Roll ‘em: Online video ads are de rigueur for the new year

Online search advertising is so last year. And while the online space changes as mercurially as the weather, pundits are predicting that streaming online video will be the hot ad placement opportunity for 2007.

Online search advertising is so last year. And while the online space changes as mercurially as the weather, pundits are predicting that streaming online video will be the hot ad placement opportunity for 2007.

Although Canada lags slightly behind the U.S. in this area, a perfect storm of a bulked-up Canadian inventory of video content and a veritable explosion of consumer demand for broadband entertainment have come together to make online video advertising effective, accountable and increasingly mainstream.

All of Canada’s major conventional broadcasters, and most of the specialties, are bulking up the video on their websites and the video advertising within that content. At the end of 2006, CTV signed a digital deal with Warner Bros. International Television to acquire the Canadian broadband rights to The O.C., Smith, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Each 44-minute show contains five commercial breaks: one pre-roll, one post-roll, and three in the body of the show. The target length for each spot or promo is 15 seconds and will be slotted on all five channels of the CTV Broadband Network: CTV News, CTV Shows, MTV, eTalk and Discovery Channel.

CTV reports that for episodes one and two of The O.C., the first of the U.S. network dramas to debut online, 120,000 streams were ordered up in the first 10 days.

CBC is the latest broadcaster to offer streaming video advertising on its site. Bob Kerr, director of business and platform development for CBC English television, expects ads will be reasonably short, 15 seconds or less, and will be rotated fairly frequently. The evaluation tools are in place to measure how many people are playing the video and results so far are positive.

Kerr says, ‘The Rick Mercer Report is obviously one of our premier programs and the traffic we’re looking at for the past seven days indicates Mercer is getting a lot of hits (over 400,000 during November). The numbers we’re getting really seem to bear out the fact that there is an appetite for video online.’

Jennifer Stothers, national sales director for AOL Canada, says AOL.ca is not at parity with the U.S. in terms of the amount of video on its site, but is set up for increased demand in 2007. ‘Broadband hit critical mass in the U.S. and that’s driving major advertisers like Unilever and P&G to get on the bandwagon with streaming ads.’

She says U.S. advertisers are using online video to repurpose and extend their TV efforts, citing the American Express ‘My Life, My Card’ campaign. Amex wanted to run the commercial created for the Oscar telecast simultaneously on AOL. To fully leverage the Web, the spot was shortened, and for about 25% of its offline budget, Amex was able to reach almost 16 million AOL users and double the effectiveness of the campaign.

Mila Mironova, marketing manager for Nokia Canada, is hoping for a similar boost with the company’s ‘pushtostart’ video ad campaign, which launched in December to target the young adult demo on Yahoo.ca. The video ad and supporting television teasers on MTV and MuchMusic are for the Nokia 6133, a multifaceted phone that is so easy to use only one hand is needed. All media drives consumers to pushtostart.ca for a 2001: A Space Odyssey-style video about the left and right hand battling it out to see who operates the phone. There are games to play – hand tennis, hand racing, and hand blast – as well as a product demo and contest.

This is the first video ad campaign for Nokia but Mironova says in the last six to eight months before the launch, there had been strong indications that video advertising was the next big thing. That gut feeling was supported by hard data provided by Nokia’s media agency, The Media Company in Toronto, to show that online video was a natural choice for reaching the brand’s 25-year-old bull’s-eye target and driving them to the website.

‘They’re hardly in front of the television,’ says Mironova. ‘They’re multitaskers – on their laptops, on the phone, instant messaging, and it’s easier for us to catch them while they’re on their computers, especially on a site like Yahoo.’

Nick Barbuto, director of interactive solutions for Cossette Media in Toronto, says: ‘Consumers are finding out that they can get more control over the content they love through the online infrastructure. The biggest opportunity right now is the pre-roll video online. I don’t think there should be any advertiser reluctance to putting their ad in front of a clip from Global Television. It’s more advantageous to the advertiser than the current TV model.’

Barbuto has put together several pre-roll video campaigns for both youth-seeking clients – such as Nike and Coca-Cola within male- and younger-skewing content on tsn.ca and mtv.ca – and also for a more mainstream audience, within news and information on canada.com/globaltv for Bell.

According to Barbuto, beyond the obvious captive audience reach, an advantage of this sponsorship approach is that it generates more of a halo of goodwill than TV, by taking up just a few seconds before delivering the content. The other big plus is that, depending on the length of the program, a brand is usually the sole advertiser.

And for a brand like Nike, the ad goes viral so its impact is extended well beyond the paid media campaign. Barbuto cites the Nike soccer ‘Touch of Gold’ campaign built around the World Cup last year as a good example. Pre-roll video starring Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho was shown on Yahoo, iFilm, and MTV sites in Canada. It garnered hundreds of thousands of impressions on those sites and at Cossette’s suggestion, a version was uploaded to YouTube.com. That clip, one of the most viewed on the site, had been watched more than 8.3 million times by the end of 2006.

