What happens when the world of traditional TV syndication meets the open distribution and highly fragmented reality of the Web? It's a question we should all start asking ourselves, because a significant portion of the Web video audience will be driven through syndicated video offerings in the coming years.
I can tell you this: If you are a former TV planner or buyer, the level of complexity you thought existed in the traditional TV syndication market is nothing compared to what we are going to have to learn to manage in the distributed world of Web video. (Full disclosure: I am leading a new Internet TV advertising network initiative.)
Traditional TV syndication is actually pretty straightforward. A video rights holder makes content available to local or national broadcast affiliates in exchange for cash, control of ad time, or a mix of both. Broadcast affiliates program content into their schedules and advertising time is sold to marketers - either by the rights holder or affiliate (or sometimes a third-party rep). Advertisers buy against ratings and pay attention to things like "clearance" levels (what percentage of the country is covered by the syndication deals).
The ad model is predictable because it mirrors the broader TV ad model. Fifteen- and 30-second spots run in pods, environments are predictable, clutter is consistent regardless of affiliate, and audience measurement is somewhat stable. It's not that hard.
Those days will never exist on the Web. The things that we all love about the Web - ease of navigation, limitless content distribution potential, consumer control - make Web syndication an incredibly powerful tool and a potentially uncontrollable commodity.
We're seeing the first generation of syndicated Web video distribution. Just as text-based distribution and syndication evolved during the Web 1.0 push, video content rights holders are exploring all viable distribution opportunities for their content. The portals are exploring highly controlled aggregation plays ("Arrested Development" to MSN, MTV Networks programming to Google, etc.), and large nontraditional video programmers like Sony BMG are exploring direct-to-consumer syndication models.
On the other end of the spectrum, embed codes enable viral syndication of video players to any Web site. And in the middle are a variety of solutions aimed at making possible the semi-controlled syndication of content from one party to another, so that things like copyright infringement can be managed in a scaled fashion.
As the Web evolves, we will move to a more dynamic content experience. Web "pages" will really be combinations of content modules, some video, some not. They'll be seamlessly intertwined in real time for the user. Social networks are the sandbox in which this is happening today.
This rapid evolution of the syndication model for Web-based video will require equally rapid development of new marketplaces, tools, measurement systems, and controls. These tools will serve many masters: programmers, who will be able to take advantage of distributed audiences; distributors, who will aggregate and promote content; agencies, who will drive accountable audience engagement; and marketers, who will want assurances that their brand equity is safeguarded.
Clearly, a company that seizes these opportunities will be in a market-leading position. And there are many of us out there trying to do just that. But our mutual interests lie in facilitating a robust, healthy advertising market. There are many issues we can try to attack from an industry perspective, including:
>Developing clearly defined guidelines for comScore and Nielsen/Net Ratings to ensure that viewership associated with syndicated video players takes into account actual audience potential (for ad networks), and that best practices are set for measurement of auto-play vs. user-initiated video streams in all environments.
>Working to establish best practices for in-page player syndication (placement, adjacent clutter, auto-start/user-initiated status, etc.).
>Defining marketplace (buy-side) expectations for distribution transparency and sell-side consistency for delivering it.
That's just a start. The world of Web video in 2015 will be significantly different from what we experience today, driven in large part by new syndication solutions. The foundation needs to be poured today.
Adam Gerber is vice president, ad products and strategy at Brightcove, an Internet TV service. (firstname.lastname@example.org)