Each May, the television Upfront rolls around — the cue for the online video industry to confidently proclaim that this is the year savvy advertisers finally see the light of day, break the shackles of tradition, push back on the dictatorial terms of the TV networks and liberate themselves by moving monies into online video.
This year, of all years, was supposed to be special, with past rejections forgotten. With TV ratings supply down, advertisers were greeted with the prospect of double-digit CPM hikes. Throw in increased DVR/VOD viewership (does anyone watch commercials anymore?) and audience migration to three-screen
devices, and surely 2011 was going to be different. Heck, even Yahoo made a bold prediction about going after Upfront monies.
Yet every September, just like Bill Murray‘s character in “Groundhog Day,” we in the video biz wake to the realization that nothing has changed for the rank and file. Sure, dollars have migrated to Hulu and the network’s O&O sites. But it’s more akin to switching allegiance from Saks to Bloomingdale’s in the spirit of economizing, than representing a monumental shift in video approach. So, much like Murray’s character, perhaps it’s time for the video ad industry to self-reflect and conduct an honest appraisal of who we are and where we’re going.
First off, there are some things we can’t mitigate. Measurement remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room, given the limitations for advertisers to buy and report against all of their video sources agnostically. And as a buyer, if I don’t understand the vis-à-vis implications of moving dollars from TV to online video, how am I going to justify a shift in spend to my client — no matter how much sense it makes intuitively?
But if we’re being honest, many of our wounds are self-inflicted. The biggest concern for advertisers is brand safety. Whatever the limitations of TV, buyers generally have the luxury of knowing where their ad is going to run. That’s not always the case with video, where nefarious practices continu
e to foster the perception of a “wild West” landscape for brand advertisers.
The second issue is our inability to merchandise video as a viable complement to TV, rather than just a bunch of impressions — more akin to display on steroids. A good start would be shifting the conversation from impressions to reach and frequency goals against TV-like demographic audiences. Similarly, contrast television’s story of perceived scarcity with online video’s plugging of limitless supply and nameless, long-tail inventory.
Finally, we need to recognize that TV’s not going anywhere, and has an enviable track record that demonstrates its ability to build brand and drive sale. There’s a reason $20 billion was dropped in this year’s Upfront, based on a measurement panel of 25,000.
Parking the absence of standardized measurement aside, what are some ways we can demonstrate value through research – much in the same way cable did in its infancy to establish credibility? We position ourselves as having the brand-building power of TV with the back-end accountability of digital, so isn’t it high time we proved that with hard evidence? For example, has anyone really addressed how video builds brand relative to TV? Or the way in which online branding correlates to bottom-of-the-funnel metrics? And last but not least, how about figuring out the actual — rather than hypothetical — impact on brand health and retail sales, of an advertiser “filling-in” TV with online video?
So many questions. So few answers. So many opportunities.