Tackling Video Click-to-Play Vs. Auto-Play Pre-Roll Advertising

Reality #1: For a visual medium, video is anything but transparent

Everywhere you look, video consumption is growing.  But ask any media buyer and he or she will tell you that quality video inventory is in short supply.  However, when a marketer buys video inventory, sellers miraculously find ways to place and deliver the campaign.

YouTube has become the de facto monopoly when it comes to video market share, but relatively little of the site's videos are being fully monetized.  We are seeing a disequilibrium between demand and supply of video inventory.  In theory, this should lead to an increase in prices for video ads.  In reality, however, monetization per viewing minute is declining.  How come?

Indeed, for some time now, many publishers have effectively sold:

·       Click-To-Play (CTP),

·       user-initiated,

·       sound-on

·       in-stream

·       video pre-roll advertisements

and delivered it as

·       Auto-Play (AP),

·       contextual (alongside other content, be it image or article)

·       user-initiated sound (mute/sound-off)

·       in-banner

·       video pre-roll impressions.

Truth be told, if you line up 10 video professionals, you will get 10 different definitions for what passes as video advertising.   Occasionally, I have seen in-banner video ads defined as any video ad that is delivered in a banner, but that seems to connote a video ad that isn't followed by actual video content, regardless of whether or not it is Auto-Play or Click-To-Play.  Meanwhile, a Pre-Roll is a video ad that is followed by video content, again, regardless of whether or not it is Auto-Play or Click-To-Play. 

Reality #2: Video inventory is scarce

Without a doubt, the highest grade video advertising is the click-to-play, user-initiated, sound-on, contextually relevant pre-roll video ad that precedes the specific content the user chose to watch, with the video player being above-the-fold and ideally accompanied by a related companion banner.   

This kind of inventory is in short supply, because 45% of video views in the US are on YouTube, but YouTube has reduced potential inventory.   A quick survey of the popular video sharing site shows that YouTube doesn't even offer a standard 300x250 companion ad (it features the "ever-popular" 300x60 ad) with pre-rolls. As such, buyers and sellers have been forced to become creative.

Reality #3: Bait and switch is never a long-term strategy

Due to this scarcity, we have seen a degradation of what passes off as video advertising.  A few years ago I was shocked to see video ads loading in-banner, below-the-fold.  Today, at least most stakeholders realize the need to place ads above-the-fold, but the fact remains: what passes off as video advertising isn't necessarily what the marketer signed-off on and approved for his/her campaign. 

Or is it?

Reality #4: Video advertising will always be more "Push" than "Pull"

Truth is: apart from what you see around the Super Bowl, advertising isn't welcome.  Even good advertising is intrusive at best and annoying at worst.  Marketers underwrite free (or close-to-free) content not because they want to, but because they need to.  But the more targeted the advertising, the higher the likelihood that advertising will be tolerated and generate goodwill over the long term.  Why? Due to the utility to the audience of providing what is, hopefully, relevant content.

Reality #5: You get what you pay for

Realistic marketers understand that reality, and the savviest ones realize that all marketing has some value, provided they know what they're paying for.  These days, most marketers that run Auto-Play pre-rolls do so because they feel the effects of quality video's scarcity and its corresponding high rates.

All of this would be fine provided the person/company signing the check was aware of the nuance.  More often than not, everyone is aware of the difference, but they don't really care because these Realities don't leave anyone much choice. 

The key things to consider:

-        differentiate Auto-Play from Click-To-Play when proposing a deal, and

-        price each differently. 

The problem?  Often they're not.  Falsely conditioning marketers into thinking that they are getting filet mignon for the price of a burger will backfire sooner than later.  Burgers are great, provided you don't get served a burger when you think you're ordering -- and paying for -- steak.

In two weeks, we'll look at Realities 6-10 and examine how Click-to-Play and Auto-Play video views can co-exist to make all stakeholders walk away as winners.

A special thanks to both William Lederer, CEO of Kantar Video and James Conley for their feedback, contributions and insights

6 comments about "Tackling Video Click-to-Play Vs. Auto-Play Pre-Roll Advertising".
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  1. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC, February 7, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.

    Great breakdown of a rising trend - video will always work better than static images or text, but the trick is to get the video viewed in a meaningful way. Auto-play is anathema for many people (including me) - I'll leave a site immediately unless it's a product or service I actually want to learn more about. Contextual delivery allows better targeting, but it's critical that the customer HAS to know what s/he's buying, and if it's worth the price.

    Can't wait for 6-10!

  2. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, February 7, 2011 at 4:31 p.m.


    I wanted to read this column of yours as I enjoy your perspective but the more I read, the sicker I felt -- maybe that's because I don't eat red meat!

    Autoplay is a joke; pretending it's ok to allow a video with sound, regardless of a pre-roll ad or not, to just start playing when a user lands on a page is the punchline.

    When are you guys ever gonna get it?


  3. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from, February 7, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.

    Ari, you know where I stand on the matter, for the record:

    - From Jan 2006-Nov 2010 we have done 225,000,000 all-time click-to-play views. That was, is and shall remain our focus.

    - The problem in the industry isn't auto-play per se, it's the blurring of the line between click-to-play and auto-play... which is the point of this article (this is Part 1 of 2, wait for Part 2 in 2 weeks).

    - For the past 2-3 months we launched an additional, separate product which includes auto-play videos but it is treated - and priced - at such a discount to click-to-play that an advertiser (with full disclosure and transparency) is basically paying for a rich media unit that happens to have:

    a) a video ad
    b) a companion 300x250 ad next to it
    c) contextual text content alongside the ad unit and
    d) followed by contextual video content.

    I would not usually get into such detail in an article or comment, but I do want to be very clear about what I think is kosher and what isn't.

    What we are seeing is that for SOME (but certainly not all) clients and campaigns, each one can be effective.

    At the end of the article, I think the conclusion is we need a universal terminology to ensure everyone knows what each one is talking about and paying for... but again, let's hold off judgment for Part 2.

    I could not have written this article before Nov 2010 as I had no data or real experience. Now I wanted to tackle this issue head-on.

  4. Jason Krebs from Tenor/Google, February 7, 2011 at 6:04 p.m.

    If the advertiser buys video ads on a cost-per-engagement basis, ALL of this issues you raise become moot.

    You should try it, all the cool kids are doing it.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 7, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.

    1. Not all campaigns require or work in all manifestations of video advertising. 2. Not all creative can bow to the requirements. Something will have to give and someone has to make an explainable decision. 3. When does taking action mean clicking on and watching the entire ad video, buying the product on line, enticing the consumer to do more research, going to the targeted website at a later time and date or buying it in a brick and mortar? 4. Results in increased (or not) sales may not be revealed 3, 4 or more months down the pike again depending upon the price level, etc., of the product/services sold like gum or a new car. Until there is common sense, instinct and patience, these variables + that have the worst measurement problems will continue.

  6. Scott Pannier from DistroScale, February 8, 2011 at 2:53 p.m.

    I have never purchased video pre-roll ads before, but I am not a fan of auto-play ads. It's my opinion that the majority of auto-play placements are gaming sites, celeb/entertainment/gossip types of sites. Quality video content like Rodale or your local newspaper site will usually run pre-roll ads in the click-to-view format.

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