Let's Breathe Some Life Into Programmatic Video

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Brand Aware"Brand Aware" is a column from the marketer's point-of-view on the data-driven, digital ad ecosystem and written by Bob Arnold, Associate Director of Global Digital Strategy at Kellogg Company.

As consumer adoption of online video continues its rapid ascent, there's understandable buzz about video's potential move into the programmatic space and the opportunities for marketers and ad tech, alike. Clearly the online video space has been booming with eMarketer predicting that the space will grow more than 30% annually for the next two years.

Yet, anecdotally, many large marketers have stayed on the sideline for programmatic online video, while some marketers who have moved aggressively into the space have had their hands burned. In discussions with other marketers at conferences, I've heard many complaints about the pain and frustration of serving and tracking spots online – including reduction in video size, muted sound, and other shenanigans undertaken without their consent. Those I spoke with were reconsidering their investment in programmatic online video and in extreme cases online video in general.

What can be done to entice more large marketers to invest in the space?  I'll provide my perspective, and I'm interested to hear others' thoughts as well.

Let's start off with the good news. Large traditional marketers are interested in online video for the following reasons:

  1. Online video creative formats are similar to TV creative. In fact, for many large marketers, online video creative is repurposed TV creative. Marketers are comfortable with 15- and 30-second spots.  They understand how these spots work and what drives value. Many publishers are keenly aware of this, most replicating the TV experience with pods and pre-roll inventory.
  2. Opportunity to capture "light" and non-TV viewers. According to Nielsen, Americans as a whole are consuming more TV than ever. That said, there are segments of consumers who are "cord cutters," consumers who watch extensive commercial-free premium TV content, and consumers who use online video as a supplement to their TV viewing.  Yet brands still need to reach these consumers, and online video advertising can fill this need
  3. As TV costs continue to inflate on a yearly basis, online video becomes more attractive.  Depending on placement online video can be already more cost-effective on a reach basis than TV.

All of that said, shouldn't the investment into programmatic online video be accelerating even faster than it is today?  The short answer is yes, of course!  However, many of the mistakes we made with display are reappearing in the video space, as well.  Here are some that I observe:

  1. Bad Actors. From a marketer's perspective, I feel the possibilities of online video are almost endless: sight, sound, motion, a captive audience, and a medium that traditional marketers can easily grasp.  On the opposite spectrum, as the technology continues to shift, it opens up potential for nefarious activity. Unfortunately, we see it all too often from video ads auto-playing below the fold, and muted – in short, where no one could possibly see it. In other cases video ads are rendered unrecognizable because they are squeezed into a banner ad. These things added up leave advertisers on the sidelines of programmatic online video investment.
  2. Basic standardization. While the industry has made broad strides in standardization such as VAST and VPAID -- not all video publishers follow the standard.  While I'm sure publishers have their reasons, from an advertiser perspective this only makes things confusing and scares investment away because we can't measure online video uniformly.  Without standard measures, marketers won't understand the effectiveness of online video or which partners are most valuable.
  3. Marketer knowledge. For brand marketers, there is still a lot of opportunity to better leverage the online video medium. Parallel to banner ads, it took us a while to understand creative best practices, create a new set of key performance indicators and properly leverage it as a marketing vehicle. (To be clear, there is still a lot more to learn and leverage.)  Online video advertising is no different.  Right now, for the most part marketers are simply repurposing TV creative, but is that really the way to go?  While I don't have any data, I'd wager there is more opportunity in the space than just simply creating a one-way 15 or 30 second message. Time will tell what opportunities the space will bring, but programmatic buying and selling platforms have to be ready to turn on a dime when the space evolves.
  4. Quality inventory constraints. Perhaps in part due to point #1, from my vantage point, there seems to be somewhat of a shortage of quality inventory.  I am optimistic. Similar to display I fully expect that as more publishers and ad tech enter the space, we'll see this issue fix itself very quickly.

Follow Bob Arnold (@bobbyarnold) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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2 Responses to “Let's Breathe Some Life Into Programmatic Video”


  1. Alejandro Correa says:

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading your article.

    To your point about "quality" inventory, I wonder if generalizing all types of "online video" into the same channel allows the bad actors to get away with their shenanigans.

    For example, it is possible to lump in "over-the-top" video with "in-banner" video as part of the same "video buy" but the first provides an experience that is very similar to traditional tv while the second provides an experience that is very similar to remnant standard display. Audiences watching a pre-roll that loads before a youtube video are hardly captive in the same way that audiences in their living room are, audiences who might be too lazy to look for the remote and change the channel during commercials, or who have the TV on in the background.

    If we agree that OTT video, as a type of media, is fundamentally different from in-banner video and should be approached differently, then we have to figure out how to measure these. A buyer that cookie-bombs in-banner across any placement they can win below $1 will probably have a much better shot at achieving a low "last-touch" attribution than a hulu buy delivered over a Roku box. If both of these buys were lumped into the same bucket, and measured using the same methodology, the lower-quality placement which probably didn't really improve the bottom line would look "better."

  2. Peggy Reinders says:

    Thanks AdExchanger for providing the marketer's point of view! I hope that all the vendors read Bob's perspective to understand where marketers are coming from and how best to address our greatest challenges. It's not just by giving us a product dump of what your tool or service does. Bob Arnold is a great choice to spearhead this. He's one smart cookie that I had the privilege of meeting a few weeks ago. Cool to see you on here again Bob!!!!

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