It's early days for interactive pre-roll, but there are signs the format marks a significant evolution of video advertising.
Pre-roll video ads have long been the whipping boy of interactive advertising - and justifiably so. They are interruptive ("your video will resume in 30 seconds"), creatively bankrupt (the lion's share are little more than shrunken TV commercials) and not actually interactive.
But pre-roll has lately won some vocal advocates thanks to an evolution in the format: the interactive pre-roll.
Interactive pre-roll ads are embedded with rich media options that reveal themselves when the user clicks or rolls over the ad (simultaneously pausing the video). Those options can include photo galleries, quizzes, case studies, even more video - anything that a typical rich media display ad can offer.
And while it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that an ad format reviled for making people wait for their content could become more effective by giving people the option to wait even longer, there is evidence that it just might be the case.
DBG, a video production and distribution company, says its current interactive pre-roll campaign with Toyota is enjoying a 17 percent engagement rate - a considerable improvement over the 1 percent engagement rate that standard pre-roll ads generally score in industry studies. But Damon Bethel, EVP of business development and strategic planning with DBG, says those numbers aren't unusual: "We're seeing anywhere from 15 to 20 percent" engagement on interactive pre-roll across the board, he said.
Innovid, one of the leading technology companies behind the format (they've been offering interactive pre-rolls for about two years), clocks engagement rates for its iRoll product at about 2 to 4 percent, and says that "time spent" metrics are about double what they are for standard pre-roll. (Unlike DBG's player, Innovid's iRoll requires users to click the video to engage the rich-media elements, not just roll over it.)
"It's an unproven format, and it's still the early days," said Chris Allen, VP and director of video innovations for Starcom, "but I really do believe that adding interactivity to pre-roll will be the next step, the next evolution of online video."
Those hawking interactive pre-roll ads claim they benefit advertisers by giving them more ways to engage with consumers, and benefit publishers by keeping consumers on their site while they interact with sponsors.
The advantage for consumers, they claim, is that advertisers can offer shorter pre-roll ads - say, 15 or even five seconds instead of 30 - knowing the opportunity for greater engagement with interested viewers is there.
"Movie studios don't have to run an entire trailer" as a pre-roll ad, said Corey Kronengold, director of marketing and communications for Innovid. "They can just serve the teaser trailer" and provide an extended version as an interactive option. "It's a huge win for publishers because they're able to serve the user who's interested [in the ad] as well as those who are not."
Those benefits, real or imagined, have caught the attention of some important players. Tremor Media, ranked the largest video ad network by comScore, entered into a partnership with Innovid earlier this year to offer iRoll ads across its entire network of 1,700 sites. Publishers such as NBC, MTV, Disney and National Geographic have already worked with Tel Aviv-based Innovid, which received a $4.1 million round of financing recently. Innovid Advertising clients include Kraft, Volvo, Buick, ACE Hardware and ABC.
But many publishers remain wary of the format, said Starcom's Allen.
"Some of the publishers, especially the top-tier ones, are a little less inclined to allow another party to be serving into their video player," he said. "Some are buying in, but it's a process."
Creative agencies have so far been slow to get on board, as well. "Anyone who's a Flash developer will have no problem building an iRoll," said Kronengold. "But getting it out and into their hands and empowering them to do it, instead of Innovid doing it, that's one obstacle."
The primary driver, of course, will be advertiser demand, said Allen - which is coming, if slowly.
"We have a couple advertisers experimenting with it," he said. "It's not widely deployed yet, but we're always looking for ways to create a better experience and make advertising work harder."
Follow Douglas Quenqua on Twitter at @DQuenqua.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
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