Viacom Bets On 'Skinny Leaderboard' To Up Tablet Content, Ads

by , Apr 19, 2012, 4:16 PM
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The-Dailyshow-AppAs the tablet audience begins to gain critical mass, with tablet penetration in the U.S. reaching 15% to 20% of mobile users, publishers and marketers are still searching for formats that are best suited to the device. In lieu of new industry standards for tablet advertising, desktop ad units are often shoehorned into the device’s smaller screen. But that means they eat up more real estate than they would on a PC screen.

To solve that problem, one major media player has created its own standard tailored to the tablet screen. Viacom has been using what it calls a “skinny leaderboard” on the tablet version of sites for key brands like MTV, VH-1 and “The Daily Show.” Instead of the standard 728 x 90 leaderboard for desktop sites, the tablet-optimized equivalent is 768 x 50, leaving more space below for content.

Discussing the format at the AdMonsters OPS Mobile conference Thursday, Sol Masch, director of mobile for MTVN Digital sales, said the "skinny leaderboard" keeps too much content from getting pushed below the fold. That’s especially important, since tablet users often swipe across pages rather than scroll down to see more material.

“When the [tablet] user gets to a page, they can still see a lot of content and the ad unit doesn’t get in the way,” he said. The same is true whether someone is looking at a page in portrait or landscape mode.

Masch said the modified leaderboard format not only improves the user experience, but also fits with advertisers’ expectations for a new ad option for a new platform. “The tablet to an advertiser is a brand new medium, so we wanted a new ad unit to go with it,” he said. At the same time, the company has embedded tablet sites with code to accommodate IAB standard ad sizes if that’s what a marketer prefers.

When it comes to performance, Masch noted that click-through rates have varied depending on the creative. “But in general we've seen click-through rates significantly higher for these units than standard leaderboard creative,” he said. Viacom plans to roll out its skinny leaderboard ad as it optimizes more of its roughly 100 sites overall for the tablet screen.

Masch also discussed the company’s use of so-called responsive design techniques to develop a single site that can be automatically optimized for a given platform, whether PC, tablet or smartphone. But he acknowledged that effort is not without challenges because the adaptations go beyond just resizing content across screens.

“We don’t have the same rights for music videos on mobile and tablets as online, so a lot of controls have to be put in place to make sure content is optimized for each device,” he added.

Earlier this week, Viacom released findings showing 62% of tablet owners user their devices daily and 74% of tablet use is at home. The survey of 2,500 consumers also found that 15% of full-length television viewing is done through a tablet device.

Masch explained that Viacom initially assumed that people would use tablets purely for watching TV and video without distractions. “What we found is completely the opposite case. As they are watching TV, they’re engaging with social media or other interactive experiences. They’re using it as an additional screen in the living room,” he said.

The company has tried to capitalize on two-screen viewing through apps like MTV’s WatchWith and VH-1’s CoStar, offering complementary experiences to its TV programming.

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