"The Office" is my favorite show. My 17-year-old nephew Jake loves it as well. When prompted, he can recall verbatim the best line from any episode. I often text him to describe which episode I am watching -- and sure enough, he nails it every time. Our favorite character is Creed.
I was in the reception room at Time Inc. here in New York a few weeks ago and standing next to me was Creed. So I approached him and explained how much my nephew loves him and asked if I could take his picture. Creed, which is his real name, responded, "I will be bummed when people stop asking." So I handed my iPhone to his agent, put my arm around my new friend and then sat back down on the couch to text the photo to Jake.
Creed looked over at me typing away, so I explained what I was doing. Then he said, "Why don't we just call your nephew?" Stunned and smiling from ear to ear, I dialed Jake's number and handed him the phone. The call went into voice mail, so Creed left a hysterical message Jake later shared with all his friends.
What's your favorite show online? What character from an online show would you love to meet in real life? Beyond repurposed television content and a talking orange no one will be talking about a year from now, there are no "characters" that viewers care about online. So much of the online video content out there is so easily forgettable. So in swoop the "video networks" to hype online video's value when there is very little to speak of.
Case in point: BrightRoll, which announced through its own research study everything is coming up roses in the online video world (which is like McDonald's announcing Big Mac's are healthy). BrightRoll's clients, according to this self-conducted research report, all plan to increase spending across BrightRoll's video network. The reasons given for this increase included audience reach, superior targeting capabilities, efficient pricing and the pre-roll ads they can run prior to the consumer engaging any content. There was no mention buyers were purchasing this inventory based on the quality of the content.
When you lack quality, you talk about scale, targeting and efficiently priced ad executions -- and BrightRoll is not alone in steering this type of conversation. Tremor is another big player in this space, boasting 1,500 sites in its network. Can anyone name a hit video show under the Tremor umbrella? The number of total aggregated video plays does not equal quality.
So why are these and other companies in the online video space enjoying success despite the lack of quality content? One word, albeit a hyphenated one: pre-roll.
Online video holds users hostage, forcing them to view an ad before they can view any content. This induces advertisers to overlook the importance of quality, because their ads are seen regardless if the user engages with the content.
Consumer resentment for these ads isn't reported, and abandonment rates are swept under the rug. So the pre-roll ad is celebrated when it should be recognized as another telltale sign of the lack of quality in online video.
You don't tune into NBC to watch the start of "The Office" and get met with a commercial. Consumers are greeted with a window into the characters they care about, and only after engagement occurs does a commercial appear. This order of content engagement prior to the first commercial ensures the focus is on the production of quality content. Online video led by these ad networks reversed this order, ensuring networks make money first while quality takes a back seat.
Online video should enjoy its day in the sun. A few more companies will get acquired, while leaving behind nothing of value. Not even the scent of Lysol -- whose parent company committed $40 million dollars in online video pre-roll ads priced at a $2 CPM with no restrictions on where their ads appear -- can cover up this smell forever.