February may be the shortest month of the year, but just less than 3 weeks in, the pace of online video financings has been the hottest since I started tracking this data over a year ago. By my count there have been at least 8 financings announced this month and I suspect I've likely missed a few (please let me know if so). This week brought financings from Clicker ($11M), YuMe ($25M) and TidalTV ($16M), adding to those announced previously: Encoding.com ($1.25M), IVT ($5.5M), Voddler ($3.5M), BrightRoll ($10M) and the big whopper of the month Ustream ($75M) though this one in two tranches.
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Categories: Deals & Financings
Making video ads more engaging has become a key initiative for many online video ad companies. They're responding to agencies and advertisers searching for additional ways to generate an ROI from their online video ad campaigns and further flexibility in how they deliver their messages. The moves come amid strong growth across the industry. Companies that have introduced enhanced interactivity include:
YuMe - introducing today the new "Triple Play" ad unit, which allows the advertiser to insert up to 3 calls to action (e.g. sign up for more info, watch more videos, etc.) after the video ends. YuMe's co-founder and president Jayant Kadambi told me that increasing choice for advertisers and agencies is a key goal. Separately, YuMe reported delivering 2.5 billion ads in Q4 '09, its strongest quarter to date, including an average of 30 million ads/day in Dec '09.
Jivox - introducing today custom interactivity allowing advertisers and agencies the ability to add their own Flash and HTML applets so users can interact within the player itself (example here, roll over the "Experience BMW" to see the interactive options). Diaz Nesamoney, Jivox's President, CEO and founder also explained to me last week that while the company continues operating its own ad network, its fastest-growing segment in '09 was licensing its platform to media companies (e.g. Gannett, McClatchy, Meredith, etc.) who want to sell their own video ads. Revenues were up 600% in '09 with 3,000 new advertisers.
Tremor Media - last week Tremor rolled out six new ad formats for enhanced interaction and engagement: Pre-roll Plus Overlay, vChoice Select, vChoice Rotator, Data Feed, Sequencer and In-Stream Live. The formats, which all use the company's Acudeo ad management platform, build on last June's introduction of its vChoice format. According to comScore's most recent Nov '09 numbers, Tremor was the largest video ad network with potential reach of 85 million viewers or 49.8% of the total U.S. viewing audience and actual reach of 20% of viewers.
Innovid - launched the iRoll, interactive pre-roll ad unit, in '09, which can embed a mini-web site in the video ad itself. Innovid originally pursued product placement through the insertion of Flash objects, but CEO and co-founder Zvika Netter told me recently that, based on agency feedback, it has decided to focus on enhancing interactivity. Innovid is still early stage, but its profile is growing. For example, Netter was recently selected as one of Time magazine's eight "Tech Pioneers Who Will Change Your Life."
ScanScout - Last but not least, in Oct '09 ScanScout unveiled its "Super Pre-Roll" unit, which also enhances interactivity within the ad itself (the Vaseline demo for a great example). Waikit Lau, ScanScout's co-founder and president told me that advertisers are drawn to the unit's superior click-through rates, which are up to 4.5 times higher than typical pre-roll ads.
All of these moves show that in-stream video ads are continuing to evolve to provide more value and a better ROI to advertisers, while also delivering an improved experience to users. No doubt this contributed to the strong '09 that many online video ad executives have reported to me. With the ad climate improving and further engagement opportunities inevitable, there is plenty of reason to believe that spending in the medium will continue to grow.
Note - if there are other initiatives you're aware of that I've missed, please leave a comment.
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Following are 4 items worth noting for the Dec 14th week:
1. New pre-roll data shows format's strength - Though many in the industry still scorn the pre-roll ad, this week 2 ad networks, ScanScout and YuMe, released data showing its continued prevalence as well as innovation that's improving its performance. ScanScout said its "Super Pre-roll" unit, which allows for integrating overlay graphics on the video that viewers can engage with, is driving 350% higher click-through rates compared with typical pre-rolls. In this example for Unilever's Vaseline, note how the creative nicely reinforces the messaging. The enhanced interactivity feels like the start of a new trend; another pre-roll that offers something similar is Innovid's iRoll unit. ScanScout separately announced this week a host of new premium publishers have joined its network.
Meanwhile YuMe released its Video Advertising Metrics Report for Jan-Nov '09, which showed that, at least within YuMe's network, 90%+ of all ads served were pre-rolls, with 30 second spots generating a 1.8% overall click-through rate, a 50% higher rate than the 1.2% that 15 second spots achieved. The volume of 30 second ads also grew 50% faster than 15 second volume in Q3 '09. Kids age 6-14 achieved a 3.7% click-through rate, the highest of any group, which YuMe's Jayant Kadambi told me could be explained by the more engaging nature of child-focused ads (e.g. click to play games, etc.). Jayant believes the sizable amount of existing creative for TV ads that can be easily repurposed for online is a key reason pre-rolls continue to dominate.
