The Online Digital Video Myth Soars On

Headlines are bursting with praise this week for the growth of this segment of digital advertising: “Online Digital Video Soars”  according to some guy named Joe Mandese.

There was also a commentary piece in Adweek that sources a study commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau  (conducted by Advertising Perceptions) diving into the reasons behind this soaring growth.  

The Adweek article applauds the maturity of original digital video content (as opposed to TV programming watched online) and points to the impact the NewFronts have had on total online digital video spending.  This industry event was boldly created in 2009 by the ad agency Digitas to mimic the television upfront.  In 2012 it became a formal industry initiative orchestrated by the IAB.



According to the article (and the study), ad spending on original online digital video is “up 114% since 2014,” and “TV dollars migrating to digital video” are the biggest driver of this growth. There is a flight to quality, with “digital video… taking on consumers' favorite qualities of television—exceptionally high-quality content.”

These numbers ring true, but the idea that “exceptionally high-quality video content” is somehow impacting this growth does not.

Forty-four percent of buyers of digital advertising surveyed said “quality of the program” was the most important criteria driving their spending decision.  

When these same buyers were asked “What are the top barriers from spending more money with online digital video?” the top three answers were “ROI,” followed by “price,” followed by “quality programming.”

So buyers are not spending more money on digital video ads because there isn’t enough quality content worthy of a premium price, and the quality of the video content matters only 44% of the time a video ad buy is made.

So if “exceptionally high quality video content” is not driving this soaring digital video ad spending, then what is?

Simple.  Auto-play pre-roll ads.

If revenue is soaring, then what is inhibiting the creation of exceptionally high-quality original video content?

Simple. Auto-play pre-roll ads.

This accepted industrywide practice makes users hate our ads even more.  Even more perversely, it creates an incentive for publishers not to produce higher quality video content, because money is made before engagement with any content needs to occur.

This business practice is like a restaurant forcing customers to pay their bill before any food is served.  Where is the incentive to produce a quality meal delivered with great service?

To be fair, high-quality original video content does exist on the Web. It’s just such a rare occurrence.

After Prince died, I found my way to an eight-minute mini-documentary video on Youtube produced by the NFL well before the singer’s death.  The video looks back at the greatest Super Bowl musical half-time show of all time.

This documentary included interviews with the producers of the half-time show.  One shared a great story.  He woke up that morning in Miami and everyone realized it was going to rain all day and night. So the producer called Prince to start working on some adjustments to the show due to the inclement weather.  Prince immediately cut him off and asked, “Can you make it rain harder?” The video ends with an epic performance of Prince’s finest song as irony poured down on him.  

The Emmy-nominated series "30 for 30" -- documentary shorts on sports topics produced by ESPN -- is another example of high-quality digital video content.  

Still, the problem is that these videos cost a lot of money to produce, which is why you only see this kind of quality from TV-revenue-centric entities.  

The vast majority of the online video content hyped in the headlines, hawked at the NewFronts, and auto-played to the disgust of users, is like fast food.  It’s cheap and regrettable.  

The online digital video industry is economically structured to annoy consumers, erode ad rates, and induce the production of poor-quality content.  

That’s really how we soar.

5 comments about "The Online Digital Video Myth Soars On".
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  1. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, May 5, 2016 at 2:08 p.m.

    Amen Brother...fromn the same folks who are pushing automomus cars...more fodder for Sand Hill Road.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 5, 2016 at 3:07 p.m.

    Another view of videos as I mentioned in the other video article even as a person non grata commenting on MediaPost: Limited time. Everyone has limited time to watch excellent videos and excellent printed (including on line printed) materials. One can read much faster about more things than watch videos about things. How much do you want to know ? How many ads can you ignore in print (or find out about the products/services in their message) than you can in video ? The answer(s) are on plate like experts like you to help get to the nitty gritty.

  3. Shay Brog from GumGum, May 6, 2016 at 12:06 p.m.

    Videos can really only autoplay on desktop, which is increasingly a less and less significant proporiton of placements anyway.

    Even in desktop, if a user clicks on a thumbnail with a big "play" button hovering on it and is then taken to a youtube landing page where the video player autoplays, from a user-journey perspective this is click-to-play, not autoplay. This is the case many times.

    I agree that high-quality premium online video is still scarce, and I'm not a huge fan of autoplaying videos, but I'm not sure I buy the causal relationship identified here.

  4. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, May 6, 2016 at 12:16 p.m.

    Shay, your point is well taken -- but often on sites like ESPN and Yahoo, it is unclear to the user that they clicked on a link that takes them to a page with video so it is abrupt that the video and audio starts playing -- Youtube is a better experience and the user knows when they go to Youtube they are doing so to watch a video -- but on non video sites as I mentioned it is not as clear -- all that said, given how much we force users into things that financially benefit "us" at the detriment to their experience -- it would be more respectful of the user to have them click "play" twice in how you describe the user journey to make sure they in fact want to watch a video.  

    Thanks for weighing in with your thoughtful response.

  5. Douglas Lee from Thomas International Publishing Company, May 9, 2016 at 3:38 p.m.

    On TV, when we invest in watching a 30- or 60-minute TV program, we mostly are willing to sit through a 30-second advertisement (several actually). However, when you want to quickly watch a 2-minute video clip online, who wants to be forced to watch that same 30-second pre-roll video? Advertisers really need to start producing more short teasers that are relevant for the limited length online videos.

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