Moving Targets

Jeff Lanctot, Avenue A/Razorfish’s VP of media, stopped in for a visit last week. He said video search topped his wish list for the year. “It’s just not your inclination at all to search for video online,” he said.

Apparently, Lanctot’s wish is Yahoo and Google’s command. Their teams must have crunched through the weekend, because by the following Monday, not one but both search monoliths unveiled new video search products. Yahoo even links to video search from its home page. The company has also launched Media RSS, a new RSS (define) format to help finding and crawling video and audio content.

“What Google did for the Web, Google Video aims to do for television,” Google cofounder Larry Page boldly stated. Though Google’s current product returns stills and text snippets, not moving images, that will eventually change. Page says Google is talking with content providers to enable playback of video search results.

Video search offerings from major portals and search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN (America Online counts in this group as well, with Singingfish) will light a fire under the already rapid growth of online multimedia, convergence, Web TV, broadband, Wi-Fi (define), consumer hardware, and any number of other things associated with digital media — not the least of which are advertising and marketing.

Users will soon become habituated to searching for, and watching, online video content, either on Web-enabled TVs in the 55 percent (and climbing) of U.S. broadband households or in the rapidly growing number of Wi-Fi households.

I know I am. Simpler video search is just another reason not to get TiVo’d. When I miss an episode of “The Daily Show,” for example, I can stream it from either Lisa Rein’s blog or Comedy Central’s site (preceded by a brief commercial). And thanks to the miracle of Wi-Fi, I can watch in the kitchen or the bedroom or hook up to the Apple Studio Display that’s taken up permanent residence on my coffee table (as a big, flat-screen TV gathers dust in the corner).

That, folks, is TV on demand. Why bother with yet another subscription service or another box, particularly when this will only get easier? Finding video online isn’t difficult now, and search optimization in that arena hasn’t yet begun.

Potential New Ad Models

Opening Web users’ eyes to video will open new, and extremely lucrative, possibilities for advertisers, publishers, and content providers. Get ready for new formats and new tricks for TV and theatrical’s old dogs. Just a few of those possibilities include:

  • Destination advertising. When brand advertising is great, it’s in demand. That’s why Super Bowl ads live long, highly trafficked online lives. It’s why just this week, every Apple spot ever produced was wrapped into a big, fat file and made available as a torrent (define). Remember Amex’s Webisodes featuring Superman and Jerry Seinfeld? Expect redoubled efforts from brand advertisers in this arena — and expect the ads to be optimized for search.

  • Contextual and behavioral ads. It could take a few years for search engines to become comfortable with the notion and put users’ minds at ease. But eventually, the engines will open their data to behavioral networks. Online video is spidered textually, using closed-captioning, metadata, or both. That provides a rich vein of information for both contextual and behavioral targeting. Both areas will be blown wide open to brand advertisers. Currently, both forms of targeting are dominated by direct marketers.
  • Ethnic targeting. Back to the closed-captioning thing. Virtually all closed-captioned U.S. programming has both an English- and a Spanish-language version. Hence, advertisers will be able to beam one message to users who watch “The Simpsons” and another to those who prefer “Los Simpsons.”
  • Sponsorship and trailers. VOD (define) and other streaming options are in their infancy on services such as Netflix. Yet momentum is building, and so are the hardware and broadband infrastructures. My favorite DVD-by-mail service, GreenCine, is also a staunch VOD advocate. The company announced an online-only film festival at Sundance this week. Can brought-to-you-by and coming attractions trailers be far behind?
  • Infomercials. Disney’s running a banner ad this week. The call-to-action is to order a free DVD promoting the company’s cruises. “You’d be Goofy not to order it,” reads the copy. Soon, it’ll be a lot easier, not to mention cheaper, to skip the manufacturing and fulfillment processes and cut to the videotape. They’d be Goofy not to. With a little ingenuity, the data-capture component can be built into the process.
  • Product placement. “Friends” is history, and the wait a long and fruitless one. But finally, Jennifer Aniston’s fabled old sweater could really, truly be yours. With online video approaching the mainstream, marketers will scramble to cram their products into the small screen. United Virtualities is obviously anticipating the crest. This week, it unveiled clickable video ads. And what’s featured in the demo? Jennifer Aniston’s…blouse.

We’re getting there. Stay tuned.

Meet Rebecca at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 28-March 3.

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