2. Paramount clipping site powered by Digitalsmiths is slick - I was impressed with a demo of Paramount Pictures' newly launched ParamountClips.com site that I got this week. The site is only open to Paramount's business partners, allowing them to either choose from an existing stock of clips from over 80 different Paramount movies, or to easily create their own. Desired clips are moved into a shopping cart and released for download, per previously determined licensing terms.
The site is powered by Digitalsmiths, which indexed all of the scenes from the movies using their proprietary recognition process, and then generated meta-data for each, which makes searching a snap. The new self-service site replaces the laborious previous process of a Paramount staffer working with each partner to extract jus the scene they want. As a result, a new highly-scalable licensing opportunity has been created. Paramount is taking advantage of Digitalsmiths VideoSense 2.5 release announced last week that is focused on clip generation, for both on demand and live streams, improved asset management and more integrated reporting.
3. Thwapr launches beta of mobile-to-mobile video sharing - Continuing the buildout of the mobile video ecosystem, Thwapr, a new mobile-to-mobile content sharing platform, launched its beta this week. Duncan Kennedy, Thwapr's COO told me that although there's been a proliferation of video capable smartphones, there's currently no easy, fool-proof way of sharing videos from one device to another (e.g. from an iPhone to a BlackBerry). Enter Thwapr, which lets the user upload videos to Thwapr and then have them shared with their contacts. Thwapr identifies the receiving phone's "user agent" so that it can dynamically decide the optimal format the video should be viewed in. The user simply clicks on a link and the video plays. I can attest that it worked beautifully on my BlackBerry Pearl.
Thwapr's raised about $3 million from angels and has a very strong team, including Duncan and others who worked on Apple's QuickTime. I'm a fan of how video, social/sharing and mobile intersect to create new opportunities, though there are business model unknowns. For now Thwapr is focused on a free ad-supported model, with a particular emphasis on geo-tagging videos to make advertising especially appealing for local merchants. Still, YouTube has illustrated how difficult it is to monetize user-generated content. Thwapr also envisions a business-grade option for real estate, travel, dating type applications which sound promising. I wonder too about whether a freemium model should be explored, though Duncan said Thwapr's analysis suggested this would be a relatively small opportunity. We'll see how things shape up.
4. Next week is 2009 wrap-up week on VideoNuze - Keep an eye on VideoNuze next week, as I'll be summarizing Q4 '09 venture capital investments and deals in the broadband/mobile video space, reviewing my 2009 predictions and looking ahead to what to expect in 2010. It's been an incredibly active year and based on the pre-CES briefings I've been doing, there's lots more to look forward to next year.
Enjoy your weekend!
Performance-based video ad network SpotXchange will announce this week a new partnership with audience profiling firm Quantcast that will allow SpotXchange to offer demographic targeting across its entire network as well as Gross Ratings Points (GRP) based campaigns, the standard for TV media buying. As Bryon Evje, SpotXchange's EVP told me last week, being able to translate campaigns into a "cost-per-point" model for its clients means SpotXchange will be more appealing to traditional TV media buyers evaluating online video ad opportunities. SpotXchange's goal is of course to lure over ad dollars traditionally spent on TV.
If a SpotXchange advertiser is also a Quantcast client, then the advertiser will be able to proactively define a specific audience it wants to target and then buy just those ad placements from SpotXchange that fulfill its objective. SpotXchange can use Quantcast's data on particular segments to determine how many GRPs are available, and then by combining its own pricing, can calculate what it would cost a client to reach that audience on a per point basis.
SpotxChange can separately offer demographically-targeted ads by doing a real-time match against Quantcast's data, before an ad is served. If there isn't a targeted user available, then no ad would be served, reducing spending waste and enhancing the overall campaign's ROI.
Quantcast's demographic information is derived by tracking the behaviors of 220 million Internet users across thousands of web sites. I talked briefly with Quantcast's head of business development Winston Crawford who explained that the company's secret sauce is an "inference model" that takes the behavioral data and mathematically translates it into affinity levels.
From this Quantcast is able to build a "lookalike" model which allows advertisers to target those users who have similar affinities (and as a result a higher probably of converting) elsewhere on the web. In the case of SpotXchange, the lookalikes targeted would be users of sites in its publisher network. Quantcast already works with other video ad networks such as Tremor and BBE, along with many display ad networks.
Melding online video ad campaigns with traditional GRP measurement has gained momentum this year, as other video ad networks like Tremor, BBE and YuMe have announced their own initiatives. Combining a GRP approach with demographic targeting offered by firms like Quantcast is further evidence that the online video ad medium is continuing to mature. Despite the news today that CBS Interactive is phasing out its use of third-party ad networks, as video ad networks move to offering campaigns that can be evaluated along traditional TV criteria, this should in turn draw traditional TV ad dollars to online video. That would mean video ad networks' value would increase.
