They recorded the experiences finding video content online--TV shows, sports events, short-form--on blogs and their own self-documentary videos. They also participated in at-home interviews.
Said Ben Jacobson, ethnographer and principal partner of Conifer Research: "What you see are the strengths and weaknesses of TV and online video. Many believe that exporting TV ads onto other platforms is a simple cut-and-paste action. But each has unique opportunities."
With data from the study, the firm created two engagement charts for each video platform, per Jacobson. "We began to model the experiences." Different levels of engagement delineated the viewing experience. He said that one critical difference was that online video engagement involved far more hurdles to access, and therefore far more opportunities for viewers to bail.
"The linear TV experience had a long enticement period, and lots of bouncing between browsing, watching and taking breaks," said Jacobson. "But online, first, there are three more steps to experience, and far more opportunities to bail out based on viewers' expectations not being well met."
Advertising presented a barrier--either through aspects related to banner ads, or by pre-rolls getting in the way of things such as verification or potential viewers' browsing experience. There is also the potential of repetition of the same ad over and over, "that leads to a level of frustration and boredom," said Jacobson.
The study revealed other challenges; the search process was a big one. "Most people are good at using search engines, but [the test subjects] had a hard time finding TV and video programming and entertainment in general," said Jacobson. "Networks, program names, stars? The pathway wasn't always clear. The other big difference is when you are online it's active, while linear TV is passive. You have to know what you are looking for," he said, playing a video clip of one of the subject's own documentary comments, which said, "It's a lot of homework. I had to scrounge around."
Kelly Andrews, SVP/research director at Starcom MediaVest, said the role of search is huge in the online viewing experience. "Consumers in our study think of it as a 'celestial jukebox,' where one can see any video online, but navigating it is hard." She said there's a role for brands in search strategies.
Jacobson ran through the series of hurdles that the subjects--and all of us--have had to leap to get to the online content we seek. "Once you have found the site, well, where is the video? Where is the episode? [Subjects] found that when they had a chance to browse by video they had great experience. But they don't know what to make of episode numbers, of season numbers."
The next hurdle is activation: you have your finger over the button, but you encounter things like personal info requests, required software download, a "find plug-in" message. "This creates a situation where people are forced to make decisions," says Jacobson.
Beth Uyenco, global research director for Microsoft Advertising, says video Web sites have to develop a common interface. "There should be some sort of standard to lessen the pain to download video content."
The next hurdle is the patience required to wait for buffering to finish, another opportunity for users to bail. Said Andrews: "It's an opportunity for advertisers to either delight or frustrate these viewers: Pre-rolls or other experiences can fail their expectations or delight and surprise. What we know with this research is that the consumer experience of viewing online video is very different; they have an expectation of where they will experience or invite in advertising."
Debbie Reichig, SVP/market development at NBC Universal, said consumers' desire to be in control drives online video. "We have to be able to give them the ability to scroll back and forth, to view it on any size screen and also expect a social experience--meaning we have to give them opportunities to have viewing parties, share video with friends, communicate and dialogue about it. And one of the things we can't forget is to provide that for advertising as well. It needs to have the same qualities."
Andrews said that when the two weeks were over, the families were thrilled to have their TVs back. "They experienced video online and loved it; but when the TV came back after two weeks they were joyful--they had missed their TVs. So advertisers can't create a line between linear TV and online video--rather, it has to be content for all video--advertising content, not ads, with branded messages that can live on all video platforms."
Reichig said that advertisers should create messaging that can "follow" the video content. "They would want their message on 'Heroes'--on TV, on mobile, online--but it may not be appropriate for the ad format to follow video," she said. "You can't have interactivity on TV, but you must have it online. Each media must be planned for differently and separately. The key is finding different ways to value content and advertising on these platforms. "