How Digital Video Publishers Should Adapt Their Strategy as Consumers Embrace Online Video

The Video Audience"The Video Audience" is a column written by members of the media community and focused on the evolving world of online video advertising.

Today's column is written by Mike Gaffney, CRO, at Auditude.

Television advertising dollars are starting to follow consumers and move online in a meaningful way.

We will examine three strategies that digital video publishers (defined as content owners and distributors) should employ to benefit from this trend:

  1. Support ad products that excite advertisers, but are not custom executions;
  2. Reach your entire addressable audience, not just viewers on your website;
  3. Experiment with ad loads for different types of users and content.

There are simple measures that publishers can take today to position themselves to capitalize on the phenomenal growth in digital video advertising.

1. Ad products don’t have to be scary

Everyone agrees that just running 30-second pre-rolls is a recipe to annoy audiences but discussions about how publishers can differentiate themselves through advanced ad products quickly devolve into worries about technical complexity and visions of operational treachery.   Therefore, no one does anything and you still see a lot more 30-second spots than you should, if only because those creatives exist and they are the easiest ones to run.

There are, however, some simple ways to provide a differentiated and scaled experience for advertisers, and the technology exists today to execute on these. The key is to use a simple notion of a linear content timeline to create ad experiences that vary by duration of stream, distribution environment and/or type of content.

Here are examples that we have seen done effectively:

  • Short 5- or 10-second pre-roll ads paired with one or two non-linear lower-thirds that display while the content is playing. This is the “less is more” model. Users appreciate the shorter-duration ads, and advertisers benefit from multiple opportunities to aid recall.
  • Pod exclusivity during long-form commercial breaks – instead of showing multiple ads (like on television), let one advertiser own 100% share of voice during a particular break. Everyone wins: users are happy with the lighter ad load; advertisers don’t compete for attention; and publishers can charge a premium.
  • Playlists – i.e. the ability to sync or sequence multiple elements to roadblock an environment or showcase a narrative across breaks or streams.

The key is to keep it simple and make sure there is something in it for everyone. Just because you can run some flashy expanding ad unit that whirs and blinks does not mean that you should.

2. TV (and web-only video content) really is everywhere

The hype about the rise of devices (e.g. iPads) and connected TVs is real. While it may feel like early days to some, this nascent shift in user behavior is accelerating at a pace that means adoption is going to be faster than many suspect. The fact is that people want to watch what they want to watch wherever they are, and on whatever device is preferred and/or most readily available. And, as we move toward a web that is more about objects and interests than pages and links, we will see a new form of consumption being driven by consumers understanding the preferences of their friends (think Facebook but for TV). It is unlikely to be a notion of "group watching or commenting" but rather a fragmentation of video assets that are more easily identified and found. Consider it a new form of search driven by social connections and recommendations that enables audiences to more easily find content online or on connected TVs.

The implication is that if you just sell the audience that is watching your content on your website, increasingly you are going to miss a larger and larger percentage of your true audience. That means fewer impressions to sell and, importantly, inefficiencies for the marketers trying to engage with your audiences. The easier you are to buy from, the more you will sell.

Two suggestions:

  • Define “your audience” as anyone watching your content. Do this now, not two years from now, so that as your audience becomes more distributed you are ready for this with an approach, tools and processes that support multi-environment selling.
  • Focus on the current top tier of devices now – i.e. Android and iPad/iPhone. The immediate revenue opportunity aside, marketers love innovation and like working with publishers that can deliver new and unique offerings.

If you think about your audience in terms of addressability, you should always be looking for opportunities to reach users in new environments. Eventually, multi-environment delivery of ads will be a prerequisite to participate in RFPs, and you should scale your capabilities in anticipation of this.

3. Show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In short, have sensible ad policies. Users understand that to watch full episodes online they will have to watch more than a single pre-roll ad. But moving to a full television-like ad load now, with 20+ minutes of ads per 60 minutes of content, is not reasonable either, unless you are showing a live rebroadcast (e.g. like a Major League Baseball game).

Some best practices:

  • Test ad loads and then compare ad completion rates and streams (or chapters) per user. You will know pretty quickly if the ad load is excessive and eventually you will be able to hone in on the optimal ratio of ads to content to maximize revenue.
  • Vary ad loads depending on the device, duration of programming and type of content. What works in one place may not work as well in another.
  • Stagger the duration of ad pods in long-form programming – a long pod just before the conclusion of a program is sure to rankle, whereas one 15 minutes in may not.
  • If users are bouncing from one clip to another without actually watching much content, do not continually show pre-roll ads before each clip. Put in a buffer of at least a couple minutes between ad opportunities.

The idea is not to show fewer ads, but to be smarter about how you manage your policies so that you maximize viewership and, ultimately, ad opportunities.

In summary, there are tools available today that can deliver a much richer marketer and user experience in digital video. In a linear environment where a consumer is engaged in a extended consumption of content, continuing to use your display advertising technology to deliver a sub-par video advertising experience will ensure that dollars will be left on the table and users dissatisfied with the experience.

Follow Auditude (@auditude) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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