Political Pre-Roll Lags Despite Online Video Hype

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgDo political advertisers “get” online video advertising? A less than user-friendly approach experienced on PoliticsNJ.com yesterday leads one to wonder: Visitors to New Jersey political news site were greeted with a full-page static ad denouncing Linda Stender, candidate for the state’s 7th Congressional District, as a “spender.” When users clicked to view the ad, which was paid for by a group supporting her opponent, Mike Ferguson, they weren’t driven to another site to watch the spot, nor did a video player launch. Instead, that click initiated download of a Window Media Video file.

Although many political campaigns have taken to hosting their TV ads on their Web sites, or distributing them through YouTube, only a handful has run video-enabled banners this year. Far fewer have run pre-roll video spots, which many believe are a natural Web extension of the television commercials they favor.

Ask political consultants, Web video networks, local TV station site reps or those who handle online ads for political campaigns about pre-roll, and all you’re likely to hear is the sound of crickets chirping.

Bill Caspare, president and CEO of online video ad network The Fifth Network sold some video banners to a couple political advertisers this year, but he said, “I couldn’t sell them on pre-roll, not a single one.”

There are several reasons, he said, though it’s difficult for him to understand why political campaigns are reluctant to use pre-roll. “It’s completely user-initiated,” he said, adding, “People chose to watch that local story on that local news site…so what’s the difference if it’s on a big screen or a little screen?”

He believes the obstacles range from local online ad sales people who are inexperienced at selling pre-roll, to publishers taking too long to approve ads; this is a definite deterrent for political campaigns that need to turn on a dime to respond to opponent attacks or the news of the day.

Caspare also sees campaign consultants holding back candidates. “They get all exited about it, but we never can close a deal,” he said, positing that campaign media buyers steer away from Web advertising in general because they “haven’t figured out they can make money from it.”

“I get the sense the campaigns and their agencies aren’t quite equipped to handle this branch of video,” said one ad sales exec representing network TV Web sites who preferred to speak off the record.

The fact that most pre-roll ads are sold at 15-second lengths also may be a problem, since political advertisers are accustomed to running ads twice as long on TV. ”All they have is :30 spots, and they need to be able to swap them out at moment’s notice for a :15 spot,” said the exec, who thinks it’s a lot easier to swap out copy or creative in a display ad than in a video ad which requires encoding and other more time-consuming preparation.

Plus, he added, “It’s kind of hard to sling a lot of mud in 15 seconds.”

Reducing a :30 spot by 15 seconds “takes some forethought,” said Randy Kilgore, chief revenue officer at Tremor Media, a video ad network of over 300 sites. Also, “There are extra levels of thinking and preparation” when it comes to creating a companion display ad that may accompany the video, he said.
However, said Kilgore, the time constraint may not be a significant factor leading up to the 2008 elections, by which time more 30-second mid-roll ad slots will be available.
Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist at political consulting agency Connell Donatelli has been a big proponent of video banners this election season. He admits pre-roll ads that play directly before a news story may have more contextual relevance than banners running throughout a news site, but his firm has not included pre-roll in any media buys for candidate clients this year.

“Usually, the pre-roll video is more expensive than what I can get elsewhere” when running video in a banner unit, he said. Still, he continued, pre-roll is where online political advertising is going.

Others, including Tremor’s Kilgore echoed that prediction. “My guess is by the presidential election, which will obviously start with the primary, it’ll be huge.”

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