to use free streaming sites than buying or renting DVDs. With Millennials' preference for 'binge-watching' series, VoD services are highly attractive (Source: Ofcom, Attitudes to Online and On-demand Content, April 2015).

It is clear that online video has matured over the past 18 months and along with it marketers' attitudes. Digital adspend is growing considerably year on year, with £7.2bn spent in 2014, up 14% from 2013 with £442m spent on digital video with the greatest share of this (93%) spent on pre-post roll (Source: IAB).

In parallel to increasing usage of VoD services, concerns are growing over what content is available and what is shown online. With pre-post roll connecting ads extremely closely to programme content, this is of prime interest to advertisers. A survey by Ofcom found that 11% of viewers have watched content that has caused concern, with younger age groups viewing concerning content more frequently. Violence, sex, bad language and bullying are the top concerns for adults and teens, as is victimisation of themselves or others. When exposed to it, half of viewers choose to stop watching concerning content, however, they would still continue using the service (Source: Ofcom, Attitudes to Online and On-demand Content, April 2015).

Regulation of content online and on-demand is sought by consumers (41%), with parents and females feeling stronger about this. Online content, in particular, advertising is constantly under scrutiny and the number of complaints made are consistent and frequent. 31% of adults have made a complaint to either the content provider or to a third-party body (e.g. ASA, Ofcom) after seeing something of concern. Consumers have a mixed understanding of regulation online; viewers correctly identify TV catch-up services as regulated (63% thought they were regulated) whereas 22% of people thought that non- professional content such as You Tube was regulated – which it isn't.

However, the greatest misattribution is for videos on news websites and brands/organisations' YouTube channels with 48% and 41% believing they are regulated respectively (Source: Ofcom, Attitudes to Online and On-demand Content, April 2015). It is not only consumers that are demanding content regulation, brands are too. The NSPCC launched a campaign about online safety to minimise the risk of children viewing content that is inappropriate, with a new 'share aware' element launching in January 2015.

So what does this all mean? Viewing VoD continues to increase at a fast pace. There are huge opportunities for brands in this space, but it is increasingly important to ensure the content being linked to the brands is appropriate for the audience. There is also a clear need to educate on which services are regulated and which are not.