Commentary

Finding That Just-Right Length For Pre-Rolls

In previous articles I have written about the pre-roll video ad unit and its place in online advertising. I actually had a very different article planned (I'll save that for next time) but when the Online Publishers Association published its initial findings from a survey on the effective use of pre-roll video advertising, I thought it warranted further discussion.

The survey's findings on the effectiveness of the pre-roll video ad unit, the additional value of the companion ad and the "halo" effect of Web site content quality, are all in line with what we have seen when our clients incorporate video into their campaigns. Overall, I would suspect that the findings are not surprising to most of us -- except, of course, for findings that state that there was a better response to 30-second ads than to 15-second ads.

The length of the pre-roll unit is still hotly debated based on viewers' tolerance for an ad they can't skip. But there are a number of factors to take into consideration. What is acceptable in terms of ad length is relative to a couple of controllable variables. To begin with, the length of an ad should be in line with the length of the content that follows. For instance, it is not reasonable to expect that a user accepts a 30-second ad before content that is only 60 seconds long. We might consider a good rule of thumb to be 1 second of ad time to correlate with every 10 to 15 seconds of content, although this standard might need to be adjusted if it were a 25- to 40-second piece of content.

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Secondly, the ad also would be viewed as more acceptable if it were relevant to the content with which it was associated. In much the same way that an ad promoting the NBA playoffs would have an expected placement on a sports related site, a pre-roll video ad promoting the playoffs would make sense and flow well before a video of sporting-related content. The market is not there yet, but with behavioral targeting and video coming together in the near future, the ability to more accurately target video content along with user preference and demographics will help.

These issues deal with the delivery model as it is most widely used today, but what about new and emerging models? The issue most detractors have with pre-roll video is that there is no way to skip or stop the video as there is with other ad units. What if the ads were 90+ seconds in length but could be stopped and skipped over after 15 seconds of the ad has played? This would give advertisers enough time to begin conveying their message while providing users with a sense of control over their online video viewing experience and the option to further engage with the brand if they so desire. This is perfect for movie trailers and other teaser-based campaigns.

Another option or outlet for pre-roll video ads is to use the viewing of the ads in lieu of payment for premium content. In much the same way AOL has moved to offering free service in exchange for increased advertising on its sites; publishers would offer users the option of paying a fee or viewing an ad for specified content. As an example, The New York Times currently charges a fee for certain articles that are over 14 days old. Most users would be happy to view a few video ads in order to access the content. I am willing to bet that there would be many more article downloads, as more people would be willing to exchange their viewing time rather than pay even a nominal fee.

As the market continues to evolve and proliferation of video and other value-added content expands, so too will the use and type of video ad units we employ. It will be interesting to see how this changes the public perception and acceptance of online video advertising, as well as how we in the industry adjust to capitalize on it. Only time will tell.

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