Developed for Microsoft's Windows Media platform, the new unit aims to bring TV-quality video to online ads.
Unicast has debuted a new ad offering, currently in beta release, that delivers broadband full-screen video in Microsoft's Windows Media Player format.
Called Video Commercial, the rollout marks Unicast's first new format since the company released its full-screen Superstitial in April 2003. It came out of a technology partnership with Microsoft in which the software company allowed Unicast to build on its Windows Media 9 Series platform.
Several major advertisers are using the unit during a pre-paid beta launch. They include AT&T, Honda, McDonald's, Pepsi, Vonage, and Warner Brothers. During the six-week trial release, Video Commercial ads will be viewable on ABC News, About.com, Accuweather, CBS Sportsline, Emode, ESPN, Excite/Iwon, FoxSports, Gamespot, iVillage, Lycos, Maxim, MSN, Nick.com, UGO, and Tribune Properties.
"Unicast's new video commercial overcomes many of the hurdles inherent to first generation video advertising technology. We are optimistic that it will result in increased advertiser demand," said Joanne Bradford, VP and chief media revenue officer of MSN, one of the publishers to carry the format.
Unicast is positioning the format as a way for advertisers to ensure the consumer sees their creative assets exactly as they are produced. The strategy is intended to assuage the fears of brand marketers reticent to run video online because it frequently results in a choppy user experience.
Allie Savarino, Unicast's SVP of Marketing, said the company's drive to launch the new format came out of the realization that to be successful, video would have to get closer to the 30 frames-per-second (FPS) standard set by broadcast television. She said the Video Commercial will achieve frame speeds of 27 to 30 FPS.
"We started thinking about a year ago about how we were going to accommodate advertiser demand for video, [since] advertisers were saying, 'Flash video is not what we want, Java-based video is not what we want. Broadcast quality video is what we want.'"
Out of those ruminations came the idea to partner with Microsoft and produce a format that would run on the Redmond giant's Windows Media Player format, which Unicast believed would be capable of faster loads, better resolution and smoother delivery.
Nate Elliott, an associate analyst with Jupiter Research (a unit of this site's parent corporation), believes Unicast's new offering could overcome another major gripe advertisers have with online video; namely, that the medium doesn't deliver a large enough audience.
"We asked marketers why they're not using video ads," he said, "and the number one answer was, 'because we can't show the units to enough users to make it effective.' This format could end that concern."
It's not clear how much advertiser interest will follow the format's beta period, however. Bandwidth-gobbling video ads may prove to be more annoying than engaging to Internet users and brand advertisers are wary of any format that risks alienating users.
And Jupiter Research's Elliott said 30 seconds is likely too lengthy to be effective in the online medium, where a half-minute can seem an eternity.
"Thirty second spots are too long for online, especially when someone isn't already watching video. But the sites and Unicast have to deliver 30-second units, because that's what marketers are demanding," he said.
The new format comes at a time the online marketing sector seems to have video on the brain. The news comes two weeks after MSN released a video ad offering of its own. And yesterday, Maven Networks announced a partnership with AtomFilms that would create a service offering broadband delivery of independent films, supported by television-like ads.
"I definitely see a trend of advertisers being very outspoken about their desire for pure video. It's something that is validated by the number of formats trying to include some kind of video," said Unicast's Savarino said, adding that she expects the new format will polarize the field of rich media providers.
"It's going to force other players in the space to define the format categories they want to own and aggressively sell against those," she said.
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