Caroline Moul, digital media strategist for PHD IQ in Toronto, says the targeting and accountability of the medium make these buys very attractive for advertisers. In 2006, it was mainly U.S. players that had the content, now she says there are more Canadian opportunities for targeted pre-roll placement. The content ranges from news and information properties, where she placed 30-second executions for Acura, to the Red Bull 15-second spots placed by PHD’s Montreal office in MuchMusic and MTV clips.

‘For brand awareness, [pre-roll] makes a lot of sense within particular demos where people are not watching as much TV or listening to as much radio as in the past. With a lot of suppliers moving towards a more measurable model for their pre-roll, we’ll definitely see an increase.’

This was the case for the campaign PHD IQ put together for Unilever to generate awareness around the Axe launch of Clix Bodyspray and to drive traffic to axe.ca. Pre-roll and in-page streaming ads were placed in mass-reaching portals, entertainment, music, and social network sites to reach the young male demo. The ads helped develop a relationship with the consumer, and to get them to come back multiple times, says Moul, to play games and to enter the Clix Playground contest to win a party trip to Miami.

Moul says many of her clients have also been testing podcasts: ‘The numbers are fairly small but it is niche and you have a captive audience so it’s a good space for a client to be aligned with a certain podcast. In the case of Acura, if the podcast is about technology it makes the most sense to align them with it. It also allows us to repurpose our audio files.’

CBC is now involving advertisers with 21 of its popular audio podcasts (which account for about 140,000 downloads each week) via 10-second sponsorship messages at the beginning of the podcast and accompanying banner ads at CBC.ca.

As for the mobile revolution, the third-screen – mobile phones and other devices – hasn’t yet become a viable medium for most marketers. Barbuto of Cossette expects it to become more tangible as portable devices continue to take on more capabilities and the wireless infrastructure continues to expand.

Barbuto says: ‘When Bell Mobility goes out to talk to people dealing in advanced media, [mobile] is a great place for them to sell a new advanced phone – but I don’t see it being a mainstream opportunity as of yet because the penetration numbers aren’t there.’

Online video ad intel

Canadians are in a fortunate position to be able to draw on experience and research from the U.S. market as a guide to their online video ventures. Some of the tips culled from U.S. reports include:

* Video ads should ideally be 10 seconds, to a maximum of 30 seconds.

The 30-second recommendation is from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, while the Online Publishers Association says 10 seconds is the optimum length. Others suggest that it depends on the length of the content to be sponsored – for example, a 30-second spot is too long for a clip that runs only a couple of minutes.

* TV spots don’t work online.

Online ads should be more interactive, entertaining and engaging than the typical TV commercial. Some TV spots can be repurposed or the outtakes from the shoot used for a more humorous online version. As for interactivity, users should be able to click on the ads and be transported to the advertiser’s website for more info.

* Pre-roll is preferable.

Pre-roll seems to be the preferred placement although length of content is also a factor. Some sites place pre-roll ads followed by a post-roll or billboards at the end of the clip while full-length programs feature all three placements.

GIST BOX: WHO’S WATCHING

Consumer behaviour is the catalyst behind the online video movement. Household penetration of broadband connectivity was projected to reach 59% in Canada, compared to 44% in the U.S., by the end of 2006. By the end of October 2006, comScore Media Metrix reported that 58% of all Canadian households or 86% of online households actually had broadband connections. In addition, the latest data found that 94.3% of all Web pages are accessed by broadband and 92.5% of all online minutes are consumed by broadband users.

And it’s not all kids. U.S. research shows that viewers of online video on sites such as YouTube are now more likely to be between the ages of 35 to 64 than young, tech-savvy twentysomethings.

A recent demographic study of CBC.ca visitors versus its key competitors indicates that Internet use in Canada spans age groups, gender, and location. CBC.ca, Canada.com and CNN.com share very similar age profiles with 53% of their unique visitors over 35, while 68% of Globeandmail.com‘s unique visitors are over 35 and 27% are over 55. Visitors to Canadian sites, TSN.ca excepted, are pretty evenly split between males and females.

Podcasting goes mainstream

The content is niche and audiences still rather modest, but podcasting is now mainstream, according to the 2006 Canadian Podcast Listeners Survey (canadianpodcastlistenerssurvey.ca). The research, conducted by Toronto firms Sequentia Communications and Caprica Interactive Marketing in May and June 2006, found that Canadians love podcasts that feature Canadian content and hosts. Interestingly, podcast listeners are pretty representative of the population in general – and older than you might expect.

It is no longer an activity limited to young, tech-loving early adopters:

* 77% of Canadians are somewhat or very familiar with the term podcasting

* 59% of respondents were between the ages of 25 and 44

* 28% of respondents were baby boomers while only 15% were under the age of 24

Their top five podcast categories are arts & entertainment (36%), tech (31%), comedy (31%), music (30%) and business (20%).

Out of the 197 different podcasts that the respondents listen to regularly, the top 10 favourites are:

1. The Week in Tech (U.S.)

2. Ricky Gervais Show (U.K.)

3. Quirks & Quarks (Cdn.)

4. Lost (U.S.)

5. CommandN (Cdn.)

6. Barenaked Ladies (Cdn.)

7. The JaK Attack Radio (Cdn.)

8. Realtime with Bill Maher (US.)

9. CBC (Cdn.)

10. Engadget (U.S.)/Diggnation (U.S.)