The Syndicated Video Black Market

I first heard the phrase "Syndicated Video Economy" while eating lunch with Will Richmond, the founder of VideoNuze.  We were discussing how the distributed power of the Web would eventually produce many large online video businesses. While this turned out be true,  a black market has also emerged --  as in all big industries.

The syndicated video black market is dominated by a small number of video syndication firms, ad networks and tier-three publishers, all of which appear to be both codependent and increasingly unscrupulous.  I was disappointed over the weekend to receive an email from one of our lead engineers that demonstrated a cleverly hidden ad tactic previously seen only in the display world.

In this black market example, I was shocked to see not one, but six publisher sites appearing in invisible 1x1 pixels hidden behind a banner ad, serving video from a video syndication firm and multiple video ads from Coke, Verizon and others served by two video ad networks.



So how can advertisers avoid participating in this black market economy?  Here are five tips:

1.     Demand site-by-site reporting. Nothing ferrets out a bad actor more quickly than asking for site-by-site reporting.  Site verification is a good step, but it is only a half solution.  If a vendor refuses to provide site-by-site reporting, simply walk away.  If you do get it, beware of names that are not actually sites but a collection of sites or another syndicator that requires another site list.

2.     Pay less for content in syndication. We all understand the paradigm of risk vs. reward, and syndicated content clearly has a higher risk.  Our internal research clearly shows that syndicated content is less valuable than content appearing on the content owner's site.  Start by paying much less for syndicated content until you are 100% comfortable with the inventory -- or avoid it altogether.

3.     Do research. This may sound obvious, but so few agencies and clients do it.  Measure the performance of vendors that are syndicated vs. those that aren't, and the performance of onsite content vs. syndicated content. 

4.     Beware of syndicators that syndicate in display inventory. The video industry is a small space and it is quite easy to find out which companies are buying their video syndication through display inventory.  Ask around and if you hear the same name mentioned a few times, avoid those vendors.  Nearly every example of the syndicated video black market involves a limited number of vendors, so you don't have to work too hard to avoid the majority of the problems.

5.     Remember what your mother said: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When a vendor claims to have millions of availabilities in a narrow DMA target and you can't recall ever seeing their video players on the Web, they're probably going to buy display inventory to create the inventory. Same thing goes when you're hearing pre-roll prices that are 20% of the industry average.

We are maturing as an industry and we need to work together to maintain our collective quality standards.  The black market hurts everyone in this business, from publishers and advertisers to ad networks and syndicators.  We must come together and address this problem head-on.

If you are interested in working together to create an independent and unbiased organization to shed light on and address these issues, please feel free to contact me directly.  We cannot let stream fraud become the click fraud equivalent in online video.

4 comments about "The Syndicated Video Black Market".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, March 25, 2010 at 11:57 a.m.

    This is an interesting piece and points up the need for an online video model that produces genuine reward rather than deepening risk.

    The only way for a brand to eliminate the inherrent chaos of a 250 million channel online universe, and regain control of its branding process, is to isolate and consolidate all branding on its own site(s).

    Under such a scenario, the publisher sites that previously represented a potential branding minefield become content syndication partners in a scalable traffic network.

    Sound too good or simple to be true?

    I invite anyone who'd enjoy hearing more about this safe, scalable online branding solution to call me at 219-878-1006.

  2. Charles Gabriel from 5Min Media Inc., March 25, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.

    I think it is great that Tod has started this conversation b/c publishers and ad networks alike have yet to be able to nail down an appropriate and scalable model for syndication of video content. Based on continued fragmentation of the web and user behavior, video destinations will reach a ceiling and never be able to replicate the cable/TV model. We have been working with content acquisition teams, editorial teams and some of the best R&D in the world, in conjunction with publishers and content creators, to wire a content syndication platform that is the definition of a "push" model. A model that drives content to users based on their search behavior and contextual matching to web pages. It is not as easy as just leveraging the limited video destinations that exist or leveraging existing display inventory and publisher relationships.

    To speak to Tod's direct points: (1) Site-by-site reporting will come, eventually, when inventory has reached a critical mass. Video is not where the display world is yet and still many networks do not provide site-by-site detail on the display side. It won't be done in current ad network fashion where they non-exclusively represent publishers video inventory and potential placement of content, unless you own and operate the video player and the content feed. Yet, bets have to be placed at some point and risk is a part of marketing. ESPN may never have been what it is today without Budweiser making its bet. So I do not believe this is the biggest hurdle here. I do encourage that as a marketer you understand how exactly the vendor is tied to their collection of publisher’s. Do they rep them? Do they own them? Do they operate the video player? Do they feed content? Do they only feed ads?

    (2) I do not agree here. If a vendor says they can syndicate your branded programming for real cheap, you better know you are getting in-banner executions that will include "hidden" views. The cost of syndicating content wrapped with sponsorship, through in-stream units or branded programming, is significant. Why? Understand the economics involved when existing content is syndicated with sponsorship. There are 3 parties involved in the transaction. If the content is branded programming you need to make it visible and get beyond the clutter of all the existing content on the web. Therefore there must be promotional methods behind it, and strategic placement to ensure visibility and encourage viewership. If part of a strategy is to place CTP in-banner, publishers expect to replace what they would be paid for ALL impressions of that banner, yet advertisers only pay on the interaction or player start. Therefore, you need to hedge against page view conversion to video view. There is a lot more involved in true content syndication than what is being understood and discussed in the marketplace and it requires appropriate pricing to create the right value for the advertiser and the right balance in the video ecosystem.

    Become the comprehensive video solution for publishers (player provider, CMS, streaming, library access, editorial control, monetization); be the supplier of content; be the distributor for the producers/creators and become the aggregator of audiences and we will start to see the video destination model turned on its ear. Video destinations are cages and do not fall in line with users search behavior, particularly when it comes to Lifestyle and News content. We must drive the content to the audience wherever they may be. Consumers shouldn't have to find video content, it should find them and advertisers will gain value from this model.

    If you wish to learn more about online video syndication and 5min Media's content platform and Videoseed technology, please feel free to email me at and I will be more than happy to engage in a discussion.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 25, 2010 at 7:36 p.m.

    For most people at agencies, in house or outsourced, this seems a useful guide to keep on the wall when purchasing video placement.

  4. Lee Freund from TubeMogul, April 7, 2010 at 6:24 p.m.

    Transparency is the name of the game. There are lots of ways to use Video and to distribute Video across the web. The Video asset itself (how compelling with the sound off, length, brand messaging, co-branded, entertainment, educational, etc.) along with budget and objective should determine the distribution strategy. Regardless of the mix, distribution partners must be clear on where and how the Video will be viewed.

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