On Online Video

There's been a lot of great commentary on online video advertising these past few weeks, and I'm gratified to see people take a skeptical stance toward the sustainability of online video.  I've been saying for a while now that online video cannot sustain the influx of online advertising dollars on its own, that marketers are going to have to look to Conversational Marketing programs to help grow their businesses, and that pre-roll ads and other online video models are nothing but a Band-Aid that will make some people a good deal of money in the short term, but won't provide sustainable growth for online marketing. Curt Hecht, chief digital officer at GM Planworks fired a long-overdue warning shot earlier this month, saying there's a lot we don't know about acceptance of the pre-roll model.  Joseph Jaffe, in his inimitable style, said the ideal length of a pre-roll spot was zero seconds when asked about ideal length by iMedia Chief Content Officer Brad Berens.

One of the reasons I've been saying pre-roll is not sustainable is that it's merely the TV model online, which we already know won't work well since it's just pushing a message.  Look to pre-roll to become the new rich media banner - we'll see a honeymoon period lasting a year, maybe two, where click rates are higher than all other online ads, and then we'll see 0.1% response rates again.  (Not that CTR is a measure of anything important, but that's what marketers look to in the absence of any decent effectiveness metrics.)

Another reason is that the idea of pre-roll is antithetical to the notion of deep linking and the spread of ideas.  How many times have you stumbled across an interesting video link in your web travels, clicked it, and found you had to sit through 30 or 60 seconds of some shitty car commercial to get to the video you wanted?  Most folks don't have the patience, but more importantly, they don't have the tolerance for commercialism interjecting itself into the idea flow.  I find that I'm saying to myself "Shit!  I wanted to see Bill O'Reilly squirm under an assault from David Letterman, not some idiotic ad for some drug that doesn't tell you what it does!" when I'm interrupted by a pre-roll ad.

When we deep link, often we bypass any sort of real estate on the web site that hosts the clip that might help set the expectation that there's pre-roll before content.  (Many of the sites that I've seen try to set that expectation haven't been doing a good job to start with - I'm looking at YOU, cable news sites.)  As clips are set free from the environments that "own" the content, we lose any expectation that's been set, and we view pre-roll as intrusive, annoying and tangential to the thoughts and ideas cultivated by the content behind it.

I could go on all day about how pre-roll sucks as a model, but I think you get the picture.  Folks, if online marketing is to have a future, we need to find models that are both sustainable and consistent with expectations of customers.  Pre-roll is neither.