Online Video Has No Character

What's your favorite television show? Who's your favorite character?

"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.

26 comments about "Online Video Has No Character ".
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  1. Jay Oconner from World Colours Network Inc., April 29, 2010 at 1:39 p.m.

    There will be an alternative to Pre-roll as the hostage factor including the poor quality must be addressed. Ari if you would like to kick around a few ideas we would love to show you what the next generation of interactive WCN Brandcasting Product Placement Merchandsing Platform. Which seemlessly allows users to pull quality content and buy anything they see without distrubing the video. No pre roll, post roll. No 15, 30 second commercials.

  2. Jason Krebs from Tenor/Google, April 29, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.


  3. Randy Kilgore from Tremor Video, April 29, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

    Talk about missing the point. I work for Tremor Media, so we can let the readers decide whether my rebuttal is valid or biased. But here it is nonetheless.

    I'm a Phillies fan living in NY. The Phils won in 11 innings yesterday. I went online to see the highlights. I'm first presented with a pre roll. Fair trade: content I want for free in return for a commericial message. Oh, and by the way, I'm a fairly desirable demographic.

    Just because i wasn't starstuck by someone named creed doesn't mean the basic commitment between media company and marketer wasn't met. After all, programs like Office are just a means to an end. They are created to aggregate audiences so marketers can present their messages. The better the content, the higher the associated price. But it's really about connecting message with audience.

    If your point is supposed to be that we're not helping to create more Office like content, fine. But that's a non-sequiter. What we do is help many publishers monetize their professional produced content so people like me can enjoy a good highlight.

  4. Tai Kolenko from HuStream, April 29, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

    You do have a point that the pre-roll ads holds the viewers hostage. I am not a supporter of commercials either. Many content delivery networks love the ad supported model but WatchMojo and shifted their models from ad to licensing fees in an effort to get some dough and their clients said yes. What do you think about companies charging a subscription fee to allow viewers to stream professional video without the ads? Hulu is considering adding a subscription fee of $9.95 per month.

  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 29, 2010 at 3 p.m.

    Randy, I won't hold it against you that you took a swipe at me for being "starstruck" because you missed the point -- I did that to put a smile on my nephew's face -- I also won't hold it against you that you are a Phillies fan -- as a Yankee fan I am just grateful Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins had a bad series otherwise the outcome last year could have been very different and your team looks very good this year -- but back to the point we disagree on -- how did you feel waiting for your video highlight to start? Don't tell me resentment didn't swell up in your belly -- had that highlight started immediately -- would you have been happier? And after the highlight, if there was a bumper that said "stay tune for an interview with Jason Werth after this commercial" -- would you have stuck around?

  6. Tod Sacerdoti from BrightRoll, April 29, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    My favorite characters online are those who wax intellectual about topics in which their knowledge is questionable and try to attack others in a feeble attempt to be relevant.

    In all seriousness, you misinformed, misguided and fundamentally wrong. Video advertisements will likely proceed most free content you consume online (video and other) and consumers have already voted their clear acceptance of this standard.

    Of course we would all prefer no ads...but that is as true in every medium. As for your love of traditional media, I encourage you to visit my photo this mornign aptly titled The Power of Fail - Your post falls nicely in line.

  7. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 29, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

    Tod, I am trying to understand your rebuttal post but it's slightly to esoteric for me to comprehend. Are you saying consumers like preroll advertising? I do not think online video content should have zero advertising attached to the experience -- I do believe the consumer is better served if the content comes first, then a commercial, and then more content.

    As for your attack on my character and understanding of the industry, I of course forgive you -- everyone has bad days and you appear to be taking yours out on me.

  8. Steven Comfort from Namo Media, April 29, 2010 at 5:05 p.m.

    Jay -- what do you think of Neilsen's take on audience perception of TV ads vs Online Video? It seems to fly in the face of nearly everything you've written in this post...

  9. Steven Comfort from Namo Media, April 29, 2010 at 5:06 p.m.

    I meant for that last comment to be directed to Ari...

  10. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 29, 2010 at 5:19 p.m.

    Steven, I read that report as I prepared my column.

    My belief is that ads online are enjoying better recall right now based solely on the lack of clutter compared to television. I wish the study dug deeper into the resentment we all feel being forced to wait for an ad before we see a single second of the content we have chosen to engage.

    This report also made no mention of abandonment rates that occur (consumers bailing on the preroll ad and hence not waiting for their content).

