Have Video Ads Arrived? Part 2

If the number of emails and calls I’ve received are any indication of interest in this topic, then the answer to this month’s column title is a resounding “yes!” Thanks to all who weighed in.

This month, let’s take a closer look at some vendors working in this space. Not only is video used in online marketing more often, but the number of vendors who provide innovative solutions for moving large chunks of video data around is increasing as well. More important, the interactive use of video in online advertising is starting to resemble some models and approaches some advertising pundits have described as the future of television. There are still a bunch of details and standards to sort out, but what we’re seeing in this space points to a very promising future.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle advertisers have faced over the past decade is the shift from passive advertiser-to-consumer messages to ads that empower consumers and allow them to drive the marketing process to meet their individual needs. Initially, online video followed very traditional approaches, presenting video content in way similar to broadcast models.

The model’s limitations in a Web environment haven’t been an issue for companies such as Unicast. According to Unicast Senior VP Allie Savarino, it’s run over 90 video-based ad campaigns since March. The company’s found advertisers are using two primary models of video ads: branding ads that provide interactive elements at the video’s conclusion and branding ads with interactive elements available alongside the video content.

For Unicast, the highest video ad use has been automotive, followed closely by entertainment. The interactive elements in these ad types have included printing automotive specs and brochures, forwarding movies trailers to friends, and buying tickets online.

According to Savarino, one of the most important features of the Unicast ad-serving approach is to make certain all ad data is provided to the consumer before the ad displays. This means all consumers have a similar experience, regardless of connection.

BroadcastPC

This sentiment is echoed by Neal Weinberg, president of BroadcastPC. “We need to meet the needs of both the wide- and narrow-band viewers,” he affirms. To accomplish this, BroadcastPC also provides content to viewers using a “polite,” behind-the-scenes approach so content doesn’t play until it’s fully downloaded.

To date, most of BroadcastPC’s advertisers have been media companies representing film and TV releases. This marketing niche allows the company to provide added value not available to many ad-serving companies targeting general audiences. BroadcastPC can easily target consumers who’ve expressed interest before in the genre or subject matter released. It also means content may be downloaded and stored on a consumer’s computer until a specific time (like right before an opening weekend), so all consumers see the ad in a short, specific timeframe to increase the message’s effect and timeliness.

BroadcastPC uses Window’s Media Player for ad message playback. The company claims to currently have access to 6.5 million unique users. By using skins and HTML tools around the player window, movie and TV trailers can offer links to online movie tickets, studio Web sites, and other content surrounding the media cycle.

Weinberg claims titles such as “The Matrix” and “Shrek 2” have garnered CTRs as high as 35 percent, but the average rate is closer to 7 percent. Though CTRs are often suspect in online campaigns, measuring an increased interest when trying to brand a new media release never hurts.

Viewpoint

According to Viewpoint‘s CEO, Jay Amato, and VP of Technology, Larry Allen, a polite approach is the only way to provide video ad content to a general audience. Using what they call “virtual broadband,” the Viewpoint team is able to ensure all needed ad data is on the client side before it’s displayed, to avoid latency and drop-offs. Ad playback is through the Viewpoint Media Player (VMP).

Viewpoint may be a well-kept secret for many online marketers, but most of us are already familiar with the technologies driving the product. The VMP is the back-end of AOL’s IM technology and powers Adobe Acrobat’s ability to play media files. When these technologies are installed, the VMP is installed, too. So Viewpoint playback capability in the consumer marketplace is very high.

Viewpoint offers a unique product through its Creative Innovator advertising. This approach allows an ad to be played from the consumer’s computer as part of future impressions, without the need to redownload the data. This means a significant savings, as ads can be accessed once from the server and played multiple times, depending on the advertiser’s frequency caps. The approach also allows Viewpoint to more accurately measure impressions by determining when the ad is presented to the consumer, not merely requested from the server.

Viewpoint recently introduced AirTime, a dynamic, video-based ad technology that allows advertising content to be fed to the consumer’s computer as links in news stories or during breaks in the regular content. During SportsLine.com play-by-play action for Major League Baseball games, AirTime can present video-based ads to viewers between innings, in what normally would be considered dead space.

Creative Innovator, by remaining “technologically agnostic,” allows advertisers to focus less on the technology driving the ad and more on what the ad wants to accomplish. Ads can comprise many different media types that work together in the ad space.

PointRoll

This is also true of PointRoll and its suite of “Boy” ad development technologies. According to PointRoll CEO Jules Gardner, “What goes in the ad is up to the advertiser and shouldn’t be restricted by the technology behind it.” He adds being technologically agnostic has been a great benefit to PointRoll and points out the product is built from a combination of widely used JavaScript and Flash tools to allow for greatest consumer acceptance.

“If you think about it, what we’re really offering are mini-Web pages that can have anything running in them. Video has always been a feature of PointRoll ads.”

To reach the advertisers looking for a dedicated video playback ad, PointRoll recently rolled out an add-on that allows many different video formats to be served. Consumers running QuickTime, Windows Media Player, or Flash receive the version best in line with their playback capabilities.

When asked what future paths online ad providers should consider in this space, Gardner replied, “Stay humble. Show a little respect to both advertisers and end users.”

Works for me. I’d love to hear what you think.

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