Yesterday brought the public release of Adobe Media Player 1.0, first announced almost a year ago. AMP enters a very crowded space of other media players including its own Flash player, plus Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, QuickTime, SilverLight and others.
At a time when the broadband video industry in general and mainstream users in particular crave standardization and simplicity, can another media player, with a "walled garden" content strategy to boot, add new value? While it's awfully tempting to say "no," I think there are reasons why AMP could well matter, subject to how well Adobe delivers on its vision. Here's why:
AMP offers 2 things that, in my opinion, the market still needs. First, a widely used downloadable app that specializes in delivering on FREE video content. Before some of you jump up and say, "Will, what about iTunes?" keep in mind that iTunes offers primarily a PAID video catalog (though to be sure there are some free video podcasts). Second, and related, AMP' provides a download environment in which advertising can be properly inserted, measured and reported on.
These are important because together they open up an entirely new consumer use case for broadband video: offline, free, ad-supported viewing. I've been saying for a while that an odd dichotomy has taken root in the broadband industry, particularly for network programs: users can get either free, ad-supported streamed video at lots of places (provided they're online) OR they can get paid, downloaded video (iTunes model) which allows offline viewing. But this has meant that someone who wants to watch a show offline, but isn't willing to pay for the pleasure of doing so is out of luck (one exception is NBC Direct). Having media stored locally in AMP would allow the offline, free use case I'm describing. This would open up a boatload of premium ad inventory that advertisers savor.
If that's AMP's opportunity, then the question is how well are they executing on it? Though it's never fair to judge a version 1.0 on its first day, my experience with AMP shows there's room for improvement. First is the currently thin content selection that needs to be massively built out to be appealing and competitive. Second is an inconsistent user experience in which some shows are downloadable, yet many are not (e.g. CSI, Hawaii Five-O, Melrose Place). Third are getting the basics right. In my case, when I did download some episodes successfully (blip.tv's "DadLabs" and "Goodnight Burbank") they didn't show up in my download section at all. Ugh. I'm hopeful that Adobe will be able to address all of these.
On the ad side, I think there will be plenty of enthusiasm from ad technology firms to integrate with AMP as Adobe proves it can drive millions of AMP downloads (in fact Kiptronic announced its integration yesterday and other will surely follow). Plus, advertisers should be expected to get on board.
It should be noted however, that even for a mighty brand like Adobe, winning the hearts and minds of users to download and use AMP isn't a trivial undertaking. I have some personal experience with this from my early days consulting at Maven Networks, which offered an eerily similar download app as AMP when the company started up. Though that was in the Mesozoic broadband era of 2003 and Maven was an unknown entity, the company never got much traction with its download app and eventually transitioned over to a streaming model. Since then I've come to believe that premium content must drive the download process, not vice-versa. One successful example of this is ABC.com using its shows to drive millions of downloads of the Move Networks player.
Net, net, AMP is a timely product that could well matter. How well Adobe executes on its vision will determine to what extent it does.
At the end of each month I plan to step back and recap a few key themes from recent VideoNuze posts. Here are three from February '08:
Brand marketers embrace broadband video
One clear theme from the past 4 weeks has been brand marketers' accelerating moves into the broadband video space. This was on full display by select Super Bowl and Oscar advertisers. We are witnessing an unprecedented commitment by brands to create their own entertainment/information video content and also to induce consumers to create brand-related video through user-generated contests. As I detailed in yesterday's webinar, examples in the former category include Kraft/Tassimo, J&J, CIT Financial and GoDaddy.com, while examples in the latter category include TideToGo/MyTalkingStain.com, Heinz/Top This, Dove Cream Oil Body Wash and T-Mobile/Current TV.
Through VideoNuze I track all brands' broadband video initiatives, and it is clear that their involvement in this new medium is intensifying. Faced with splintering audiences, ad-skipping DVRs and changing media consumption habits - particularly by younger demos - brands have no choice but to get into broadband video. This results in an entirely different awareness/engagement paradigm than we're accustomed to from the world of interruptive TV advertising. Brands today increasingly recognize that a key way to create loyalty (and generate sales!) is by engaging the audience on its terms, using broadband and other technologies to accomplish this.
Monetization is the #1 challenge
Another key theme of the past month was the ongoing quest for broadband video monetization. As I also mentioned in yesterday's webinar, this is the number 1 business challenge for all broadband video industry participants - both content and technology providers. Two companies I wrote about this month, EveryZing and Veveo, are focused on improving content discovery, which leads to more consumption and revenue-generating opportunities. I also wrote about Jake Sasseville, a young entertainer who is pioneering multi-platform initiatives to forge a new revenue model.
Innovation is key in this space. Next week I'll be writing about Freewheel, an innovative startup that's just surfaced, which is providing a new approach to managing broadband video advertising. And yesterday, Magnify.net, one of my favorite early-stage companies, which focuses on enabling video content distribution, announced that it has raised an additional $1 of financing.
In addition, the big dogs of the technology and media landscape are in hot pursuit of improved video monetization as well. This month alone brought news of Yahoo's acquisition of Maven Networks, an ad-centric video platform, Google's beta rollout of AdSense for video, and the hostile bid by Microsoft for Yahoo, a deal that has vast longer-term implications for online and broadband video advertising. In short, monetization is a key focus for all large and small industry participants - cracking this nut is crucial to the long-term health of the industry.