    Online video is working -- it would work much better for consumers if content played when they hit the play button and if the content was more fully developed to hold their attention for a "second segment" right after this commercial break (see the example I responded with for Randy).

    Thanks for bringing this study to the forefront -- I choose common sense over the results you point to. I knew my opinion was flying in the face of the perception that all is good in online video -- I am OK with that. Thanks again for participating in the discussion.

  11. Corey Kronengold from NYIAX, April 29, 2010 at 5:19 p.m.

    Adding to the solid points already laid out by Randy K, Jason K and Tod S, I'll address your question about characters.

    There may not be a character that resonates with your / our demographic, but just like laws, not knowing doesn't mean they don't exist.

    I don't personally like "Fred," but to deny that he's a not a successful character is just plain lunacy. He's in his 3rd season of shows (38 episodes and counting) that regularly receive 10 million views and more. His 2 most popular videos have 20 million and 40 million views.

    How about Felicia Day from The Guild? Or iJustine? What about Obama Girl? And how quickly we forget about LonelyGirl15.

    There's no shortage of crossover characters either. Iliana Douglas, Justine Bateman, Neil Patrick Harris, Lisa Kudrow, to name a few off the top of my head.

    Worse, though, is that you've accused two of the top video ad networks of not being content creators. Its simply not what they do. What they do is aggregate video watching audiences for advertisers, and they both do it very, very well. To blame them because Crackle sells its own ads against The Bannen Way is hardly fair.

    Yes, everyone would prefer a world without ads. But thats completely unreasonable. And we'd all be out of jobs. And there's be even less money to support content development.

    Is web video lacking standout celebrities that are appealing to an adult audience? Sure. Is that the fault of ad networks? Not in the slightest bit.

    (note: yes, I'm a former employee of Tremor Media but will happily defend Brightroll and ScanScout for their accomplishments as well)

  12. Colin Kimball from Small Screen Network, April 29, 2010 at 5:30 p.m.

    I have a simple question: Why does online video have to act like television? Online video is in its infancy. Give it some time. Most of the ad companies you mention will have completely changed form or gone out of business within 5 years.
    Also, why do mainstream characters of hit television shows need to be the standard that we all emulate when producing video content? A successful online video series need not reach millions of people. At Small Screen Network we are producing quality content that speaks to passionate audiences. Our hosts are well known in their industry and well respected. Dare I say that they are celebrities.

    Oh, and we're making money.

  13. Corey Kronengold from NYIAX, April 29, 2010 at 5:38 p.m.

    ...and since Randy was too modest to answer your question...Seth McFarland's Cavalcade of Comedy is a hit that Tremor represented. A hit big enough for Priceline and Burger King to want to sponsor.

  14. Eric Steckel from Turnpike Digital, April 29, 2010 at 5:50 p.m.

    I think that there is one kernal of a good idea that is missed in the rest of this misguided column. Pre-Roll is not ideal- engaging the viewer, cutting to promotional material, and then cutting back to content would probably be a better solution.

    However, to say that there are no characters is blatantly false. There are far more niche "characters" such as HappySlip, Chad Vader and the others that Corey mentioned. They don't have the mainstream appeal that Creed has, but if Ari had seen the YouTube Live event last year (in person or as an Online Video EVENT) he would have recognized the phenomenon for what it is.

    Moreover, to preclude Professional content such as films and TV, misses the point as well. If the online environment weren't in play, why would the networks, Netflix, Hulu etc... be investing so heavily. In California, I have a handful of friends who get all of their video content through online channels, including TV and Film, so don't discount that or pretend that it's not Online Video.

  15. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 29, 2010 at 5:50 p.m.

    Ok finally, someone makes a valid point without attacking me.

    Corey -- your point is well taken -- BrightRoll doesn't make the content, but they do "sell against it" and thanks for naming a few hits -- that is helpful in support against my argument as is your post Colin -- nice.

    Instead of Tod scolding me and Randy making a slightly snide remark, why don't they enter the debate with data that can completely abolish my argument. Show "us" their abandonment rates the next time they put out a self conducted study? My sense is that a surprisingly large percentage of consumers STOP watching the preroll ad out of clear frustration and hence never see the content they wanted to view.

    Corey, does Tremor, BrightRoll and others get paid if the ad starts but doesn't finish?

    Pre-roll ads are hurting the consumer experience with online video -- resentment is a natural occurrence when forced to wait like that -- and yet the companies that sell pre-roll ads make their money regardless of the resentment they inflict on the user -- that is my bone of contention -- I don't think there should be NO advertising, I just think the ads should appear AFTER the initial content is seen.

