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That breeze you feel is a collective sigh of relief from lawyers at every entertainment company in the country. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered another blow to the P2P (define) community by making it easier for copyright holders to sue companies such as Grokster and Kazaa if they “actively induce” their users to swap copyrighted materials. Though a decided victory for the content producers, it’s equally harsh for the illegal downloaders of the world.

Sure, downloading copyrighted material without paying for it is illegal. Not much of an argument there. But come on, we’ve all done it at some point, right? How many times have you done it to test something out; a movie, a song, a TV show? It’s a try-before-you-buy scenario, if you will. In today’s on-demand media consumption world, it’s second nature for people to go online to sample media before purchase. Whether a trailer, a music video, a song, or a full-length TV show, audiences can conduct a tremendous amount of preconsumption research before making a decision.

Problem is, entertainment companies (understandably) strict DRM (define) policies and file-sharing paranoia have led to an e-society that makes sharing media increasingly difficult and, therefore, more difficult to recommend media.

As Dorian Sweet so eloquently pointed out last week, blogs are sounding boards where consumers can speak out about brands. And brands are forced to deal with it. With all that’s outside a brand’s control, it’s even more important to find ways to empower consumers while maintaining a controlled environment where the brand is unharmed. Active online video ads, which empower consumers to interact with video content through paid media, may be the solution these advertisers are looking for.

This more relaxed attitude is prominent now and a sign of things to come. We recently developed an interactive video ad for HBO. It not only allows audiences to sample a scene from “Entourage” but involves them in the scene’s conclusion and delivers a humorous payoff.

Another excellent example, and one of the best viral video applications I’ve seen in a long time, is for New Line Cinema’s “Wedding Crashers.” It allows viewers to substitute the stars faces with their friends (or their own) in the trailer. The audience is engaged throughout the trailer and encouraged to send it to friends. Since friends are actually in it, the sender has a vested interest in the number of people who see it. Pure viral gold.

Active online video ads may initially seem dangerous. Such interaction is what separates an active online audio/video ad from a passive one. But it also brings the world of legal content sampling to audiences in a way that excites, engages, and empowers in a way no other medium can deliver.

Brands that open up their content for active audience consumption are more apt to achieve the viral success everyone’s looking for. Brands that encourage audiences to interact with video advertising in paid media (rather than just run :15 or :30 spots before video content) can keep audiences engaged for minutes, not seconds, and hence increase the likelihood of future paid consumption.

Passive advertising has been around a long time. If planned well, it still works. But active advertising engages and involves the consumer, reveals the brand’s transparency, and allows users to make their own judgments and share them with others. If the content-sampling opportunity is properly chosen, the result is not only active consumption but active sharing of a positive experience.

 

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