Perhaps the greatest challenge in the ad-supported T/V (Television/video) sector is one of its own making: the runaway proliferation of T/V ad scheduling. Today a linear viewer is asked to behave in a way no sane person would: to sit through 20 minutes of non-program content for 40 minutes of programming. Of course, most viewers don’t sit through ads. They avoid them through various readily available technologies like DVRs and fast-forwarding, by going to second screens, or by just leaving the room. Advertisers have cooperated with this flooding of ad clutter, under the illusion that CPMs would be much higher if the oversaturation of ads were curtailed.
Today the likes of Netflix and Amazon offer far lower subscription fees for ad-free content, and Hulu has been forced to run fewer ads per hour than the networks on which its shows are originally seen. As a former media planner and buyer, I’m glad to see the era of the traditional linear television advertising model coming to an end. I hope advertisers can wake up and embrace some of the fresh new models emerging that actually increase value to viewers and advertisers alike.
A new company, Unlockable, has been developing one of these entirely new approaches by incentivizing media consumers to engage with ads in exchange for content. And that engagement is nothing like the kind of “white knuckle” tolerance of traditional T/V ads that viewers have been trained to avoid. Ad engagement becomes an enhancement to the entertainment experience by turning T/V ads into games themselves, a playground for the kind of interaction that the advertiser world has long sought.
Unlockable technology turns 15- and 30-second spots into games: an “Unlock” button can be placed anywhere on a publisher site where there’s a content “Buy” button, thus allowing consumers free access to paid premium content after a period of measured engagement. When a person chooses to unlock content, he/she plays a series of mini-games, all built around and using existing T/V ads. Three Unlockable games are currently live in testing:
A playable demo is worth checking out at Unlockable.com. The company reports more games are in development. (I found that the demo runs best on a Google Chrome browser).
In its first beta test just completed, working with a pilot game publisher and featuring real advertising, Unlockable found the following:
Founders Zach Goodman and Christopher Bian, who met via the New York Gaming Meet-up mailing (“as only true nerds could,” according to Goodman), see Unlockable as the quickest and easiest path for advertisers to get deep engagement and interactivity, while giving publishers a high-eCPM revenue stream whether their content is video-based or not. They report that publisher inquiries are very high and they are pressing on with development, hoping to announce that general advertiser sales will be available by year end.
This fresh thinking takes the business of ad-supported T/V off the track of buying and selling ads that aren’t seen or engaged with, into a new paradigm of accountable, verifiable, interactive messaging. It will drive revenue that I believe will easily surpass that of the current television ad model: an analog model built on running a mind-numbing number of ads per linear television program that viewers have been expertly trained to avoid.