Commentary

Online Video: Does One Size Fit All?

Digital video comes in many forms today that look and feel different than just one or two years ago, let alone 5+ years ago, or since broadband penetration reached critical mass and allowed consumers to regularly consume video content in online environments; it will likely look even more different in the next 12-18 months and beyond.

As technology becomes faster, better, and more accessible, it creates more choices, which in turn creates fragmentation. A prime example is how people consume video, especially in digital environments. Seventy-five percent of all Internet users are viewers of online video, and that will increase to 88% in the next three to four years. According to ComScore, Internet users in the U.S. watched 11.5 billion online videos in March 2008, up 13% over February 2008 and 64% year-over-year.

In order to create some order within the chaos, the Interactive Advertising Bureau worked with a series of publishers and agencies to begin to establish some standards on how advertising messages should be delivered within online video content, short and long-form, professional or user-generated. The guidelines are meant to set a framework for publishers to sell advertising that will be more consistent across sites or video players for agencies and marketers to be able to evaluate, buy, produce creative assets for, and measure. It is today's version of the standardization of online display ad units, which was not a fun chore from a buying or production standpoint. Until a few years ago this was much like the Wild West, as every vendor seemed to be on a unique Web publishing platform, and created ad unit sizes based on how and where they could fit them. Standardization helped us better compare and contrast media opportunities and streamline production.

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One thing to keep in mind is that these new video guidelines are just that, and should not be so rigid that they prohibit growth through further innovation. There will be more YouTubes and Brightcoves and VideoEggs, and many other ways that we will access and consume video (i.e. portable, mobile). Therefore we cannot limit ourselves simply to pre-roll or in-stream overlay ads. However, as those become the more dominant formats, we should be able to make apples-to- apples comparisons of that inventory across a variety of publishers, and work with multiple publishers if desired, free of the production concerns of the past when assets were not as universal and needed to be cut and re-cut multiple ways to fulfill a buy.

Now we should be able to create one digital version of a :15 cut once, to run across multiple partners as part of a pre-roll video push, develop companion ad units of standard size/type, and produce overlay executions to be built once per campaign. I hope these guidelines will be adopted by major video vendors, and publishers will quickly begin to push other best practices regarding appropriate length and volume/frequency of video ads per length or volume of consumed content.

One big thing that will still be left to the vendors to decide is which ad formats to place with which content, whether that's three single, :30 unit commercial breaks during an hour-long program on ABC.com, or a :15 pre-roll unit before a two-minute clip on Hulu.

Outside of this, the real challenges we face are a lack of availability of quality video content (original or syndicated) and consistent measurement standards to better understand the impact, tradeoff and delivery equivalencies of traditional video -- although true delivery in an on-demand world does not equate to the same thing as ratings projections, but that's another debate!

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