The Devolution of Online Video
Digital publishers have been trying to speak in broadcast language for years in an effort to try and reap part of the broadcast pie. In doing so we’ve fundamentally changed the formats and platforms that we’ve been delivering on, and not always for the better.
2015 was a great year for online video with global spends looking to increase by nearly 29% to a whopping $16.1bn. This is hardly surprising with more money moving from TV into digital but has this curtailed all the things that used to make online video digital as opposed to just video online?
Back in the infancy of online video we saw some dark practices, the most notable being things like auto-playing video (sometimes off screen), pop-ups (which weren’t just a video problem), and brand safety or “bad” non-premium placements. These all contributed to spooking advertisers and hampered the increase in spend we’re now finally seeing. Over the years the industry did a great job of cleaning up these bad practices and thus we’ve seen the explosive growth through 2014/2015 and into 2016 but if we look at the drivers of this growth we may be surprised.
The introduction of Facebook Video has clearly been one of the biggest drivers of growth over the last year but is it really that innovative? Facebook have unashamedly gone after TV money with their product and needed to make a big impact in a short amount of time. By auto-playing the video and counting views at 3 seconds (Just above IAB Standards on viewability, we’ll come back to this later) allowed them to gain a large market share very quickly it also gave them a good story to tell advertisers who, at the advent of the product, were still very much concerned with how many views they’d got. The reason this was so important was that it demonstrated reach to the people who were concerned with it, the people holding the TV budgets. Facebook quickly released a reach and frequency tool before any kind of DR product which, when they did release it, is essentially just a clickthrough.
The innovative “In-Read” format is another driver of increased spend amongst the networks this year. Although having some good buying metrics like CPCV (cost per completed view) and again adhering to the IAB viewability standards the format seems a little intrusive. The first time I saw one I was a little startled as I was reading my article and suddenly an ad appears out of no-where. Despite my being startled I have seen more and more publishers using this format and in turn more advertisers spending on it.
Of course we can’t have an online video post with mentioning YouTube, it has been one of the biggest influencers in getting online video onto marketing plans after all, and is still the biggest online video platform on the Internet. With innovative products like skippable ads, interactive videos, millennial content creators YouTube was, and still is, one of the safest, and best, places to put your video ads. With Facebook releasing their video product YouTube has felt some real pressure to up their game and being that Facebook was going for TV, so did YouTube. TV advertisers like premium placements and worry about non-premium placements, this has been a major roadblock to YouTube really gaining traction with the TV planners and so, Google Preferred is born. The important thing to remember about preferred is that it’s the same inventory as before and it’s precursor “prime packs” did a very similar job however, these were still available through auction and didn’t have the “premium price point”. In digital we were already pretty comfortable targeting audiences who, as we know, will watch a VSauce video promptly followed by a “fail” video. This isn’t the only surprise from YouTube this year, we also see the imminent “sun setting” of annotations and just as we were getting advertisers used to the idea of creating some truly engaging content and making end boards to keep audiences with our content. Finally the merging of adwords for video into the existing adwords for PPC interface (because PPC and Video are pretty much the same thing right?). I understand that adwords for video was always a kind of temporary solution but had hoped that a kind of “adwatch” system would be developed to replace it rather than it being incorporated into something that literally means ads for words. YouTube have however redeemed themselves somewhat with the release of “cards” this is a clear advantage of digital that is being exploited across the YouTube ecosystem with sponsored cards now becoming available.
I’m surprised by these growth drivers mainly because we’ve gone from not buying online video because of auto-playing, pop ups, and bad inventory to almost exclusively buying auto-playing, posh pop-ups, and the same inventory for a higher price repackaged, ring-fenced and labeled “premium”. To be clear I’m not saying this is all a bad thing, as TV and digital slowly collide both sides have already learnt a great deal. Brand uplift surveys, for example, were a request of the brand TV teams but have influenced digital teams to consider the entire journey of online video and how we measure it.
As we go into 2016 it is my hope that, now we have a good portion of the TV money, we can start concentrating on what makes digital great again and demonstrate to the brands that digital can go further. Once we can do that it will be the responsibility of the broadcasters to start talking digitally, as it should have been a year ago, and we can all continue making digital online video the innovative space it can, and should, be.