Panache has unveiled Ad Flow, a new work flow tool for online video ads intended to streamline the process for publishers adding and approving new video campaigns. I got a short demo of Ad Flow from the Panache team and it looked intuitive and thorough.
According to Panache's EVP Cheryl Kellond, who was formerly a VP of Advertising at Yahoo, ordinarily this process is very manual and is based on home-brewed work flow tools which can result in a lot of emails back and forth among the publisher's team members. The result is that it can take up to 6 weeks and end up costing 25-40% of the value of the campaign with all the personnel time involved. With these delays, Cheryl said Yahoo sometimes had to turn business away because they couldn't process the ads quickly enough.
Though I've never personally been involved in this type of process at a major publisher, I have a glimpse into how complicated it must be from my own experience with VideoNuze's ads. First I receive sponsors' creative which was to have been developed according to published specs. Then I load the ads into my ad system and test them along a number of different dimensions. For one reason or another, frequently there are 1-2 rounds of revisions before they finally go live.
Even for a relatively simple site like VideoNuze which accepts Flash ads, though not video ads, there are a number of things that can cause deviations, resulting in delays for the campaign's start date. Mind you I'm not complaining, I've just come to understand that all of this is part of being in an ad-supported business.
With Ad Flow, the publisher's ad sales, ad product strategy, operations and creative teams can all monitor the step-by-step progress of new campaigns from initially being loaded through testing and to final approval. Rather than using email to monitor progress, everyone gets access to the tool for their specific tasks. Importantly, testing can be in the publisher's video player offline, which has been hard in the past. Ad Flow is another element in online video's foundation which will reduce the friction involved in getting ads live so that more TV ad budgets can be shifted to online video.
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MTV Networks released some interesting research yesterday on the optimal way to present advertising in short-form online video. Its "Project Inform" looked at how multiple ad presentations from 3 blue chip advertisers performed and were liked by users across 50 million video streams on MTV.com, ComedyCentral.com, VH1.com, NickJr.com and CMT.com. The research was conducted in partnership with InsightExpress using Panache's video ad platform.
The research found that the most effective ad product was a "lower 1/3 product suite" consisting of a 5 second pre-roll combined with a 10 second lower 1/3 semi-transparent Flash overlay that began about 10 seconds after the video itself began. Effectiveness was defined as brand lift, measured by metrics like unaided awareness, aided awareness and purchase intent. The research also measured consumers' likeability of each ad product. This finding provides support for why overlays seem to keep popping up; for example I now see overlays on most of the video clips I watch on YouTube.
In second place was a conventional 30 second pre-roll which did well on both effectiveness and consumer likeability. That surprises me somewhat because I've believed for a while that 30 seconds is way too long for an ad where the content itself may only be 1-3 minutes in length. Granted it's a subjective judgment, but my personal experience has been that 30 seconds feels like an eternity when I know the content I'm accessing is going to be pretty brief. In fact I've noticed a clear trend toward 15 second pre-rolls accompanying short video clips, which I assumed suggested content providers had thankfully come to a similar conclusion.
In third place in the MTV research was a "sideloader product suite", which included a 5 second pre-roll with a 10 second custom unit that slides out of the right side of the video window 10 seconds after the video itself began (so it sounds like the lower 1/3 product suite except the overlay is on the right instead of the bottom). I've never seen a unit like this, but to the extent that it may block valuable content in the right side of the window I could see users feeling it was intrusive.
There's lots of research underway about different ad formats' effectiveness, and the MTV research adds to the industry's collective knowledge about best practices. There's still a ways to go though as industry participants launch and test new types of ad formats in search of the ultimate ad presentation.
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Adap.tv is announcing its upgraded OneSource 2.0 ad management platform this morning. The Adap team explained to me on Friday what's new in this release.
OneSource 2.0 builds on the product's initial vision of improving ad optimization while reducing complexity. Adap noted that the main pain point that its customers are expressing especially given the weak economy, is the need to spend more time focused on selling ads and less time on operationalizing the ad relationships. The need to improve their ROIs through both higher ad rates and higher fill rates is driving them to source ads from multiple sources and to want to refine those sources to find the optimal mix. All of this increases implementation and reporting complexity.
