Warming Up The Mobile TV Tubes

"You bore easily," my partner observes. She is responding to my Apple TV habits, which usually involve gorging on trailers of films old and new without actually renting anything.

I am a chronic media sampler. I like to dip my toes into a lot of content, but only really swim in select ponds. My nightstand has about five or six books I am just starting. At some point I decide which one I will stick with and then leave the rest to lend out to others. My partner, on the other hand, must read whatever she starts to completion. "Don't you want to know what happens?" she insists? No, not really. It's all made-up, ya know.

But all this makes me the perfect mobile video snacker. Among the many end-of-year predictions the mobile industry CEOs are sending journalists' way this week, one persistent prognostication involves the inevitable take-off of mobile video. While no one is ready to call 2010 the "year of video" for the platform, the acceleration of interest among users and advertisers is dramatic this season. Ujjal Kohli, CEO of Rhythm NewMedia. is claiming a "spectacular" fourth quarter, with over 20 campaigns running across his network of more than a dozen TV-brand apps for TMZ, AMC. CW, E! and Family Guy. "Our advanced bookings for Q1 2010 are looking even stronger than Q4. We are starved for inventory," he says.



Kohli was announcing the company's new RAMP (Rhythm Advertising Media Platform), which networks pre-rolls, static interstitials, and banner ads through partners' properties on smart phones. On the back end, the system can tie into DART and Atlas real-time reporting.

Right now on most of the properties you can see a circuit of ads from Waterford, MasterCard, Nikon and a host of others. Alas, mobile video advertising is even more beholden than Web video to repurposed 15s and 30s from TV. If anything, I wish there were more empty inventory and shorter spots. I would prefer to see a better ad-to-content ratio, given the fact that I trot across video, drop out of clips, and bail from nanoseconds of buffering with the attention span of a caffeinated gnat.

In the last two quarters, Rhythm NewMedia says it has seen click-through rates in the range of 3% to 11% across its media types, with static interstitials getting closer to 10% to 11% and video getting 3% to 6%. About a quarter of its clients are running ads across all the properties on the network. As with the Web, the targeting that is technologically possible on mobile video is far ahead of marketer readiness or the scalability of the inventory. Most marketers are targeting against content and are aligning themselves with brands they already buy on TV, Kohli tells me.

After years watching the Web video world wring its hands over the need for platform-specific creative, I know better than to whine too hard about the blight of repurposed TV spots. Kohli insists that creating inventory that accommodates these retreads actually helps the industry get a toehold in budgets because it is easy enough for a buyer to hand over their 15s and let the ad network do the rest.


True enough, but I think down the road video is one more instance when mobile can right the wrongs of the Web. It's still astonishing to me that there isn't a bigger pool of Web-friendly pre-roll creative that can be repurposed for mobile. The video ad experience really can be better on mobile than it has been online, and in some cases it already is. For instance, Rhythm, AdMob and others give us better click-through experiences when they keep the user in the app or site and serve up a truly interesting landing page experience.

As I peeved about last time, I think the publishers and the entire mobile eco-system have so much to gain when they assure users that they won't be bounced all over the place. A click-through on one of the video pre-rolls here generally opens a page or  more branded video within the publisher's environment. That is not the current Web experience, and more's the pity.

If publishers truly owned the content experience, then they would confer their brand value more effectively on the advertiser and make the consumer more confident about interacting with the ad. The Internet introduced a truly bizarre ad dynamic that no other medium would tolerate. Publishers let ads hijack the user. Would a TV network let an ad spot change the channel on your TV? No - but a typical click-through on a Web ad does precisely that. If we can establish expectations among users that a click on a mobile ad is a temporary pause in their content experience, they'd be more likely to give the sponsor a second.

The key here is to give them just a second. The other piece of this reformation of digital video advertising does have to be a greater reliance on brevity.

Talk about irony. One of the video pre-rolls I just tested was a Best Buy spot for satellite radio. The pitch spent 10 to fifteen seconds selling me on the idea of having a medium without ad interruptions -- then it pushed me to a clip that was under a minute. A clip-snacker like me will be happy with a five-second pre-roll; I bet it would be more memorable if the advertiser upped the frequency but kept the interruption short.

In all my experience testing streaming media ad formats over the years, one still stands out as by far the most effective. When The Onion launched its Onion Radio News audio podcasts years ago they ended each one-minute daily show with a three-to-four second pitch for the sponsor. It was there and gone before a resentful user could even hit the fast-forward button, but it was there every day.

Years later I still recall the sponsor, Chili's. How many streaming media programs can boast that kind of four-year brand recall?

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