Online Video and the Consumer Context

Since the beginning of TV advertising, media buyers have had to consider only where and when to drop an ad. Placement has always been about timing and the right programming choice. Getting the combination right is both an art and a science.

Things are about to get a lot more complicated.

We’re fast reaching a point where we’ll also have to consider the where and when of the consumer’s context. Until now, just about everything — strategy, creative, and the buy itself — only had to consider the ad in the context of its placement. For most TV advertising, we could assume viewers were safely ensconced in their loungers, and most response mechanisms built into ads reflected this. We included toll-free numbers and URLs because we knew viewers would be somewhere they could take an action if the ad spurred them.

Some ad forms are very dependent on viewers being home with access to a telephone or computer. Channels such as QVC and HSN simply don’t work without captive (and connected) consumers. Infomercials, direct-response cable, and even public service announcements about home dangers assume a stationary, homebound viewer.

But things are changing drastically. Video is a hot commodity on the Web, and shows such as “The Daily Show” are seen by more people online than on TV. Technologies such as TiVo allow consumers to time-shift (define) their programming (much to advertisers’ consternation). New advances in portable digital video technology, brought about by cheap Flash RAM chips, allow more people to watch what they want, when and where they want.

Even if they don’t take their viewing on the road, more people are clearly getting online at work to watch video and surf the Web. Workers would sooner give up their morning coffee than surrender Web surfing at work.

Some of my ClickZ colleagues have recently written about online video’s advertising potential, and studies show video is a “key opportunity” for online advertisers, a fact that has analysts projecting major growth in online video spending.

There’s a huge opportunity in front of us. We shouldn’t squander it by thinking online video is just like TV except for the download times, smaller size, and shorter programming. The viewer context is totally different, and online video’s capabilities allow us to do things that just aren’t possible with TV.

Considering viewer context may be even more important as place-shifting (watching recorded programs in locations other than the home) becomes as common as time-shifting. New technologies, such as Orb and Slingbox, allow people to watch their home TVs on the Web from wherever they are. Going across the country and don’t want to miss your local news? Just hook up Slingbox to your TV, and tune in from your hotel room!

Place-shifting’s implications may be just as radical as time-shifting’s were for the TV ad world. Take a brief gander at this popular gadget blog, and you’ll be amazed by how many new devices allow people to take video along with them. MP3s also once seemed like an obscure geeky diversion. But once player prices came down, the digital music industry (and digital music piracy) took off. Video may now be where audio was five years ago. And with rumors that Apple may be considering online video downloads in its iTunes store, video may catch up with audio sooner rather than later.

People are getting used to taking their media with them. Apple’s iTunes podcasting section took off the minute it went up, and AOL’s just thrown its hat into the podcasting ring. As we work to consider the new place-shifted world, issues such as context become more important. You can’t assume your ads will be seen by people at home. They could be at their desks (an assumption KFC makes with its new site), on the train, or stuck in traffic. Mobility makes a difference, as Europeans are finding out and mobile ad behavior studies show. We must be able to respond creatively to those differences. It’s not just about what and where anymore.

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