Cleaning Up the Video Mess

At Microsoft’s Strategic Account Summit last week, MSN Chief Media Revenue Officer Joanne Bradford talked up the recently launched MSN Video site.

“You’ve seen our new video service,” Bradford said, “and we’re really excited about millions of people using this service.”

I’m excited about it, too. I’m excited consumers on MSN and dozens of other sites have access to a wealth of online video content. I’m happy the picture quality is better than ever before. And I’m thrilled the big online video sites can offer advertisers access to more than 5 million viewers each week, giving them a reach on par with leading cable and syndicated TV shows.

I love online video ads, and I know our industry has the technology and the audience to make them successful. So why haven’t they taken off? Why’s this business still full of questionable distribution models, mediocre implementations, and unsold inventory? Why hasn’t anyone made online video ads work?

Eyeblaster, PointRoll, and EyeWonder have all tried to make video ads work. But all insist on putting video into banners, skyscrapers, and floating ads. Streaming a video while consumers try to read an article is just plain annoying. It’s a perfect example of what users dislike about online advertising.

The Unicast Video Commercial, which I liked as a concept, has been disappointing in execution. Frequency caps don’t always work, and the ads take as long as 10 seconds to load and start playing. Unacceptable. Worse, Unicast’s own research shows these ads have no more brand impact than its old, non-video Superstitials.

Yahoo has plenty of video ad inventory on its music video site. But it’s had lots of trouble selling the inventory. I’ve seen as many non-video sponsorships on Launch as paid video ads. MSN Video seems to have similar problems. I’ve yet to see video ads on its service.

ESPN sold out much of its Motion video ads over the last year, but the rumor mill churns with stories of big cable advertisers getting free campaigns. Creating significant inventory has also proven difficult. ESPN now automatically launches video content on its home page in an attempt to increase viewership.

All in all, online video advertising isn’t looking as strong as it should. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess. How can sites clean up online video and make it something advertisers flock to?

First, sites need to stop forcing video into places it doesn’t belong. Tiny video streams crammed inside banners and delivered to disinterested users don’t cut it. In-stream ads, video ads within video content, are what consumers will accept and what advertisers want to buy. Let’s ensure we’re selling our best stuff.

Second, make sure the product is ready before selling it. For sites, that means aggregating a sizable audience before offering that inventory. For technology vendors, that means fully testing technology before it’s introduced. Online video advertising would have a lot more credibility without the under-delivery problems and tech breakdowns.

Finally, sites can’t let video get lost in the shuffle. Large publishers have lots to sell: banners, skyscrapers, floating ads, sponsorships, keywords, and more. Video’s not always top of mind for buyers or sellers. Online video sales is in the “missionary” stage. Publishers must give their salespeople resources to spread the gospel. Good audience data, case studies, and even dedicated video sales specialists can help make this happen.

Online video is one of the best advertising opportunities online. We need to clean up the mess and get it right, or the opportunity might just slip away.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.