It’s 11 O’Clock. Do You Know Where Your Ad Is?

The way we watch free (or ad-supported) video content is changing.

Almost gone are the days when we turn to a particular channel to see what’s on. Coming are the days of embedded, distributed content.

Content is now portable, in every sense. YouTube brought embedding into public consciousness, but it’s now commonplace. Anyone who writes a blog or maintains a MySpace profile can display virtually any kind of content. The way we now use the term “widget” is just a way of describing application embedding.

Advertisers used to TV advertising must learn how to evaluate content that doesn’t necessarily live in any one place. The onus is on publishers and agencies to educate themselves and to lead by example. And pressure is on advertisers to adapt to these new models.

If advertising is hard-coded and attached to content in any form, it will travel with it, wherever it may go. If you advertise around a particular piece of content, that content — and your ads — could appear anywhere. Even in places a highly protective brand might not want to be. If we continue to make advertising interrupt the viewing experience, it will likely dissuade consumers from “borrowing” the content in the first place.

How can we learn more about the environments where content and ads are viewed? How can we screen these environments on behalf of sensitive advertisers? And how can we provide advertising solutions that still make audiences want to display the content — even with ad messaging?

Advertisers who currently buy against particular pieces of online programming must be aware of these issues. Ultimately, we must be able to provide standardized solutions that feature robust forms of measurement to address this decentralized viewership, and creative enough to not work against its voluntary distribution.

While solutions may, in fact, currently exist for these problems, they’re often tied to licensed video or content player software. If there’s enough advertiser demand for this kind of measurement or screening, companies such as Brightcove, VideoEgg, and would be in a great position to capitalize on it.

But don’t discount the ad-serving companies, either. Many have rolled out or are planning to roll out in-stream advertising solutions that may also address these issues.

As Google continues to raise the bar with its performance-based advertising and varying creative solutions. It should be a role model for publishers looking to increase ad budgets. Those budgets will have to be earned by providing accountability and significant amounts of control. Television measurement has been rather unreliable since its inception. But other than its massive reach, the control over where advertising runs on TV has been its strongest asset. For online video to solidify its position at the bargaining table, it must not only prove just as controllable but also more accurately measured. The potential for exponentially grown reach could be icing on the cake.

These may sound like negligible problems now, but they’ll be increasingly important as the medium matures. Unless we prepare for the solutions now, we’ll find ourselves with less valuable inventory, fewer reasons for advertisers to migrate, and audiences who will reject any get-rich-quick bandage we apply to the situation.

Meet Ian at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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