  16. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, April 29, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.

    Well said Eric -- so online video does have "characters" and does have some quality content out there -- over time these live events, characters and content will rise above the crap -- and when they do -- let the user see it first before they see an ad :)

  17. Steven Comfort from Namo Media, April 29, 2010 at 6:25 p.m.

    I disagree that we all feel "resentment" when watching a pre-roll. The quid pro quo of watching ads to consume free content is pretty clear to me, and the vast majority of TV and online video viewers.

    I also question that there would be value in having online networks disclose drop-off rates, since there is no way that I know of to do the same for TV (measuring % of viewers who are flipping channels during ads, going to the bathroom, etc). Neilsen tried to develop a Passive-PeopleMeter in the early 90s; but that was about as close as the TV industry has come to answering that question (who is watching the ads).

  18. Nick Drew from Microsoft Advertising, April 30, 2010 at 6:34 a.m.

    "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....You don't tune into NBC to watch the start of "The Office" and get met with a commercial"
    OK, I'm gonna go out on a limb here. You haven't watched much European TV, have you? As in, actually in Europe?

    Y'see, in Europe we look at American TV aghast. This idea that in a standard network TV show, you see the opening sequence, then titles, then have an ad break, is completely alien to us. Sure, we have ads, but you at least get to see 10-12 minutes of the show before them!! In fact, one could say that the only difference between the average network TV show in North America and online video is about a minute. And given that so much short-form video is less than 3 minutes in length, it makes perfect sense that the ad should be pre-roll rather than 1 minute into it.
    So, IMO, you need to take a longer look at broadcast TV in the States and think again about how you feel about online video...

  19. Corey Kronengold from NYIAX, April 30, 2010 at 11:46 a.m.

    Ari - I sure am glad I deleted my snarkiest line.

    Re: abandonment rates -- let me point you towards some research that Nate Elliott has been working on for the past two years. His most recent came out just a few weeks ago.

    A year ago, he released a study on abandonment rates in Europe. Despite our knee jerk reactions about abandonment, the data is pointing in a very positive direction for us. To cite his report:"...if a site offers good quality video content and manages their in-stream advertising properly (limiting ad length, controlling ad frequency, eliminating ad clutter), the introduction of pre-roll ads should cost them less than five percent of their video traffic."

    Like Nate, I'd have to say thats data we should all be happy about seeing. And its a neutral 3rd party, so you don't need to even worry about bias from anyone who paid for the study.

    As far as networks getting paid for ads that start but don't finish, the answer is "yes and no." it all depends on how the media was purchased. If I bought media from Tremor on a cost-per-complete basis, which they do sell, then no, I wouldn't be paying for ads that don't finish. If I buy on a straight CPM basis, then yes, you would pay. Its no different than any other form of performance pricing, and frankly, I'm really confused why people have such a hard time understanding the concept when its in a video conversation. Everyone is comfortably buying banners on a CPC basis. It works the same in video.

    In my experience - both inside and out of the ad network space - they are very willing to sell you ads on nearly any metric that you choose. Tremor will sell inventory on a cost per complete, CP engagement, CP continue (start a trailer, but only play a teaser), just about a cost-per-anything you want. I know ScanScout will do the same. I don't have first hand knowledge of the other video ad net pricing, but I'm going to assume that Brightroll and YuMe would do the same.

    What you are proposing as an ad experience is something that I've raised with the The Pool, who are leading a fairly large scale research effort. I asked The Pool (and didn't get a response, so maybe they are mid-research) if they were experimenting with longer form content (like Hulu) about the user experience and ad effectiveness when they started right into the content and hit you with a mid-roll 3 mins into the show.

    The bottom line is that the content needs to be able to support the video ad experience you've described. In Randy's example of the Phillies highlights, it would be very difficult to start a highlight, stop in the middle to show an ad, and then continue.

    The issue where I think you really missed the mark, though, was on quality and targeting. Lets give your argument the benefit of the doubt and say that a lot of the video content that the ad nets represent is not "quality." The scale, targeting and efficiently priced ad units are what allow ad nets to make up for the quality of the content. The traditional ad nets rep plenty of crappy content, too. The web is full of it. But scale and targeting means that I can serve the right ad to the right user regardless of their choice in content.

    The ad nets will continue to deliver the audiences advertisers want, whether they watch The Office on Hulu or Chad Vader on YouTube.

    Now can we talk about the Red Sox instead of the Yankees and Phillies? Then we can talk about PREMIUM content.

