Courtesy of social media, the endless scroll appears to be the default mobile interface now. The search for appropriate ad units for the ingrained vertical swipe reflex will be the mobile ad story for the next couple of years. The persistent banner was the first stab at keeping a brand in the flow. The in-feed promotions from Facebook and Twitter, now Tumblr and Instagram, have given us something closer to the full-page print ad now inserted into the contemporary behavior of scrolling. And as Facebook has already teased, the in-feed autoplay video format is coming.
This week Adcolony beat Facebook to the punch. The ad network/tech company is rolling out an Instant-Feed HD Video product at SXSW that expands on the model that made the company successful among mobile game and video publishers, high-def video pre- and post-rolls that avoided lag. Until now, AdColony focused much of its business on premium publishers in the entertainment segment, where video advertising was essentially a native format. CEO Will Kassoy tells me they reached a $100 million-a-year revenue run rate by leveraging the kinds of content environments where users are in a “state of want” rather than need. In game, sports, movie and even news apps, he contends, people are spending 10 to 15 minutes a session in search of something entertaining. A couple of years ago the company introduced video ad end-card experiences that allowed the viewer to interact further with the brand after the ad. In most cases, Kassoy says, users want to see even more video after seeing a short video ad. “The most popular call to action is to watch more video,” he says.
The new in-feed format is an autoplay model that allows publishers to get the higher revenue attached to video advertising but within the context of a standard scrolling content interface rather than just as a pre-roll on a selected video experience. The model adds a new format that also helps AdColony expand into more verticals, including the newer messaging apps and just about any content provider using the scroll interface. “I see the opportunity for apps to have less advertising overall and eliminate banners,” Kassoy says. His pitch to publishers is that in-feed video is an opportunity to make more money from fewer ads.
The ad creative is already gearing up for such in-feed experiences, he says. Vine and Instagram have essentially paved the way for fleeting video spots. Rather than reiterating the :15s and :30s of TV advertising, still online video mainstays, he expect agencies to begin gearing up mobile-specific creative that exploits the scrolling opportunity.
The risk with auto-play video is annoyance… and noise. Even more so than the unwanted ad blasting from a worker's cubicle, a spot blurting audio from your handheld violates a basic tenet of mobile -- its private and intimate nature. Publishers can control the experience. Video can auto-play with or without sound, and a tap expands the video. Others will be doing something similar to this, of course. AdColony is hoping to leverage its existing reputation for instant-on video, which presumably will cut down on the lag problem associated with having rich creative pop up as someone is quickly scrolling through a mobile feed. Kassoy argues that AdColony is succeeding because it is a video ad net with a demonstrable technology difference -- hi-def instant-on experiences.
AdColony also has an interesting solution to the dangers of autoplay video, however -- a default setting of 25% volume for the audio track. Tapping the semi-muted in-feed video can both expand the video and raise the audio to normal levels. Kassoy says they found through user testing that this technique of semi-muting audio was an acceptable compromise.
Measuring this kind of autoplay format is a challenge unto itself. What counts in a scrolling feed as a view? Kassoy says they are working to establish a viewability metric around the format, distinguishing among videos that scroll past on a screen and those clicked to view full screen and completed. They are also tracking after-view actions. The in-feed format has been beta tested with the Bacon Reader for Reddit, and at SXSW AdColony is expanding the test to other publishers.
In just looking at the usage stats for entertainment and news content, Kassoy says the potential for in-feed video to amplify the TV ad buy is incalculable. “We see peak activity in viewership and engagement between 6 and 10, aligned with prime time viewing.” Echoing or expanding on TV spots with synchronized mobile exposures has the potential to move a brand deeper into a consumer's consideration set. AdColony had five advertisers from the Super Bowl who were sending their spots to mobile within 20 minutes of their air time for echoing on handsets. “We are not only looking at real-time scheduling but what are the types of programs that people are buying on TV, and who is that audience?” he says. “Then we try to reach them 24 to 36 hours after the TV viewing.”
It seems to me that in-feed video ads like AdColony's as well as the upcoming Facebook spots, Tumblr animated GIFs, as well as Instagram and Vine units, all have the potential to mimic the familiar interruptive ad experience of TV commercials but with the elective quality of the full-page magazine ad. No doubt, as with the in-feed units that already clutter my Facebook feed, the format could become irritating quickly if not used judiciously and targeted effectively. One would hope, for all of our sakes, that the inherent use case of the format compels advertisers to be more creative with the experience of the scroll. This new media consumption behavior of scrolling on handsets challenges creative to capture our attention and earn our interest quickly.