OneSource 2.0's new features are meant to address these issues. The video provider can now accept ad tags from virtually any source, and do so more efficiently. In addition, through a management dashboard, the provider's ad ops manager can specify and adjust the fill order for the ad sources on a per ad basis. That means that for a specific piece of content there can be one queue for pre-rolls and another for overlays or for two pieces of content there can be two different pre-roll queues, and so on.
By sequencing multiple sources, OneSource creates a failover system so that an ad is likely always served, thereby increasing fill rates. Adap pointed to one provider who has been able to increase their fill rate from 20% to 70%.
In addition, OneSource 2.0 allows reporting by revenue source, video positions and geographic regions, which, at least in the demo screens that I saw, looked quite powerful. The ad ops manager can track performance on a daily basis and re-order sources accordingly. Lastly, there are enhanced tools for managing ads when content is syndicated, along with performance reporting.
I continue to see OneSource in a competitive set with Tremor Media's Acudeo ad management system, and also to some extent with Panache and FreeWheel. All of these systems are, in one way or another trying to improve video content providers' monetization and/or syndication efforts. Adap notes that by not also operating an ad network, it can be more agnostic about ad sources and solely focused on its technology. It now has 300+ publishers on board, helping monetize "high 100s of millions" of impressions per month, which it said is a 10x increase from OneSource's launch in May '08.
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Here's another sign of the times: thePlatform is announcing this morning that it has launched three new initiatives aimed at reducing small-to-medium (SMB) sized content providers' total cost of running their broadband video operations. In the context of the woeful economy, it's a savvy move.
In effect thePlatform (note, a VideoNuze sponsor) is using its scale to create a buyer's cooperative to save money on three services (CDN, storage and others), thereby enabling its SMB customers to receive pricing comparable to what big customers can negotiate themselves. With thePlatform's customers driving 440 million video views in December '08, (3rd place after Google's site and Fox Interactive Media) according to comScore, the company is in a strong position to use its size on behalf of its SMB customers. I talked to Marty Roberts, thePlatform's VP Marketing, who explained the specifics of how the savings would work.
thePlatform's initiatives are based on an analysis it conducted of its SMB customers' key cost elements. No surprise, the cost of delivery was the biggest chunk, coming in at 78% of total. This was calculated using a set of assumptions including $.55/GB for delivery. For its new "mpsManage CDN" service, thePlatform has partnered with EdgeCast to resell its service for $.35/GB, resulting in a 36% savings on delivery costs. It will also be available on a utility basis, meaning no monthly commitments. Marty said that thePlatform will continue to work with its other 15 CDN partners, but I would guess that this new program is going to gain a lot of attention among its SMB customer base.
Delivery costs have always been a central issue for making the broadband P&L work. Having done many business cases for various content providers over the years, I'm well-acquainted with how quickly CDN costs can gobble up potential profitability even though the cost/GB delivered has plunged over the years. Yet there is a raft of CDNs out there to choose from, and the key is finding the right one for your needs at the moment and your budget. Still delivery costs persist as a major flashpoint: some of you may have read Mark Cuban's post just 2 weeks ago "The Great Internet Video Lie" in which he basically asserted that large CDNs and their pricing are the real gatekeepers to a truly open broadband distribution model (for the record, I think some of his points are valid, but long-term his logic is flawed).
The other programs thePlatform is rolling out are important, though not as impactful as the delivery option, simply because their percentage of underlying total costs is so much smaller in size. thePlatform is offering a new storage program which slashes the cost of storage from $8/GB on average, to $2/GB. Though a big cut, thePlatform calculates storage only accounts for 5% of total costs today.
Lastly, through its new Advantage program it's tapping into a select group of its ecosystem partners to find another 10% or more cost reduction on services like advertising, reporting and analytics and online community creation. Advantage program participants include Panache, BlackArrow, TubeMogul, Live Rail, ScanScout, Gloto and Visible Measures.
Add it all up and thePlatform believes it can offer a 32% reduction in "total cost of ownership" for SMB video content providers. These new services create a new revenue stream for the company, as the reduced prices include a margin for thePlatform as well. And as Marty pointed out the SMB space is quite vibrant and these programs will allow thePlatform to be more competitive in winning deals by giving them another negotiating lever.
thePlatform's moves are also smart from a positioning standpoint; in this troubled economy I think providers who overtly message that they are doing what they can to save customers money generate valuable notoriety. In good times everyone's focused on top-line growth and wants more features and flexibility. In bad times those goals are still valued, but saving money - which can often make the difference in merely surviving - is prized over everything else (Ben Franklin said it best: "a penny saved is a penny earned"). As a result, I suspect we'll see more companies unveiling messages of this kind in the months to come.
