Long-Play Streaming Video Advertising

Interested in learning about advertising opportunities in long-play, DVD-quality online streaming video, I spoke with Kelly Egan, VP business development for Swarmcast.

The company is a long-play streaming video solutions provider whose technology optimizes the stream by distributing pieces of the video (and its advertising) across multiple servers, then seamlessly reassembling them for user viewing. DVD-quality streaming video presents the first real online advertising opportunity to go head-to-head with television, but it’s not without its share of challenges. Let’s learn more.

Hollis Thomases: What distinguishes long-play from short-play video?

Kelly Egan: Short-play video, like those made popular on sites like YouTube, are primarily short clips, from a few seconds to a few minutes. The viewer is typically a small window on the screen, and the video itself is relatively low quality. Long-play (“continuous play”) streaming video is DVD-quality, lasts 30, 60, or 90 minutes and is usually professionally produced content like films, concerts, or live sporting events. Long-play viewers tend to be large screen and most closely mimic a television viewing experience, therefore presenting advertisers with more and longer online advertising opportunities.

HT: What are some of the technical challenges when it comes to serving high-quality video like this?

KE: First of all, long-play video almost always has to be streamed (as compared to the direct download option which, due to long-play’s file size, would just take too long and require a very stable, long-lasting network connection). Short-play streaming typically requires between 300 to 500 kilobytes per second of streaming speed, whereas long-play requires 2 megabytes per second. This is a significant difference, the latter of which can put a real strain on a network.

HT: Currently, how are ads being shown in these long-play videos?

KE: Ads can be pre-roll, post-roll, interstitials, or served into the skin or wrap of the large-screen player.

HT: How is ad quality?

KE: It’s not that the ads are poorly produced, but what really matters are the bit rate of encoding and the streaming rate of the serve. Most ads can be easily encoded correctly with the proper ad specs, but streaming is another issue entirely.

HT: So what kinds of questions should the media buyer be asking?

KE: Currently, there’s a lack of agreed upon standards in online streaming video for video distributors, which is an issue for media buyers. There are three top things media buyers should be aware of when evaluating a long-play video ad buy:

  • Video streaming rate of the programming. Buyers should ask, “At what rate is the programming streamed?” This will directly affect the viewing experience and ultimately effect the viewer’s reaction to the advertising. A low bit-rate stream will result in a low-quality viewing experience and, most likely, a poor retention rate of the ad spot.
  • Video streaming rate of the ad spot. If the ads are served from a third-party ad-serving network and placed in a pre-/post-roll or interstitial placement, then the streaming rate for the ad should match the streaming rate of the programming. If not, then the quality of the video will vary and won’t be a good viewing experience, ultimately degrading the effectiveness of the ad.
  • Video serving resources of the content publisher. If the site is serving video and does not have a solid video-serving infrastructure, this results in dropped video playback, extensive rebuffering, and, ultimately, a bad viewing experience. If they can’t deliver their own programming reliably, then they sure can’t deliver the ads, either.

Some other considerations include:

  • Effectiveness of the various ad types. Knowing what type of ad to buy and where it might be streamed in can also impact campaign effectiveness. If, for example, an interstitial will be streamed in at the 20-minute mark of a 30-minute program, the bulk of the viewers may have already dropped out at that point, and your ad really won’t be seen.
  • Type and placement of video player on the site. Is the placement prominent or “hidden”? Some publishers new to streaming video who are offering it mainly to say they have it might make their player less prominent because in reality, their video offerings or capabilities are less than adequate.

Most long-play video advertising is currently viewed as experimental. It will take one or two large advertisers to suffer the quality inadequacy to realize there’s a big problem to fix before major adoption of this advertising can take place. Hopefully, that day isn’t far away.

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