Online Video Advertisers: Enough Double Stuf, Time to Get Targeted

What a wonderful world: Thanks to Fox, Comedy Central, and the other TV networks that are generous enough to post the latest episodes from their hit shows online, I can watch all of my favorite episodes on the Web on demand without paying a dime to Comcast (oops, “Xfinity”) for premium cable channels or DVR rentals. It’s hardly a case of altruism, of course. The networks make money on online video by selling so-called “pre-roll,” “post-roll,” and “in-stream” ads. In exchange for all that free content, I’m happy to sit through the ads—pretty much.

There’s just one thing that puzzles me. Having watched quite a few online episodes of 24, Glee, and Fringe (does it say something disturbing about me that most of my favorite shows are on Fox?), I’m getting pretty tired of watching the same ads over and over again. Literally the same ads. During a single episode of 24, Fox will show me a single 30-second ad eight or 10 times—at the beginning, at the end, and at every commercial break. Lately it’s been Red Bull, Double-Stuf Oreos, and Bioshock 2 ads. Evidently the network has me pegged as a twenty-something software developer with a cookie and video game habit.

I don’t mean to second-guess video advertisers at their own business, but it strikes me that showing the same ad over and over to someone who’s never going to buy the product is not an optimal use of all of the advertising time that goes along with a 43-minute TV episode. In fact, it can be counterproductive. By the time I’ve watched the same Red Bull ad 10 times, I’m so sick of the company that I’m even less likely to buy their sugar-and-caffeine concoction, even if it does promise to give me wings.

Other networks seem to have slightly more on the ball when it comes to online ads. I was intrigued the last time I logged onto Hulu, and it asked me before 30 Rock which of two Southern Comfort ads I preferred to watch. But after that one spot, the rest of the ads during the show were non-interactive and were chosen, as far as I could tell, at random. Not only that, but the 30 Rock ads looked to me like the same 30-second spots that the ads the networks show on broadcast TV, just repurposed for the PC screen.

So, here we are in 2010. I’ve got a 30-megabit-per-second Internet pipe into my house, and my browser is loaded up with glitzy interactive video software like Adobe’s Flash Player, and the cookies on my computer probably know me well enough to guess my toothpaste brand. But to the network advertising executives, it’s still 1975. Whatever happened to all the talk about targeted advertising? I could use a little bit of it right now.

“The dirty secret is that most pre-roll is not targeted,” says Bill Day, the CEO of ScanScout, a tech startup that buys ad slots from a network of 1,000 online video publishers and sells them to advertisers. “The ‘targeting’ is literally as simple as, … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “Online Video Advertisers: Enough Double Stuf, Time to Get Targeted”

  1. Thanks for this article Wade. I liked the dissection of your own online viewing experience of advertising very much. I like hearing about your experience because I have had similar ones in the few times when I did watch a show online. As they say in Dublin, “It just does your head in.” (to watch mindless repetition)

    Even more, I like that you are highlighting the incredible richness of video infrastructure, analytics, and search companies in the local area. I don’t see that important specialty of Boston mentioned often enough in the press, at least outside of Boston.

  2. Hey Wade – Fantastic post and I completely agree with your opinion, my personal pet peeve is pre-roll on short form video content. I actually posted about it on my blog this morning and there is an interesting conversation going on about it:

  3. Brendan says:

    Great piece, but i would note that when you check ScanScout’s demo section you will notice that Fox’s The Donalds vs. The Mannings you complain about seeing over and over again is actually a ScanScout ad.