Getting Serious About 'Video Neutrality'

As interactive video advertising has increasingly included platforms other than the desktop, the term “video-neutral” has been on the lips of more and more advertisers and agencies.  But the fact that “video neutrality” hasn’t happened yet perhaps indicates several thing: first and foremost, that the industry doesn’t really understand what “video-neutral” means. 

And so, for the sake of making sure we are all on the same page, I submit my working definition of the term: “Video-neutral” implies that a video advertisement can run across any screen, enabling clients to garner the corresponding GRP value and add these to aggregated analytics for a given campaign (with the help of Nielsen and Facebook Online Campaign ratings, among other data sources).

But even among those who do understand what video-neutral means -- what it’s supposed to mean, at least -- the actual implementation of such a concept has yet to happen on a large scale.  Buying is still mostly done in silos across online, TV, mobile, and out-of-home platforms, making measurement a challenge.  And even though an ever-larger portion of the population is watching film and television programming away from film and television screens, this difficulty with measurement makes it difficult to show that cross-platform video campaigns (which would run more effectively and affordably in a video-neutral world) add reach and new, unique impressions that would otherwise be unmet.

Look for “Neutral” Predecessors

One of the biggest concerns voiced over video-neutral practices is that, while nice in theory, they’re impossible to execute in real life.  But other media types have been able to create device-neutral content.  Think of how tools like the Marmalade SDK, or the rise of HTML5, have enabled app designers to code once, and run across multiple platforms with little-to-no intervention.  These and some others can be deployed quickly and universally across screens ranging in size from giant desktop monitors to small smartphones, without distortion or poor user experience. 

Unfortunately, if there is only one real version of a given app, there is only one real source of data for it.  So even though today’s standards isolate ad performance or available inventory by platform, all data and metrics can theoretically be consolidated into one platform, if they are all generated in the same video-neutral ecosystem.  Even if the app developers themselves don’t have the ability to capture this type of measurement, there are companies like Tapad that not only measure performance across multiple screens, but can also even link the screens across users, telling app builders which of their ad inventory was most effective for a certain class of consumer.

The apps ecosystem is just as susceptible to device fragmentation as video ads, if not more so.  But many apps can run across multiple devices (and have been doing so for years), with consolidated performance reporting both possible and relatively simple today.  It’s time for us to follow their lead and stop protesting that video neutrality is impossible.

All TV Is Video, but Not All Video Is TV

Not only are purchasing and measuring in video currently contained within silos by platform, they’re also subject to two bigger silos: “traditional” (TV and, to a lesser extent, film) and “digital” (including online, mobile, and out-of-home).  The exact same ad -- say, a trailer for the upcoming “X-Men” movie -- could run during a television commercial break, as pre-roll on YouTube, and on a taxicab’s backseat screen, but the people who placed it, and are tracking its success, generally remain separated across platforms.  It’s essential to stop segmenting these teams and start acknowledging that the best way to make sure we’re reaching our audience both at home and away is to consolidate our resources.  Video neutrality cannot happen if video budget is split into different buckets, or if digital and traditional video buys come from two different budgets entirely.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have a prospective client say: “We think what you do is awesome, but our digital marketing budget is completely spoken for until the next fiscal year,” knowing full well that there’s still room in their television budget.  It’s not our contacts’ faults that the budgets were built this way.  But if we as an industry are really serious about becoming video-neutral, we need to educate buyers that this is misguided and inefficient. 

If we curate cross-platform demonstrations that show how much easier their work would be, and how much wider their reach, maybe there’s a chance that budgets can shift and all TV and video can be consolidated under one team and one budget.  After all, this was at the heart of the MediaOcean deal with FreeWheel last year, and made FreeWheel such a hot company that Comcast had to buy it.

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1 comment about "Getting Serious About 'Video Neutrality'".
  1. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , May 9, 2014 at 10:22 a.m.
    How is this even possible? For example, on TV you can assume that the sound is turned on, but on Web and mobile many people have the sound turned off. Don't issues like this prevent Video Neutrality except for lowest common denominator content?