Media: All About - Online video ad formats

The search for an industry standard is hotting up, Alasdair Reid writes.

Last week, we saw two important research initiatives in the online video advertising market - a sure sign, you could argue, that this market is really beginning to heat up.

First, VivaKi announced that it had signed up partners to bring its US online video research initiative, The Pool, to the UK. The Pool was launched in the US in January 2009 and saw VivaKi signing long-term partnership deals with a number of advertisers (including Capital One and Nestle Purina) plus media owners including CBS, Discovery Communications, Hulu, Microsoft Advertising and Yahoo!.

It looked at all of the available online video formats, both longand short-form, and examined consumer interaction with each of them. The goal was to move towards an industry standard in this sector.

Last week, VivaKi revealed its plans to do the same in the UK and has signed partnership agreements with Channel 4, YouTube and Fox Video Networks, plus the Publicis Groupe clients Aviva and the RAC. Another major broadcaster and a further blue-chip Publicis client are believed to be on the verge of announcing their involvement too.

BSkyB is not believed to be on the verge of signing up - because it was a participant in another research initiative, alongside the Internet Advertising Bureau, whose findings were published last week.

This 12-month study measured the responses of 6,000 participants to five formats (ads in the study featured 11 brands across 24 campaigns) appearing on six Sky-branded websites: Sky News, Showbiz, Sky1, Golf365, Planet Rugby and Sky Sports.

And the study took the enlightened view that immediate click-through is not the only measure here - brand recall was chosen as a more important benchmark. Its main finding was that pre-roll advertising tops the effectiveness chart; and that recall is even more pronounced when you run pre-roll with a companion banner.

Less effective were branded video player formats, post-roll ads and overlay systems, which came bottom of the table. This will come as interesting news to Google, which is majoring on overlays (running a basic search-result-style text across the bottom of videos) in its renewed video advertising push.

The UK version of The Pool is likely to take its cues from its US counterpart - and, interestingly, the US study's assessment of format categories differs significantly when compared with the IAB/Sky research. For instance, The Pool discounted post-roll early on in the research process, leaving it, broadly, with five candidates:

Ad Selector or ASq. A "slate" appears before content asking the viewer to choose from a menu of three video ads to view before content runs. If no choice is made, a default ad runs.

Fusion. A straightforward pre-roll ad with an overlay.

Rich Playlist. This features a clickable overlay across the player area of the screen during content run, plus a banner in the playlist menu area of the screen. When the feature content finishes, this overlay then becomes a post-roll video ad.

VChoice. Users have to access content via a menu billboard that asks them first if they want to watch an ad.

Watch or Post. In order to view content, the viewer must either watch a pre-roll ad or post an advertiser-sponsored message on a Facebook or a Twitter page.

1. The Pool's US research programme found that ASq, a format developed out of the Ad Selector system pioneered in the US by Hulu, was the most effective. The study maintains that it's better for the consumer, helping them understand that advertising helps pay for the content while involving them in the process, which gives them greater control. It also, The Pool argues, is better for both advertisers and media owner because it yields better awareness results.

2. Happily for Publicis, it is a co-owner of the ASq format. ASq is managed by The Rising Tide Co-op, whose members include Panache, VivaKi, TidalTV, Visible Measures and Vindico. In order to use the format, you have to be "ASq certified" by Publicis and its partners. Last month, Google confirmed that YouTube intended to adopt the format.

3. The IAB/Sky research offers a more flexible vision of the future. It says preand post-roll ads can be used to build brand familiarity; whereas companion banners, branded video players and overlays will appeal more strongly to the traditional sorts of response advertisers that have strategies majoring on click-through.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- It's in everyone's interests to simplify this market. Eighteen months ago in the US, there were more than 30 video advertising formats regularly in use. That was clearly a barrier to growth - the work and costs involved for advertisers looking to reach a large nationwide audience, using a range of media owners, were likely to be prohibitive.

- Now in the US, there are fewer than five formats that matter. And if you believe the conclusions of VivaKi's pool, there's only going to be one clear winner - the ASq system.

- That, though, will give advertisers on both sides of the Atlantic some pause for thought. It's a moot point, for instance, whether WPP agencies and their clients will accept The Pool's findings unequivocally, given the history of strong rivalry there's been in the digital domain between Publicis and WPP.

MEDIA OWNERS

- Likewise, media owners should also welcome moves towards standardisation. Video display advertising, especially formats that offer click-through options too, may just foment (at long last) a genuine boom in digital display advertising.

- Evolution in the UK market is likely to be fairly rapid. It can learn much from the US - and on this side of the Atlantic, we're starting with a narrower range of formats in the first place.

- So the whole sector (participants and non-participants alike) will await the UK Pool conclusions with interest; but they will perhaps be keener to see the IAB driving convergence - not necessarily Publicis Groupe.

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