No Need to Seed: IVN to Spark Viral Videos with Paid Placement

As marketers scramble to create the next “Lazy Sunday” or “Smirnoff Tea Partay,” Interactive Video Network (IVN) wants to help them sidestep the need to seed content to video sites in the hopes of pushing the next viral hit.

Instead, the Interep Interactive-owned company will allow advertisers to place videos in prominent areas on four viral video sites, guaranteeing a specified number of plays and enabling centralized reporting. The service may prove controversial, however, as the videos will be placed in non-ad positions normally reserved for editorially-chosen content.

“This platform is not for an advertiser to give us a long-form commercial, or a blatant straight pitch,” stressed IVN President Kevin Gianatiempo. Instead, the firm will offer the CPM-based placements to advertisers for videos produced with the intent to spur a viral effect, or for use as a distribution mechanism for videos produced by consumers referencing brands.

“We’ll be selective about which advertisers we offer this to,” he said, noting that the videos will have to be “stories woven in such a way that they’re interesting to the user.”

Four sites — Photobucket, GoFish, Vmix and — have agreed to feature IVN-placed videos on their sites. According to Gianatiempo, the firm is in discussions with other viral video hosting sites regarding joining what IVN is calling the “Viral Video Network.” The advertiser videos will be presented in areas with labels such as “Critic’s Choice” and “Editor’s Picks of the Day.”

The value proposition, added Gianatiempo, is for advertisers to see their videos more rapidly “bubble to the top,” rather than hoping the content they place on crowded sites like YouTube or MySpace attracts attention through more organic means. IVN will guarantee a set number of video plays to the advertisers in addition to tracking and optimizing campaigns.

Advertisers have yet to place videos through the new service, although Gianatiempo said IVN is talking with advertisers about running test campaigns to assess “how the viral nature takes off over the period of six campaign days.”

Advertisers like Nissan and Warner Bros. have placed video ads and advertorial video content on Vmix, according to the site’s EVP and co-founder Terry Ash. At times, he added, the site has allowed advertisers to run videos in internal promotion positions, usually reserved for editorially-driven picks. Both Vmix and GoFish have been included in IVN’s broader video network since it launched in May.

Such paid placements, suggested Ian Schafer, CEO of agency Deep Focus, “can only make it more likely that [audiences] find a video.” Once they find it, he argued, they won’t necessarily embrace it. Deep Focus has worked with YouTube to have movie trailers and other film footage placed in the site’s “Featured Videos” homepage section.

While users know movie trailers are ads, they may not realize other advertiser-driven videos are. This, contended Schafer, could taint the user experience. “Unless these things are clearly labeled as advertising, I think you might be in trouble. This feels like it’s commoditizing viral video,” he added.

“You don’t want to spoil the bloom of what is so special about this space,” said Nielsen BuzzMetrics CMO Pete Blackshaw. “The closer you get to the editorial context, the higher the bar of scrutiny you need to apply.”

Still, Blackshaw thinks the IVN service may not be seen as controversial if advertisers stick to well-produced video that is clearly commercial, rather than mimicking the amateurish homemade video clips that flood CGM sites in an attempt to be deceptive.

IVN’s Gianatiempo contended that unlike news publications, there is no editorial standard to be upheld when it comes to online video entertainment. “The bar has been set in offline media, particularly in product placement in TV shows,” he said.

“It all comes down to content and relevancy to the audience,” said Vmix’s Ash, who believes that placing an advertiser’s video for payment in a featured editorial section is OK as long as it’s of high quality and appropriate for the viewers.

All in all, concluded Blackshaw, “This is a good early torture test for the industry as to what extent we draw the line.”

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