In Depth

Measuring Online Engagement Seen as Key to Boosting Ad Dollars

Online video sites and services like Break.com and Blip.tv are in the early stages of striking partnerships with Web analytics firms to offer more detailed information on how long consumers watch online video.

That type of data can help sites develop a means to measure “engagement,” an increasingly sought-after measure of how much attention advertising gets. Advertisers say they are keen for more data on how long Web viewers stay tuned in to a video, whether they fast-forward and when they stop watching.

These efforts to apply more detailed metrics to online video probably will accelerate the flow of advertising dollars into the growing online video business, media agency and video Web site executives said.

Also, these initiatives are yet another sign of the maturation of the Web video economy, as online video advertising moves beyond the experimental phase. Earlier this month, the Interactive Advertising Bureau released a series of guidelines and standards for online video advertising that outline best practices for creative units and ad formats.

Against that backdrop, many video sites are implementing tools to provide specific information to advertisers on how much of a video or ad is viewed.

“The percentage of the ad viewed could be a proxy to consumer engagement, and that helps to inform as to what the optimal length should be for a video-based message,” said James Kiernan, VP and group client director at MediaVest. “That also answers in what environment are consumers more receptive to viewing ads and where are they more tolerant and less tolerant and quick to close an ad or leave a site.”

That’s why Break and Blip are having conversations with analytics firms such as Omniture, Visible Measures, Web Trends and ClearSpring.

Such metrics can help an online programmer like Break better understand what appeals to audiences, said Keith Richman, CEO of Break Media, the parent company of Break.com.

“We can use that information to better program, and advertisers want to associate themselves with sites and content that is engaging,” Mr. Richman said.

Media agencies have become increasingly vocal in recent months about the need for more online video metrics. They want as much data as they can get their hands on because they still need to prove to skeptical marketers that online video is a viable advertising venue.

“The confluence of content, technology and varying user behavior requires us to hold online and digital media in general to a higher standard of performance,” said T.S. Kelly, senior VP and director of research and insight at Media Contacts, a division of Havas. “This level of performance-driven analysis has been a digital standard online ever since DoubleClick touted click-through metrics back in the mid-’90s. Digital expectations of performance must be at least on par with what we expect from display and search campaigns.”

Like Break, Blip.TV is looking to add more detailed performance data to its toolset of metrics for potential advertisers.

“We count a view as being when someone begins watching a video, when the download begins and our servers are hit,” said Dina Kaplan, chief operating officer of Blip.TV. “We are, however, about to integrate with an analytics company that will tell us, our shows and our advertisers how many seconds into a video someone has watched.”

The currency for video ads is still impressions, but views are important too, as well as an in-depth look at views, because that provides the more detailed data advertisers crave.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau states on its Web site that a valid broadband ad impression may only be counted when an ad server receives and responds to a request to deliver a spot. In other words, the ad must actually begin playing.

For the most part, Web sites currently tally up one view when a user hits play on a video, explained Chris Gardner, chief marketing office for Extend Media, an online video technology service.

“A view of an ad is when the browser pulls down the ad and the ad basically has to start playing,” he said.

The current push for more metrics doesn’t call into question how ads are counted, but rather the need for more data.

Some companies already are measuring views in more detail. Extend, for one, reports to its content providers and marketing partners on how long an ad was viewed, as well as whether content was paused, fast-forwarded or muted.

Volo Media is an ad network and online ad measurement service that also tracks how long ads are played in downloadable media, said Jeff Karnes, VP of marketing and product for Volo Media.

“Ultimately there should be standards,” Mr. Karnes said, “because that accelerates the ecosystem when it comes to ad buyers and ad networks.”

Revver said it provides some of this kind of information already because it pairs its video with ads. More than 50% of videos on Revver are watched all the way through, said Angela Gyetvan, VP of marketing and content at Revver.

“We love it when our creators get lots of views on their videos, but we work really hard to ensure that ad impressions are delivered with those views, because that’s the activity that results in revenue—for them, and for us.”