A Gold Mine Built On Landfill

The online video industry is exploding -- just ask anyone who is selling, buying or writing about it.  Video-play numbers are in the billions, as is the revenue for the pre-roll ads that appear prior to this Web-based content.

There are many reasons for this significant growth. But below the surface, the practice of “auto-play” is driving it.

Auto-play is when video content, most often starting with a pre-roll ad, starts playing immediately once a site visitor lands on a Web page.  Whether it’s publishing industry leaders like Youtube and Yahoo or niche sites like, so many publishers employ this practice.  

With auto-play, advertisers win because their ads automatically start playing and must be watched if the user decides to engage with the video content.  

The publisher wins because advertisers generally pay based on the number of times their video ads are shown. So auto-play gets the publisher auto-paid.



However, it's site visitors who are the biggest winners, because they don’t have to exert any effort to click a play button. And if you buy this last line, I have a bridge to sell you.

Online video advertising right now is fool’s gold, but those buying and selling it don’t seem to care. The only one objecting to this practice, ironically, are site visitors — who will literally do anything they can to avoid watching the actual video ad.

When users visit a Web page to read an article and are met with an auto-play video instead, they race to click the pause button a few seconds after their ears and eyes have been violated.  Alternatively, site visitors will slam their mute button and file away another feeling of disgust for the Web site that forced them to do that.  

Site visitors who are expecting video content but are put off when the video starts playing without them hitting “play,” avoid pre-roll ads with a combination of hitting the mute button and then scrolling down, or visiting another site until the ad is done playing.

Mobile users likely react the way my 24-year-old nephew Christopher did this past weekend.  He and my niece Lilly wanted to watch that video of a three-year-old kid who calls his mother by her first name of Linda, and makes an award-winning case for why he deserves a cupcake.

When they landed on Youtube, a pre-roll ad began to play immediately, and my nephew immediately turned his cell phone over on the table. “We’re not watching a stupid ad,” he explained to his younger cousin.

In all these examples of user ad avoidance, pre-roll ads began to play, thus contributing to the numbers the online video industry refers to when touting their growth.  Auto-play is the HGH of video advertising, pumping up numbers to a level that make no sense  — and yet we continue to applaud the results the way fans used to applaud Barry Bonds after he hit another home run into San Francisco Bay.

The big swing and miss here by the entire online video industry is that they are sitting on a gold mine if they would just cut the cord of this bullshit tactic.  Let’s be honest: This practice treats the site visitor like garbage, leading publishers and buyers into endless debates over what constitutes a view, because the user has not directly chosen to view anything.

If all video content were user-initiated, these debates would end, site visitors would have more trust in the sites they visit, and the value of video ads would greatly increase.   Then online video advertising could truly take a big bite out of television ad budgets.

Those in the online video space will argue that  auto-play is no different from TV commercials that “automatically play” while watching a program. They’re right — but the television doesn’t automatically turn on when people walk by it.

5 comments about "A Gold Mine Built On Landfill".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 6, 2015 at noon

    Good one, Ari.

  2. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, August 6, 2015 at 12:08 p.m.

    Thanks Ed.  Seems so obvious -- online video advertising can be the next best thing our industry has ever brought forth after search if we let users initiate the viewing and yet we choose the short cut instead of the right path.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 6, 2015 at 3:11 p.m.

    "TV" shows are 30 minutes at least. To watch a 2 minute vidio you have to watch a :30 ad does not compute and not comparable. Those annoying video ads in front of an article is even worse. Wonderful article and truer than true.

  4. Keith Pieper from IMM, August 7, 2015 at 11:29 a.m.

    Great points here.

    An additional angle on this is in-banner auto-play video. Auto play is annoying to the end user. Auto play with no follow-on content payoff is worse. This reflects poorly on the advertiser too, who just paid a premium for a tiny player.

    Because users dislike auto play, they are somewhat the Yugo of the video ad world (in-banner auto-play might be the Pinto). It's these sort of industry practices that push users over the edge to read a different tab while the ad plays (BTW, that impression would be essentially worthless on the viewability metric). Even worse, users download and update ad blockers to avoid this and other ads.

    There is value in each of these inventory implementations, but its a wide spectrum. I'd suggest transparency and let the buyer decide on the price-value tradeoff. If it's worth the premium for a better user experience or if a low-value video experience is "good enough" based on ROI metrics, let the buyer decide.

  5. Don Scott from BH Media Group, Inc., August 7, 2015 at 2:49 p.m.

    So true!

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