Online Video: More Than Eyeballs

Last week, I was stuck at Chicago’s Midway Airport. And I do mean stuck. I hit some traffic and missed my flight. The next one wasn’t for six and a half hours.

It was the worst layover ever. There’s nothing to do. No Wi-Fi. No high-speed Internet connection. And plugging my laptop into a payphone for a 56k connection didn’t seem worth the trouble. No cushy, members-only clubs here, so no comfy chairs and complimentary liquor. It’s officially Business Travel Hell.

I was left with my PowerBook and a CD wallet full of DVD movies. Of course, I’d seen all of the movies I’d brought with me, so I focused on the special features. “Matrix” fans are probably familiar with the DVD that periodically pops up a white rabbit you can click for behind-the-scenes footage and insight into how they achieved some of the remarkable special effects. When you click the rabbit, the movie pauses, jumps to the alternate video segment, then returns you to the movie. I watched some sequences from “The Matrix,” then popped in a couple of other movies with similar functionality.

Playing around reminded me of my column about video online, specifically Unicast’s new product. I stressed the need for agencies and marketers to figure out the best ways to leverage the powerful tools we’re given by technology providers. Video has the potential to be huge, but we must find a way to incorporate interactivity. Otherwise, we’re just not leveraging online’s full power.

I’d like to share some examples of online video that incorporate interactivity. DVD producers, while obviously not in the online environment, have found ways to add interactivity to their content, as described above. Some DVDs support other functionalities, such as alternate camera angles and soundtracks.

There are many ways to add interactivity, and we should keep dreaming up new ways to leverage it. As technology improves, new functionalities emerge. Interactive video will continue to evolve. Yet most executions don’t fully exploit what’s possible today.

Most interactive video ads feature a video window wrapped or bordered by HTML or Flash to enable interactivity. There’s very rarely interactivity within the video window. Some of the most common functionality is data capture, such as this Intel example, powered by EyeWonder.

A similar example from an automotive company featured two different spots. It asked users to vote for their favorite, then showed poll results.

There are many more examples along these lines. While these companies deserve recognition for experimenting and pushing the envelope, the approaches retro-fit interactivity on top of existing TV spots. These examples actually work pretty well, but you can imagine (and have likely seen) executions that feel very forced. It’s tricky to find a good way to layer interactivity on top of existing TV spots. They’re unlikely to have had any kind of interactivity be part of the original strategy.

An interesting type of interactivity is a playlist, in which you can select from different video segments. MSN’s new video service enables this functionality for content, and it’s pretty compelling. Here’s a example of a Comedy Central piece that demonstrates this capability very well.

You can imagine different ways this might effectively translate for other types of advertising. Perhaps a car ad featuring video overviews of key features, allowing users to select what’s important to them.

Similarly, some advertisers use a tabbed approach to squeeze additional content into a smaller ad unit via multiple panels. It can be different video segments, or, like this “Haunted Mansion” ad, it could be one video stream (the trailer), then additional content on the other tabs. In this case, we have desktop image downloads and info on some of the movie’s characters.

A very rare execution is to actually shoot video specifically for use online. Demos I’ve seen focus primarily on composition of the shots to fit full-frame into standard banner ad sizes (including 468 x 60 and skyscraper). So they don’t really add interactivity. We’ll probably see online-specific video more often, but the reasons will be less about fitting ad unit standards and more about making video content to encourage interaction.

These examples are only the beginning. There’s a tremendous opportunity to take video to the next level of interactivity. We’re seeing experimentation, but the limits of what’s possible haven’t been pushed. The tools to do the job have been built. We must continue experimentation that’s appropriate for marketing objectives.

I look forward to finding more examples of forwarding-thinking video executions and hope to uncover more in my next column.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.