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In its release, thePlatform notes that its "role is to make online video publishing a seamless process for our customers...." That's a commonly-shared goal among video platform companies, yet I continue to hear from various content providers that stitching together the various pieces they require into a total solution can be difficult. That's why these kinds of programs, where partner products are pre-integrated, add a lot of value for customers.
Among the many companies thePlatform cites as new partners are quite a few I've written about previously on VideoNuze (click to see each write-up): Aspera, Azuki Systems, BrightRoll, EveryZing, Transpera, Visible Measures, YuMe and others.
(Note: thePlatform is a VideoNuze sponsor)
Below is a first look at comScore's rankings for video ad networks' "potential" reach for July '09. The rankings, which have not yet been publicly shared, reveal a relatively tight clustering of 5 video ad networks - ScanScout, Tremor Media, YuMe, Broadband Enterprises and BrightRoll - with ScanScout capturing the number 1 spot in its first month being fully measured by comScore.
The "potential reach" aspect of these rankings is important to understand. As I explained in June in "Unraveling comScore's Monthly Viewership Data for Online Video Ad Networks," the potential reach numbers account for the aggregate number of viewers of all the sites that the ad network has the right to place ads on. However, as I discussed with Tania Yuki, comScore's director of product management, it's not a perfect measure, though comScore is continually trying to improve it.
The rankings are determined through a combination of the ad networks' self-reported publisher list and comScore's own tracking. If a video network reports that any one publisher accounts for 2% or more of its viewers, comScore requires a letter proving the business relationship. There is also a self-policing mechanism as comScore provides a "dictionary" of all publishers that each ad network reports. Competitors can review the dictionary and appeal to comScore if something appears amiss. Still, there's some looseness in the methodology, and having spoken to a number of industry executives, also a fair amount of concern that it is accurately portraying the industry's true performance.
comScore recognizes the limitations of the potential reach approach and that it is just one way of understanding a video ad network's value. Actual monthly performance is equally important, and comScore has been working with ad networks to implement this reporting as well. As I wrote in June, the "hybrid" approach requires ad networks to insert a 1x1 beacon in their video players. Though this approach also has its limitations, many of the biggest video ad networks are now implementing the beacon, and soon comScore will likely begin reporting actual as well as potential reach.
Video ad networks are a very important part of the online video ecosystem, responsible for placing millions of dollars of ads each month. Importantly they allow a level of targeting and reach that brands seek, but are often unable to attain on their own with a handful of direct site relationships. With the online video medium still relatively new, buyers require data helping them understand their options. However, the comScore data is just a first filter, diligent buyers still must dig in to understand how each network, or individual site meets their needs.
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In Q2 '09, 9 broadband and mobile video-oriented companies raised at least $64M, notching another stellar quarter. Here's what I tracked for the quarter (if I missed anything, please drop me a note). I've identified when new investors participated:
(Note that I've included beeTV, which offers a cross-platform TV recommendation system, so isn't a pure broadband or mobile video company. On the other hand, one might argue that Sugar's $16M round should also be included, since the company simultaneously announced the acquisition of video-oriented Shopflick.com and launch of Sugar Digital Entertainment. However, I haven't counted it since Sugar's more of a pure blog network.)
Excluding Sugar, the $64M comes on the heels of approximately $75M raised in Q1 '09 and over $80M raised in Q4 '08. That means over the last 3 quarters - arguably the heart of the current recession - at least 26 companies have raised a total of $219M. To be sure, everyone I've spoken to has told me these rounds have been hard work to raise, but these companies' successes demonstrate the appeal of the broadband video sector to investors and their anticipation for continued rapid growth.
One thing worth noting is that of the 26 companies, not a single one is a video producer itself, or even an aggregator of video. There has been a significant shift in investor sentiment away from content and towards the platforms and tools required to power video. While that's lamentable, it's also completely understandable. The bruising advertising environment, combined with ongoing business model uncertainty and the death of certain independent producers (e.g. 60Frames, Ripe Digital, etc.) has frozen new content investments. Aggregators aren't faring much better. Just today it was reported that Joost CEO Mike Volpi is stepping aside, as the company tries to relaunch itself as a technology provider. Veoh also restructured during the quarter, shedding half its staff and replacing CEO Steve Mitgang (in addition, just yesterday a VideoNuze reader emailed me saying he can't seem to find a working phone number for the company).
Couple all this with the rise of Hulu, the dominance of YouTube, the entry of cable operators and networks with TV Everywhere, and it's clear that on the content side at least, incumbents and earlier market entrants are ascendant, while more recent entrants and startups are having a tough time surviving the downturn. I anticipate this will continue to be the trend, at least until the economy rebounds.
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Categories: Deals & Financings