Hulu viewers will no longer be forced to sit through commercials they don’t want to watch before seeing a video. Instead, they will be able to see a commercial of their own choosing.
Hulu Ad Swap is a subtle but significant switchover for the premium video site. In 2008, Hulu introduced Ad Selector, which allowed some users to choose which of three ads from the same brand (e.g. Coke, Diet Coke or Sprite) they would like to view. Two-thirds of eligible users have chosen to participate, says Hulu, which doubled effectiveness rates for those commercials compared to standard pre-roll.
Ad Swap works somewhat differently from Ad Selector. For one, it is available to all users. Second, it plays a default commercial automatically and then gives viewers the option to shift, as opposed to asking viewers what ad they want to see before playing anything. Lastly, Ad Swap is enabled for all advertisers, whereas Ad Selector required advertisers to opt-in.
"Hulu Ad Swap puts complete control in the hands of the user by enabling them to instantly swap out of an ad they are watching for one that is more relevant," said Raymond Mak, principal software developer at Hulu, in a blog post. That "can lead to a virtuous cycle where advertisers benefit from a more engaged audience, content providers can see a greater return on their content, and users get more control and greater choice in their experience."
Once an ad begins playing in Hulu, the Ad Swap icon will appear in the left-hand corner of the screen. Clicking the icon brings up three alternative ads based on the user's past viewing habits. The viewer can choose one of those ads or simply continue watching the original one.
If the viewer does choose a new ad, the advertiser whose ad initially began playing will not be charged.
Hulu conducted research with 1,500 users to determine the best method for presenting ad options. According the company, Ad Swap had a significant impact on effectiveness metrics in testing, improving unaided brand recall by 93 percent, brand favorability by 27 percent, purchase intent by 35 percent, and stated relevancy by 46 percent.
Last year, Hulu's Ad Selector was the victor in a poll to discover the preferred method for pre-roll ads among viewers of Web video. The poll, conducted jointly by a coalition that included Vivaki, Applebee's, CapitalOne, AOL, CBS Interactive, and Discovery Communications, crowned Ad Selector the victor in a tournament-style competition that pitted 30 video ad models against one another.
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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.
March 19, 2014