According to comScore, nearly 85% of the U.S. Internet audience watches approximately 40 billion content videos monthly. That sounds like a big audience worthy of major advertising dollars. Upon closer look, the average video length consumed by this audience remains between five and six minutes, and has stuck within that range for the past few months. This shows that online video is still dominated by short-form clips, much to the detriment of marketers and the ad industry. Short-form is great for pre-roll, but not for pulling in TV-like budgets from major brands. That will largely come from long-form content.
The IAB defines long-form video as content that is greater than 10 minutes in length. This content was crucial in driving views across several YouTube channels, according to December statistics, confirming an industry shift that consumers are turning to more long-form content.
The challenge with long-form online content lies in the fact that neither pre-roll nor traditional TV models work effectively for brand engagement. Pre-roll can be effective for shorter clips and between clips watched in succession, but it’s a missed opportunity for long-form and undervalues the level of viewer engagement with the content. TV-like disruptive ads have the same effect, since consumers can skip ahead on some platform and click to another tab on others. While this model makes it easier for brands to compare online to traditional TV buys and has caught on with entities like Hulu and TV.com, wedging TV models into the digital video landscape is more of a quick fix than a long-term solution.
To find a viable ad format for long-form content, industry players need to look at what’s driving long-form views. One of the biggest areas contributing to this shift is sports video, with a growing number of live-streamed events, including the Super Bowl, Sunday Night Football, and the Masters. The Olympics and NCAA Basketball Tournament proved that they could consistently draw a sizeable audience, even during traditional work hours. Other video categories are successful in streamed events as well. For example, CBS’s “Live on Letterman” series has brought in millions of video viewers by broadcasting full concerts on Vevo.
These events should be considered sponsorship-worthy opportunities, where a brand (or brands) can own the presentation of the video. For effective consumer engagement, brands must ensure that their message is present for the entirety of the event, with pre- and post-roll placements, as well as on-screen assets, live reads, adjacent banner ads and social media engagement opportunities. It's crucial that such messaging be integrated into the overall entertainment experience, extending beyond traditional spot marketing.
Brands that want to take advantage of a long-form sponsorship need to look for a built-in audience and content that will remain topical -- and hopefully, evergreen. Some great examples of television integration include the Pepsi and AT&T work with “American Idol.” Conversely, some of the best branded digital content work I’ve seen to date correlates to the celeb / pop culture and college humor platforms, as these publishers can offer corresponding media on their site (such as IAB ad units) to increase the share of voice while viewers are consuming the long-form video.
Long-form sponsorship, when done right, should feel like an effort – it’s not simply identifying a program and inserting a 15-second pre-roll. The two-month process, which includes concept creation, program iteration and final product creation, is well worth the time in the end. Working with publishers who have executed these larger scale initiatives in the past ensures the best return on investment.
As more significant events become available for long-form streaming in 2013, leading to a prolonged digital video experience, content owners and brands will be challenged to reinvent the branded content experience and create impactful communication platforms for all parties.