NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What if your pre-roll video ads were more than just repurposed-for-the-web-TV spots, the kind agencies have in spades? What if pre-roll could do more?
A group of developers at start-up Blip.tv, a purveyor of amateur and semi-pro web series, was wondering that recently, while pondering the best way to help Wieden & Kennedy let gamers see -- or better yet, play -- a demo of its client Electronic Arts' NCAA Football 11.
The developers thought, what if you could get the game downloaded to gaming consoles remotely via a pre-roll ad? Engineers set to work on the problem and developed a unit that allows users to click-to-download a game demo to Xbox consoles.
It's an example of a new kind of pre-roll, one that actually does stuff -- like allow consumers to send a playable game to their Xbox console or program their DVR to download a show. And as TVs come increasingly web-connected and loaded with apps, not to mention increasingly wired appliances at home, it opens doors for advertisers to provide different offers and services for consumers.
The notion of an ad unit on a computer controlling another device in the home isn't an entirely new concept: Blip.tv had previously hacked together an ad that allows viewers to remotely download a new Starz series, "Pillars of the Earth," to DirecTV and Comcast cable boxes, as well as an episode of "Mythbusters" to TiVo boxes.
But building tools for a specific campaign is still unorthodox in an industry built on scale and standards that allow it to reach many, many people as cheaply as possible. Just as media companies have long chipped in creative to help seal a deal with over-taxed or perhaps reluctant agencies, the media company of the future may be building code.
"I don't ever want to supplant creative agencies -- but often creative agencies are stretched very thin and they are creating very large campaigns that may not apply everywhere you want to reach a consumer," said Blip.tv CEO Mike Hudack, who sees this kind of technology used for different categories for different purposes. A car ad could include a customizer or virtual tour; a studio ad could offer a discount on movie tickets. Advertisers are charged for the impression, not the action (though Electronic Arts factored number of downloads into the cost of the campaign).
New York-based Blip.tv takes no ownership interest in the shows it represents and doesn't sign any of them to exclusive contracts. It is, essentially, an engineering company and a sales force that builds tools for show creators, and more recently, advertisers. Eleven of its 32 people on staff are programmers or developers. It raised $10.1 million in June and racks up about 100 million views on its collection of shows each month. Blip.tv's top earners pull down $500,000 in ad revenue a year based on 50/50 revenue sharing.
In the EA example, Blip was trying to help Wieden figure out how to increase pre-orders by driving demos before the game was released. Retailers take their cues from the strength of those orders, which can represent 10% of the total sales of the title.
To accomplish this, Wieden wanted to reach people who either own an Xbox 360 or appeared to be shopping for a console or games. The audience had already self-selected itself as interested in games, having sought out Blip.tv's gaming shows, such as "Machinima Top Gaming," "Red vs. Blue," or "Next Gen Tactics," and data exchange Blue Kai helped them isolate owners of Xboxes, using both purchase data from third parties such as Data Logic and shopping data e-commerce sites themselves.
"If you have a title that's not tracking four weeks from release, chances are you will not have a successful week one," said Michael Diccicco, media supervisor in the gaming category for Wieden & Kennedy. "With video games in general, the best way to sell it is to get the consumers' hands on it. We're asking them to spend $60 so it helps if you can get them so play time on it."
Wieden limited the buy to Xbox 360 owners because Blip.tv was able to connect though user's Xbox Live accounts. If the user was logged in, the download was one click; if not, they were prompted to sign in. If technically possible, the agency would love to extend it to PlayStation and for other games the Nintendo Wii -- when Blip.tv can figure that problem out.