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Following are 3 key themes from VideoNuze in January:
Broadband video marches to the TV - At CES in early January there were major announcements around connecting broadband to TVs, either directly or through intermediary devices (a recap of all the news is here). All of the major TV manufacturers have put stakes in the ground in this market and we'll be seeing their products released during the year. Technology players like Intel, Broadcom, Adobe, Macrovision, Move Networks, Yahoo and others are also now active in this space. And content aggregators like Netflix and Amazon are also scaling up their efforts.
Some of you have heard me say that as amazing as the growth in broadband video consumption has been over the last 5 years, what's even more amazing is that virtually all of it has happened outside of the traditional TV viewing environment. Consider if someone had forecasted 5 years ago that there would be this huge surge of video consumption, but by the way, practically none of it will happen on TVs. People would have said the forecaster was crazy. Now think about what will happen once widespread TV-based consumption is realized. The entire video landscape will be affected. Broadband-to-the-TV is a game-changer.
Broadband video advertising continues to evolve - The single biggest determinant of broadband video's financial success is solidifying the ad-supported model. For all the moves that Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and others have made recently in the paid space, the disproportionate amount of viewership will continue to be free and ad-supported.
This month brought encouraging research from ABC and Nielsen that online viewers are willing to accept more ads and that recall rates are high. We also saw the kickoff of "the Pool" a new ad consortium spearheaded by VivaKi and including major brands and publishers, which will conduct research around formats and standards. Three more signs of advertising's evolution this month were Panache's deal with MTV (signaling a big video provider's continued maturation of its monetization efforts), a partnership between Adap.tv and EyeWonder (further demonstrating how ecosystem partners are joining up to improve efficiencies for clients and publishers) and Cisco's investment in Digitalsmiths (a long term initiative to deliver context-based advanced advertising across multiple viewing platforms). Lastly, Canoe, the cable industry's recently formed ad consortium continued its progress toward launch.
(Note all of this and more will be grist for VideoNuze's March 17th all-star panel, "Broadband Video '09: Building the Road to Profitability" Learn more and register here)
Broadband Inauguration - Lastly, January witnessed the momentous inauguration of President Barack Obama, causing millions of broadband users to (try to) watch online, often at work. What could have been a shining moment for broadband delivery instead turned into a highly inconsistent and often frustrating experience for many.
In perspective this was not all that surprising. The Internet's capacity has not been built to handle extraordinary peak load. However on normal days, it still does a pretty good job of delivering video smoothly and consistently. As I wrote in my post mortem, hopefully the result of the inauguration snafus will be continued investment in the infrastructure and technologies needed to satisfy growing demand. That's been the hallmark of the Internet, underscored by the fact that 70 million U.S. homes now connect to the 'net via broadband vs. single digit millions just 10 years ago. I remain confident that over time supply will meet demand.
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Adap.tv and EyeWonder, two key players in the broadband video and rich media ad space are announcing a partnership today, meant to further streamline ad sales and monetization for video content providers. The partnership follows on the deal I wrote about last week between Panache and MTV also highlighting these points.
Particularly given the tough economy, video content providers are focused more than ever on maximizing the value of their inventory with the least possible amount of effort and cost. On the flip side, ad technology companies are trying to figure out how to cover more customer ground more cost-effectively. Inevitably these forces will lead to more partnerships, and likely some industry consolidation. Panache, Adap.tv, Tremor Media and others are among the companies driving the broadband ad market forward. I'll have more news on this front in the coming days.
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The video ad insertion and management landscape continues to evolve as Panache is announcing this morning that its platform will be deployed across MTV Networks' sites. I caught up with Steve Robinson, Panache's president yesterday to learn more.
As Steve explains it, as major media companies have grown their broadband video usage, operationalizing the business has become increasingly complex. This is no surprise and I've heard it from others as well: multiple organizations including technology development, ad operations, ad sales and programming have had to learn to work together to deploy and monetize broadband video offerings.
This is important stuff, not just because of the potential for missed revenue, but because users can quickly notice when the organization's gears are grinding. How often have you seen the same untargeted ad play repeatedly? Or not seen any ads at all? Or have had a 30 second pre-roll ad in front of short 45 second news clips you're sequentially watching? As the broadband stakes have gotten higher, large media companies have increasingly focused on how to streamline their processes in order to scale and monetize more effectively.
