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Online Video Calls for Ad Standards

Apr 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Many online video and advertising experts believe the already skyrocketing growth in online video advertising could be much greater if the industry develops standards in both metrics and ad formats.
That’s why companies like Break Media, Adap.tv and Adobe are working to develop standards, as are organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Association for Downloadable Media. All have introduced initiatives in the last month to create ad standards for the new Web video economy.
The amped-up focus on developing standards is the latest sign that the Web video business is maturing. The implementation of standards is often a necessary step that nascent industries must take as they develop.
Proponents of online video standards contend that the introduction of standards will bring scale and uniformity to an ad buy and open the floodgates to more ad dollars. But opponents say standards could stifle innovation and lead to too much uniformity.
At first blush, online video advertising doesn’t seem to be hampered by anything. Online video ad spending is expected to jump from $775 million to $1.4 billion this year, according to eMarketer.
But some advertisers remain wary of Web video because online audiences are fragmented. Advertisers like scale in their online buys.
That’s why last week online video company Break Media formed the Online Video Advertising ROI Council along with charter members Ogilvy One, truTV, National Geographic Channel, eMarketer, Panache, Horizon Media and Initiative Media. The purpose of the group is to analyze and determine online video advertising effectiveness—otherwise known as return on investment.
Break’s effort is the latest among a handful of moves to bring standards into the fast-growing online video medium. Also last week, online video ad-targeting firm Adap.tv introduced a so-called “universal ad platform” that claims to let Web sites run virtually any type of online ad or format. Earlier this month, technology firms Adobe and Panache paired up in a partnership designed to make it easier for advertisers to sell and place ads across a variety of Web sites.
What’s more, the Interactive Advertising Bureau plans to issue its official guidelines for online video creative at a conference in New York next week. The guidelines will cover in-stream ads, companion ads and other types of video ads.
The goal of the standards, the IAB said in a statement, is to simplify the process of video ad buying across multiple sites by minimizing the specifications for ads in online video.
Earlier this month, the Association for Downloadable Media announced that it’s working to develop best practices for placing ads in downloaded online content, such as shows viewed on iPods. The group issued a set of guidelines on its site at downloadablemedia.org for ad-unit standards that will let marketers buy across sites that accept the units.
Too Much Like TV?
Some fear the adoption of standards could stymie creativity. “One of the beauties and benefits of advertising online is the ability to micro-target,” said Joshua Katz, president of marketing at CurrentTV. “If we reduce this to the equivalent of a 30-second unit on TV, there goes the innovation. Look at what’s happening on television: Television had for an eternity the 30-second unit as its stock in trade, and now everyone is creating brand engagement.”
Others, however, are keen on standards. The adoption of metrics for return on investment can make it easier to justify, plan and buy online video campaigns, said Guy Rancourt, VP and associate media director at Hill Holliday, an advertising agency in Boston and one of the charter members of the Break group.
“When online video is included in a proposal, the TV groups pass it off to the online teams to evaluate. But video, unless specifically planned for, doesn’t meet the planned objectives of most online campaigns,” he said. “So it rarely sees the light of day in the traditional plan evaluation process. We owe it to our clients to all take a keener interest in understanding this space.”
Standards are critical because, while online video producers are poised to seize ad dollars from traditional TV, they need to make the process of buying online ads as easy as buying TV ads, said Keith Richman, CEO of Break Media. “We are trying to make up in a short period of time 50 years’ worth of tracking in the offline world.”
The purpose of the Online Video Advertising ROI Council will be to devise standards for measuring ROI, because the metric means something different to publishers, advertisers and vendors. “If we can standardize ROI, we can get more money to come into this,” Mr. Richman said.
Creative standards are vital, too, because advertisers don’t want to design separate ads for each platform, said Jim Louderback, CEO of online TV network Revision3, which produces about a dozen Web shows. He was involved with the Association for Downloadable Media’s creation of its set of standards.
Revision3 shows have relied primarily on product placements and host mentions to date, but the network will roll out mid-rolls and lower-third overlays in the next few weeks. That’s where standards would be helpful in pitching its ads, Mr. Louderback said.
NBC Universal also is in favor of establishing standards. In fact, the company held a meeting earlier this month with staffers across its cable and TV Web properties to discuss introducing additional standard ad formats on the Web sites, said Vivi Zigler, executive VP of NBC Digital Entertainment. That would enable advertisers to buy easily across all the sites as they seek to maximize the number of ad impressions, she explained.
But a balance is important and online marketers still value innovation, she added. That’s why content providers need to develop standards yet remain flexible to offering specialized ad units when advertisers call for them.
“You don’t want to lock down on ‘These seven things are the only things you measure,’ but on the other hand it can’t be so wild the advertiser doesn’t know what to measure,” said Ms. Zigler. “You have to provide them feedback so they know what they are getting.”

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