Net neutrality re-surfaces
Lastly, this month also brought a lot of news on the regulatory front. Twice I wrote about "net neutrality," a regulatory concept its proponents believe will keep the Internet free from discrimination by broadband ISPs. While I don't agree with their viewpoint, what is clearly true is that net neutrality is being spurred by the massive adoption of broadband video, which places an unprecedented load on broadband ISPs' networks.
So that's it for this leap year month. Three themes you'll be hearing much more about going forward: brand marketers' broadband video initiatives, video monetization and net neutrality. See you on Monday for the start of a new month!
Yesterday's Internet TV Advertising Forum/Maven Networks webcast "Pre-Roll vs. Overlay: Consumer Reaction to New Online Video Advertising Formats" yielded a lot of interesting usability information about various broadband video ad formats. For any content provider or aggregator who's relying on advertising as their business model of choice, it's clear that there are some significant opportunities and challenges ahead.
Below is a summary of the 5 key usability conclusions I heard in the webcast along with my take on each:
1. Users hate pre-rolls. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that video ads are annoying and have developed the same kinds of coping techniques (tuning out, bailing out, etc.) they use to avoid TV ads.
My take: Yes, but unfortunately for users, I don't see pre-rolls going away any time soon. They're easy to execute, fit media buying habits well, are selling strongly especially for high-quality long-form video and best for advertisers seeking a tonic from DVR behaviors, pre-rolls can't be outright skipped by users. Given all this, let's all hope that targeting improves and publishers use them with some discipline, so users don't preemptively turn off to the broadband video medium.
2. Overlay ads' effectiveness is correlated to content fit, not demographics. Testing showed that users welcomed ads for products that were highly related to the content itself, and lost interest the less related the two were. Demos were less important.
My take: This point reinforces the importance of contextual targeting, which of course has worked well on the Internet as a whole. Yet as Bob Kernen at Maven says, a lot of content is "non-endemic" (i.e. doesn't lend itself to specific products or ads), so my guess is that this correlation opportunity is going to be lost for many content providers. Network programs in particular seem non-endemic and therefore will need to rely mainly on demo-based and possibly behavioral targeting.
3. Overlay ads need better execution to work well. Jeff Rosenblum from Questus summarized 8 best practices for executing overlay ads, such as appropriate frequency and duration, user control, calls-to-action, navigation and the like. For anyone looking to run an overlay campaign (and even for those who have), these serve as a great roadmap of do's and don't's.
My take: As always, executing right can make the difference between a campaign's success and failure. If you're planning to run an overlay campaign, I highly suggest you review this checklist against your plans to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.
4. It's difficult to engage an audience. The testing again showed how hard it is to engage online audiences, regardless of approach. Bob laid out a handy engagement hierarchy, Impression, Interaction and Immersion (from least to most engaging). Knowing what level of engagement your campaign aspires to must guide specific tactics and execution.
My take: Getting the consumer's attention and prompting them to act is the ad industry's oldest goal. It's even harder in the broadband sector. People have shorter attention spans than ever, so grabbing them and getting them to do what you hope gets more difficult all the time. Fortunately video offers emotional appeal unlike any text or graphical ad in the Internet world, so broadband offers new engagement techniques previously unavailable.
5. More research needed. While this first round of usability testing from the Internet Ad Forum shed a lot of new light on the broadband ad opportunity, it's clearly just a first step. The Forum has ambitious goals to keep researching and testing, continuously educating the market.
My take: As I mentioned in my remarks at the beginning of the webcast, everyone has a vested interest in solidifying the ad model as soon as possible. The enthusiasm around broadband will soon dry up if participants don't earn an acceptable ROI for their efforts.
From time to time I'll take the opportunity to bring worthwhile industry events to your attention. In this spirit, there will be a terrific complimentary webcast this Wed, Dec. 12, entitled, "Pre-Roll vs. Overlay: Consumer Reaction to New Online Video Advertising Formats."
The webcast is hosted by the Internet TV Advertising Forum and Maven Networks. If you're motivated to learn about what real consumers think about different types of broadband video ad formats, then I believe this 1 hour webcast will be well worth your time.
(Note: I have no financial interest in the Forum, this webcast or Maven Networks.)
The Internet TV Advertising Forum, which was founded by Maven, includes a group of leading companies such as Digitas, DoubleClick, Fox News Digital, Microsoft, Oglivy, Scripps Networks Interactive, TV Guide, 24/7 Real Media and 4Kids Entertainment. The Forum is working to define the next generation of broadband video advertising strategies, formats and best practices.
The Forum conducted a series of usability tests in October, 2007, to study new, interactive ad formats designed for broadband video. During the webcast, Jeff Rosenblum, co-president of Questus, the market research firm that oversaw the usability testing, will share the data and conclusions.
As many of us would agree, 2007 has been marked by an increasing awareness that ad-support is going to be the primary business model for broadband video, at least in the near-term. Yet there is still much uncertainty about how best to capitalize on the advertising opportunity. So I view events like this, which further industry participants' understanding of what consumers want, as crucial to building consensus and standards necessary for the broadband video medium to succeed.
Maven has graciously invited me to share some context about the broadband video industry at the beginning of the webcast. Again, I have no financial stake in this event. Rather, I view it merely as an opportunity to share some thoughts, learn alongside all of you about the conclusions of this usability testing and participate in the follow-up Q&A session.
If you're interested in this complimentary webcast, click here to register.