  20. Scott Pannier from 47 Media, April 30, 2010 at noon

    This is some juicy stuff in here, lots of back-and-forth. Love it! We've got Scanscout, Tremor, Mr. Comfort (who used to run sales at YuMe). In an ideal world Ari, how would you price online media? You breach branding, you hate networks and 3rd parties, I believe you dislike CPC and CPL/CPA pricing models, yet your company name is Performance Pricing LLC...If you're a publisher reading this column or comments and have over 1 million monthly video views, I'd like to chat with you. Cheers!

  21. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., April 30, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

    Colin has it spot on. Why does online video have to act like TV? Besides - who wouldn't love "The Trashman" from Go watch an archived show, you know you wanna...

  22. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, April 30, 2010 at 6:41 p.m.

    Two things:

    1) The pre-roll theory is among the most specious ever conceived. Essentially, you're trying to force a commercial on someone who's willing to pay extra for the technology to completely bypass the same commercial on TV. Good luck.

    2) As for the preposterous notion that "When you lack quality, you talk about scale", I would suggest that the precise quality missing from every online media buy is the ability to deliver scalable traffic, period. And by scalable traffic, I mean the ability to guarantee millions of actual visitors per day. No traffic, no credit for the impression. Illusory reach proponents need not apply.

    You can't expect to generate scalable traffic with display ads, video or otherwise, in an on-demand world where nobody (the traffic you want) demands it. How else do you explain CTRs (indisputable impressions) of statistical zero?

    We have the misguided capability to produce a virtually limitless supply of a product that nobody wants! That's why you can buy highly avoidable "disputable" impressions all day long for less than a buck per thousand.

    It's not the video that has no character, it's the media plan behind it.

  23. David Samuels from KoldCast TV, April 30, 2010 at 7:10 p.m.

    There are a million things to say about our industry, its content, and the advertising within it. Suffice it to say, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will Online Television, but it will survive and flourish if we work together as an industry.

    It's time for the heads of the ad networks, ad agencies, brand sponsors, and the heads of Online Television networks/platforms to get together for a summit, or the crisis will worsen, and it is a crisis.

    Whatever one thinks of Online TV in its current state, it amazes me how entertaining it can be, despite the total lack of financial support for the industry. It's all about money. And money is tied to quality. As funding increases, more quality programming will emerge. Nonetheless, I am impressed by what filmmakers have done with so little for so long.

    There is a GOLDEN opportunity for major brands to step up and show their support for independent filmmakers. When they do, they will be rewarded with excellence.

    MORE in a recent column I wrote for The Huffington Post.

  24. Ken Nicholas from VideoAmp, April 30, 2010 at 8:52 p.m.

    Ari, You have incited some very senior people here, to the point that they can't type straight...or at least without typos. Wow.

    In any case, the BR "report" may be a bit self-serving [seen a ton of those before, from many firms, so no big deal there.] And technically, your larger viewpoint IS correct on face value; i.e. that BR, Tremor, Joost, etc. do not "own" any hit shows. And?

    So overall you are not correct, in that, NONE of those firms claim to be in the 'Development' business at all, [which I know from my having sold against, or had dialogue with, all of them.]

    So to single them out here is a bit mis-applied, I'm afraid.

    If we marry your points about the 'infancy' of WebTV, with David Samuels' [who is spot on]...there's a serious article...or SERIES of them to weigh in on...

  25. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, May 2, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.

    Ken, thanks for weighing in -- and same to you David.

    My learning from all of these responses is that there is quality online video content being produced -- more than I gave credit for -- but my point as clearly as I can restate it is this;

    Selling "pre-roll ads" is causing everyone involved to take their eye off quality and it diminishes video content consumption -- if content was served immediately -- users would watch more of it. I believe preroll advertising should be eliminated from the online video experience -- sell sponsorships of that page instead, and include "post rolls" so the pressure is on the advertiser to create an ad that will keep the user's attention.

    As annoying as that sounds to the video ad network players, it would cause this sector to rethink how they can serve the interests of the consumer first, and the advertiser second -- right now, they have it reversed.

  26. David Samuels from KoldCast TV, May 3, 2010 at 1:15 a.m.

    Ari, I absolutely agree. And pre-roll pays for nothing. The minor revenue generated is generally split by the content creator and the distribution platform, after the ad networks have taken their non-transparent cut, rendering little economic benefit to anyone other than the ad networks. For this, we risk destroying the entertainment experience among viewers. It's sad and troublesome. This model will not survive.

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