Franco May Still Be Dead, But Pre-Roll Isn't

If pre-roll was a political candidate, now would be a good time for it to cry.  If ever an ad format was in need of some sympathy, this would be it.   Time and again pundits and industry speakers preface their comments with "pre-roll is dead."

Well, if pre-roll is dead, I'm a monkey's uncle (no emails, please, I get enough grief as is).  As someone on the front lines, trust me when I tell you there are more pre-roll ads being developed, more streamed content being monetized by pre-roll, and more planning for pre-roll campaigns than ever.  It's exploding.  

The whole issue reminds me of 2003, when the online market started to come back and I was at a blue chip publisher.  Remember when the mantra was "banners are dead"?  Every sales call I went on started with "we don't do banner advertising."  Well, guess what 90% of our business was for?  Yep.  Banners.  

The simple fact is that pre-roll is currently the most effective format for monetizing streaming video -- and the dynamics that make this true have not changed.  No one argues that video viewing online is growing rapidly and will continue to do so.  Where there's an audience, advertisers will follow.  Pre-roll allows for guaranteed sight, sound and motion; which is still the best way to communicate brand attributes (have you ever cried watching a banner ad?).  

It's not that smart people haven't tried to come up with superior formats.  This industry has attracted the best and the brightest.  I've attended countless brainstorming sessions and been privy to a mind-numbing number of multi-company format development meetings.  To date, only one other format (overlays) have emerged.  Overlays will have a place in the ecosystem, but in conjunction with pre-rolls.  

So why does the drum beat of "pre roll is dead" roll on?  There are four main reasons:

1.    A lot of content stinks.  Pundits use drop-off figures to cite consumer dislike.  What they fail to consider is very often people click on videos on a whim.  They see a brief description and they commit lightly.  If there's an ad, they weigh the amount of time they need to invest versus what they might get from the content and often bail.  Can't really blame them?  But if you measured only professional content, you'd find far different results.  

2.    Targeting is nascent.  Pre-rolls are placed based on site level or section level content descriptions (which implies demographic targeting).   That's fine until the technology evolves -- which it is, rapidly -- but if I see an ad for a women's product on a news site and I'm only mildly interested in the content, I'm out.  

3.    Video search stinks.   People aren't finding what they want, they're finding what happens to be in front of them. Again, lack of commitment to the content increases impatience with the advertising.  Not a format issue, a technology issue.

4.    Herd mentality still rules.  I guarantee you, people who bash pre-roll haven't stopped to think about the issues -- it's just easy/lazy to go along with the crowd.  Every time I hear a speaker bash pre-roll, I approach them after the session.  Every single time they tell me I'm right, pre-roll is here to stay.  Lesson learned: Filter what you hear.

Will this mantra ever stop?  Probably not.  Despite the billions of dollars being spent annually on banners, marketers and buyers still profess to eschew them.  But targeting and search will improve, the advertising will improve, and this format will continue to deliver for brand advertisers.  No hankies needed.

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