Commentary

On a Mid-Roll: The Pause That Performs

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As longer form video viewing online becomes de rigeur, an ever increasing share of advertising is moving beyond the classic pre-roll format. According to video infrastructure provider Freewheel's latest "Video Monetization Report" for Q1 2011, the mid-roll ad format defied the usual Q1 seasonal ad slump and grew in volume 30% over Q4 2010. Freewheel attributes the growth to expansion of longer content as well as an increase in ad loads for video. Pre-roll volumes declined from Q4 2010, following typical post-holiday trends, but the march of the mid-rolls continues.

There is good reason for advertisers to like this ad unit that pauses the content experience. It performs well. Ninety-four percent of mid-roll ads were completed by consumers in the quarter, compared to 60% of pre-rolls. That high rate of completion has been consistent for the past year. The higher completion rates follow a simple logic. One has to assume that while a pre-roll might make a viewer have second thoughts about whether the initiated clip is worth sitting through the ad, a mid-roll comes after the viewer has committed to the content. Not coincidentally, Freewheel also finds that ad completion rates are highest in long form content generally and regardless of the ad length. Fifteen-second ads have about the same rate of completion as 30s in longer form content. And mid-roll completion rates in mid-length content are actually higher for 30-second spots than they are for 15s.

Freewheel says that generally publishers are responding to the trends in video completion by aligning shorter ads with shorter content. Well, maybe. While its charts show that about 82% of 15s are found in shorter content, about 52% of 30s are still in these shorter clips. As far as I am concerned this is bail bait. For my part, I know that my usage of video links at certain TV news sites has declined over time as I come to associate these destinations with what I regard as baldly unfair ad loads. Thirty seconds of ad for 1 minute news clips is ridiculous on the face of it and only makes the publisher seem slavishly beholden to its sponsors. Worse, many sites still run the same 15 or 30 in front of every clip, making me wonder if anyone is at the controls. Frequency capping is as much of a culprit as ad length when it comes to video viewers bailing on a clip. Increased ad loads may make economic sense for the industry, and they may even bring digital video into closer parity with the loads we endure on TV. But without a concurrent commitment by sites to respect the user experience, publishers may be putting an unintended frequency cap on video usage - the number of times people will come to their site and engage streaming media. 

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