At yesterday's IAB Digital Video conference, 10 industry executives (see list at bottom of this page), debated how best to define "premium video." It's not an academic question, because for many brands and agencies, the concept of "premium" determines whether the video will qualify for ad spending at all. And of course, the more "premium" the video is, the higher the pricing its ad inventory will command, which in turn drives the video's profitability. At a time when more original online video is being produced than ever (much of it deficit-financed), understanding in advance what is premium - and therefore monetizable - is critical to achieving success.
Two pragmatic answers to the question quickly emerged: one that's viewer-centric and one that's marketplace-centric. In the former camp, YouTube's Jamie Byrne succinctly asserted that "popularity" trumps everything else. In other words, whether the video is entertaining, informative or both, if viewers flock to it and are engaged, then the video is premium. He added that many videos that have gained wide viewership on YouTube and elsewhere have been surprises. This is the nature of today's online video world: hits can come from anywhere, and viewers care a lot less about who the producer is or what brand recognition they may have.
A different, but equally pragmatic point of view was well-articulated by speakers like Videology's Mike Dean and BrightRoll's Tod Sacerdoti, who held that the marketplace is the true judge what's premium and what's not - with the judgment coming in the form of where ad money is ultimately spent. For many advertisers and agencies, the key qualifiers here are brand safety, cost-efficiency and scalable.
Uniting the two definitions was a thread that ran through the debate and was well-stated by TubeMogul's Brett Wilson: the value exchange between content provider and viewer must be sufficiently high so that the advertising will be deemed acceptable by the viewer. That's a high bar to clear in an age of pervasive DVR-based ad-skipping and the ability to instantly click away to the next site. And yet, to me it feels like it gets at the crux of what is truly "premium" - content that the each individual user considers compelling enough by their own standards, such that even when interrupted, engagement remains intact.
Of course, figuring out what is compelling is at the heart of any content creator's job (something I grapple with each day I sit down to write this column). But ultimately that's where the rubber meets the road. Knowing your audience, what they love, what commercial messages they'll tolerate and importantly, what context to provide in order to subtly or explicitly try to guide them - all of this contributes to their experience. And as Undertone's Jared Skolnick noted, the old days of thinking only "professionals" could crack this code are over; with the democratization of production tools and distribution, opportunities to do so are now available to many.
With the proliferation of video choices, plus the endless variety of apps, games and other things competing for the viewer's attention, the job of the content creator is getting harder all the time. All the more reason that what emerges as "premium" will have enormous value to the content provider and advertiser.