That's where Panache comes in. In the MTV example, Panache first integrates with MTV's standardized video player. Once integrated, ad operations is able to use the Panache tools to create ad programs and logic, including campaigns, flights, formats, etc. This becomes the playbook for ad sales as it interfaces with customers, and can be readily modified to suit custom requests. A key benefit is that MTV's development organization doesn't need to get involved each time some part of the ad offering is changed. Improving the back-end processes helps ramp up sales, which for major media companies like MTV Networks is handled mostly by internal teams.
But the need for streamlining broadband video ad operations goes beyond the major media companies though, and there are other offerings with similar capabilities on the market too. For example in the past year Tremor Media has launched Acudeo, and Adap.tv has launched OneSource. Both are technology platforms for video providers that can pull ads from multiple sources (direct sales, ad networks, etc.) with an eye to maximizing fill rates and CPMs.
One key difference is business model: Panache and Adap.tv don't have ad sales organizations, whereas Tremor, as an ad network, does. For Panache or Adap.tv that means relying on some mix of licensing/platform usage fees and/or receiving a revenue share from customers, whereas for Tremor it means obtaining a chunk of the inventory to sell itself. There are no doubt feature-for-feature differences as well, but not having worked in ad ops myself, some of this is beyond my scope and would require specific due diligence.
For sure as the broadband video ad business becomes more integral to large and mid-sized content providers we'll continue to see more innovation and business process improvements in this area. Just as TV ad insertion has been refined to a science over the years, so too will broadband video.
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Pre-roll video ads' effectiveness and user acceptability is getting a boost from 3 different research studies this week. Results were released by Break/Panache and Tremor Media and by Jupiter Research, which focused on the European market. Taken together, they are an encouraging sign for the many broadband video providers who have chosen ad-supported over paid as their business model of choice.
A key highlight of all three reports concerns user acceptance and engagement with pre-roll ads. This format, whether 15 or 30 seconds, has accounted for the bulk of video ad revenues to date, and yet has been a key source of tension in the industry. Advertisers like pre-rolls because they feel like the well-understood TV model and in fact, where off-the-shelf TV ads are often just re-used (for better or worse). The downside of the interruptive pre-roll approach is that previous research has shown users hate the format. Contributing to users' feelings was the fact that many content providers have been undisciplined about implementing frequency caps or any sort of targeting (I myself have seen far too many tampon ads!).
Yet the Break/Panache results show that 78% of users viewed pre-roll ads for more than 15 seconds and the click-through rate averaged an impressive 10%. Similarly, the Tremor research showed completion rates for both 15 and 30 second ads of approximately 80%, a level it believes is reached because of its ad targeting and focusing on premium content only.
Meanwhile the story was about the same in Europe. According to Jupiter's research (as reported by AdAge), audience drop-off upon the introduction of pre-rolls is under 5%. Jupiter also makes the important point that at least 10% of users drop off after 15 seconds even when there's no ad present, simply because they're in channel surfing mode. That means some percentage of abandonment is due simply to behavior, not a specific ad type. This makes sense when you think about it.
I attribute much of these new positive results to users recalibrating their expectations about broadband video and the presence of ads. Here's what I think has happened:
Since the Internet's introduction, there's been a sense among users that "content is free." And with the exception of annoying popup ads, I think many users have learned to look past unrelated banner ads on standard web pages so they've come to perceive their whole online experience as largely "ad-free" as well. (If you don't believe me, ask yourself when you last clicked on a banner ad unrelated to your work.)
But as broadband video usage has grown, pre-roll ads that actually did interrupt the content experience felt jarring for many users. Naturally, when asked, users said, "ugh, we hate them." Fair enough. But consumers are smart, and have quickly recognized that, just like TV, to get high-quality video programming, someone has to pay, and since most users would rather that not be them, they've become more accepting of all ads, pre-rolls included. With premium sites employing some targeting now and becoming more judicious in their insertion practices (ABC.com and Hulu are great examples), users have become more accepting. Hence these positive research results.
To the extent that pre-roll business practices continue to improve, I think research will continue to show positive results. Whether you personally love pre-rolls or hate them, I see them very much here to stay.
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