Pre-Roll Will Always Trump In-Feed Native Video

vitalypecherskiy-tvvideoOn TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Vitaly Pecherskiy, co-founder and chief operating officer at StackAdapt

Today’s online video advertising comes in all shapes and sizes, varying widely from platform to platform. But no matter how it’s packaged, one thing’s for certain: Video is set to explode.

Some 75% of US senior executives plan to shift their budgets from television to digital video ads, according to Internet Advertising Bureau estimates, and spending is expected to top $5.4 billion by 2016.

There are many different names, options and distinctive features on the market. In my experience, however, online video advertising can, at its most basic level, be split into two predominant categories: pre-roll and in-feed native video.

Over the last couple of years, in-feed native video has generated an incredible amount of buzz, with many advertisers predicting that the format will become an evenly-matched competitor to pre-roll. But I think they’re wrong. Here’s why.

Pre-Roll At A Glance

Pre-roll is a newfangled version of its predecessor: television advertising. If you want to watch the content you originally intended to view, you’re forced to sit through the advertiser’s message beforehand.

If you’ve watched YouTube lately, you likely encountered numerous pre-roll ads. They’ve become an everyday nuisance for Internet users, myself included, because all you want to do is watch the content you originally intended to view. But instead, you’re forced to sit through five seconds – and sometimes even 30 seconds if you’re really unlucky – of advertising that is often irrelevant.

In-Feed Native Video At A Glance

On the other end of the spectrum is native video advertising, which, rather than hijacking another piece of content, puts the onus on the advertiser to create something that consumers actually want to watch without being forced to do so. It offers brands the chance to practice storytelling and, in turn, build sincere relationships with their audiences.

As a general rule, in-feed native viewing is entirely voluntary and almost always click-to-play. For this reason, advertisers are motivated to produce high-quality video content that educates, entertains and touches viewers – content that encourages them to stick around until the end of the video.

Pre-Roll Beats Native

When in-feed native video first started to appear in media plans, marketers naturally measured its effectiveness in the same way as pre-roll. The success metrics used are still largely tied to the cost per view, and pre-roll will always beat in-feed native video on this metric, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, pre-roll tends to be 15 to 30 seconds in length, while in-feed native video is typically reserved for longer-form content. For this reason, the completion rate for a 15-second-long video will be exponentially higher than that of a video that runs for five minutes.

Further, in-feed native video is a scrollable, click-to-play format, which means the number of people who actually play the video is often miniscule – somewhere around 0.8% – compared to pre-roll ads, where virtually all users see at least the beginning of the video.

Is Outstream Video A Native Format?

It could be argued that outstream video units, which may be referred to as in-text video, are native. But in reality, they aren’t.

They’re not native because they break the fundamental purpose of native advertising: the uninterrupted delivery of branded content. A video ad that autoplays with the sound enabled certainly isn’t native in any shape or form.

Even if you could convince me that outstream video units could be considered native, there’s a reason why all players are moving to cost-per-completed-view pricing models for these formats. Users simply don’t sit through those video ads unless they’re forced to, like in pre-roll.

It’s difficult to see eye to eye with the 66% of marketers in the recent eMarketer research study who suggest outstream ads are less intrusive than other video formats. Only a screen takeover or pop-up could be more intrusive than this format. At least with pre-roll, users are already engaged with a relevant form of content – in this case, video – and don’t have to switch from reading a text-based article to watching a video.

The Future For In-Feed Native Video?

So, given my strong opinions, do I think pre-roll is the most effective form of video advertising?

Not at all.

I think there are two things stopping native video from gaining the momentum it deserves. First, advertisers are put off the idea of native video ads because they’re unsure of how to calculate the return on investment. If you measure the success of a native video campaign in the same way as pre-roll, you’ll be very disappointed.

But does a completed view of a 15-second video that’s been forced upon a user hold the same value as a voluntary view of a three-minute piece of branded video content? The largest challenge native video faces is in advertisers’ inability to measure the long-lasting impact of video content. The problem is universal since attributing the success of a campaign to a survey-based brand lift study or the number of social shares is still entirely speculative.

Another obstacle: Native video ads are outside the comfort zone of many brands. They require time, resources and a whole lot of imagination.

If there’s one piece of knowledge I could impart today, it’s that the goals of each of the aforementioned video formats are fundamentally different. The objectives of pre-roll align with direct-response-style advertising messages. On the contrary, the main goal of native advertising is to build brand affinity and generate purchase intent.

Creating a great piece of video content for in-feed native distribution is no easy feat. When you add to that the challenge of measuring the return on investment, you can understand why native video isn’t taking off as expected. The often unquantifiable impact of a native video ad doesn’t exactly encourage marketers to experiment with the format.

So, the question remains: Will in-feed native video die out without the numbers to back up its place in media plans? Well, only time will tell.

Follow Vitaly Pecherskiy (@vitalypecherski), StackAdapt (@StackAdapt) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Thank you for your thoughts. Your calculations makes sense within their given frame but what about Addblock? Addblock kills of most prerolls everywere and the use of some form of addblocking software has exploded (and is still exploding). What does that mean for the viability of prerolls?

  2. I agree that Video is set to explode, but pre-roll will only be a small part of that story. In order for it to grow as expected, advertisers need access to more, quality inventory that is simply not available in a pre-roll format. Outstream enables advertisers to reach the scale they desire without the additional requirement of native of having to create high-quality video content just to show an ad. Quality outstream can be configured with audio controls, skippability options and viewability settings, enabling publishers to determine what type of experience they want to deliver for their users.

  3. The irony of your article is that it reads like a “native ad” for your company StackAdapt! : )