Can Aol Video Grab TV Ad Dollars? Or Just Display?

It's On AOLAol wants to be the “new TV.” During its lavish NewFront presentation last month, it pressed the message “We’re ready for primetime” – that is, primetime TV ad spending.

Today the company released a survey of 770 ad industry executives on the migration of TV spend to digital video. Respondents indicated plans to shift spend from general display and TV budgets to video. Although TV is considered a key awareness driver, 78% of respondents in Europe and 58% globally said they could achieve greater engagement and scale with online video.

73% said online video spend had increased over the last 12 months. Display advertising and TV were cited as the two main sources where budget has been taken. The research wasn’t clear about whether it was TV or general display that lost more to online video.

One analyst with whom AdExchanger spoke believes that a substantial portion of the $75 billion TV expenditure migrating to online remains unlikely.

“It’s wishful thinking,” said Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research. “Digital advertising is generally oriented around engagement metrics, whereas TV is largely focused on awareness. And it’s very difficult for digital to do both at this point.”

The hurdle preventing TV money from moving online, in Wieser’s view, is that roughly 99% of the US population has a TV, while 64% have online access, according to Akamai. “If you want to achieve ‘awareness’ your media has to pass that 90% threshold,” Wieser said.

Even if you take into account that the key ad demo of consumers 18-49 have significant internet usage, including time spent compared to TV, especially when smartphone usage is factored in, Wieser said it still isn’t enough to change the dynamic of why and how people watch TV versus use the web.

Aol isn’t simply waiting for TV dollars to float over to its video sales team. It has sought to ease the process for measuring online video through a measurement partnership with Nielsen and has hooked up with FreeWheel and Mediaocean to streamline workflow.

During Aol’s Q1 earnings call last month, CEO Tim Armstrong stressed the company’s video usage growth, if not the revenue tallies, showing 800 million video views a month across all screens. Interestingly, Aol appears to be focused more globally than just in the US when it comes to attempting to scale its branded content.

The company recently unveiled Be On as its “global-branded entertainment platform,” based in London as opposed to New York or Hollywood. “We not only had great content, we cracked open some new grounds for the industry in announcing Aol inventory being integrated into the planning and measurement of traditional TV systems,” Armstrong told analysts at the time. “Aol was not a player in video three years ago and we are a player today, and we plan on being a bigger player in the future.”

For now its best hope is to complement TV advertising through cross platform deals. Wieser says digital video spend is often controlled by TV buyers. He believes very few digital buyers have the leverage – or budget – to influence ad deals covering the PC, smartphone and tablet.

That may mean general display will lose a greater share of existing spend to online video than TV will.

“Online video ads on Hulu or YouTube are much more appealing than a static display placement, for fairly obvious reasons,” Wieser said. “People watching videos are engaged with the content, and the ad is another piece of content or something that the user has agreed to watch in order to get to what they want to see. With display, it’s mostly around text-based content, and the ad tends to be in the way or unrelated to what the person is doing.”

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