When it comes to television programming, we are in the golden age of content. What began with a gamble by HBO to take on a risky bet like The Sopranos paved the way for other blockbuster shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, and Orange Is the New Black. Writers, directors, and producers previously renowned for their big screen accomplishments continue to make their small screen debuts, and audiences continue to grow. Never before has so much rich, TV-like content existed. In fact, the vast amount of great programming presents both challenges and opportunities to viewers and advertisers alike.
So much great content, too little…
Video content comes at us from all directions and in all kinds of formats now: the traditional 30- and 60-minute ad-supported network television show, cable shows, subscription streaming shows, pre-recorded user-generated posted videos, and now live streaming. “One of the issues now is that there's so much good programming, it's hard to keep up with it all," explains Mark McIntire, Chief Marketing Officer at Roker Media and former Viacom senior executive. “This leads to binge-watching because you're either playing catch-up for shows you want to watch or because you can self-select what you're going to watch and how much you're going to watch. And once a viewer is hooked, they're going to stay hooked and be more likely to binge."
For advertisers, this binge behavior hasn't necessarily brought huge benefits—especially if viewers are binging on subscription-based models. If an ad-supported show runs on the network in a marathon-style, back-to-back airing, or in situations where viewers watch on-demand and aren't able to fast-forward through commercial breaks, advertisers see the bright side of this golden era of content. Additionally, binge behavior on ad-supported streaming channels such as Hulu and Crackle has also begun to spread the love.
Binging also exemplifies the changed perception of episodic television. Is, for example, “House of Cards an 11-hour-long movie that happens to be split into 13 chapters?" poses Tom Goodwin, EVP and Head of Innovation at Zenith Media. Goodwin also reminds us that we can spend an equal amount of time binging on 90-second YouTube videos that keep rolling into one another as we do watching any single TV program.
A socialized viewer-in-control democracy is another big change. “When there's too much content to watch," asserts McIntire, “the viewer is going to elect to watch the program that everyone's going to be talking about the next day. If you want to be relevant, you have to watch it live (or else you also have to stay off social media so as not to encounter spoilers)."
Both McIntire and Goodwin agree that the standard 30- and 60-minute show shouldn't necessarily be the standard, and instead the content should dictate the standard. “It comes down to purpose," expands McIntire “With a 60-minute show, there's a story arc and most of the time it's scripted. There's the set-up, plot development, then the resolution. People like this. With live streaming, it's not really scripted. Live works really well when it's timely, topical, political, or talk show-like."
The future of video advertising
As digital content evolves, the monetization that goes along with it will evolve as well. “We come from a world of pre-roll, post-roll, and in-roll to a world of flexible ad involvement," says McIntire. “The content creator is going to now be able to control how much and what type of interruption is going to occur in their content. The future lies less in the traditional spot direction than in the integrated content direction, like more branded content entertainment," to use Facebook's term.
When it comes to video advertising right now, experimentation is the key. Whether it's in ad length, format/type, or targeting, neither the media nor the advertisers can yet definitively say what kind of video advertising will work best. Snapchat offers a 10-second vertical ad. Facebook recently launched its 15-second Facebook Live Ad Breaks. Google partnered with advertiser Mondelez International and found that a 2:17 long ad outperformed 15- and 30-second video spots. And recently, Intel ran a five-part ad series featuring longer ads. Each of these experiments falls outside the traditional TV spot length constraints, and we're certain to see more of this as TV content itself evolves.
“The huge cost of quality content, the general willingness of people to watch ads — especially good ads — as part of a value exchange that subsidizes content, and the absolute need for brands and companies to tell people about products and services will of course mean that video-based advertising is here to stay," asserts Goodwin. "I'd expect [subscription-based] ad-free options to always be around and for ad-funded ones to continue, but probably to also see more interesting hybrid options."
Goodwin offers a healthy list of the kinds of things that, as television ads become digitally served, we should expect to see more of:
- Ads can now be far shorter, but also be placed sequentially, we can tell people about brands, then products, then serve special offers;
- Ads can be targeted with way more precision and sensibility than just retargeting me with blenders I didn't buy;
- Ads can be personalized;
- Ads bought and served in real time can be placed live so as to have immediate context;
- Ads can be interactive, can be paid for in new ways, can be linked to other devices.
McIntire sums it up this way: “The future of the video ad format is thinking about what the ad delivers beyond message that is arresting, provocative or interesting. Don't just talk at me; talk with me…and in real time."