As more video content becomes available for consumers to watch on their own terms—on the best screen available, at the time of their choosing—premium video providers have invested heavily in improving the user experience.
There has been incredible innovation over the last few years, creating easier content discovery, better access to more extensive content catalogues, enhanced playback functionality and improved options for customized, personalized viewing.
The next vital frontier is improving the advertising experience that accompanies that content. Everyone can relate to frustrating advertising experiences: too many ads in proportion to the length of content, the same ads delivered repetitively or even poor ad quality—such as resolution or load time—that results in a suboptimal experience.
Premium video providers are proactively looking at ways to improve the ad experience, but this is an issue that they cannot and should not solve alone. It is in the interest of all industry stakeholders to create ad experiences that result in positive business outcomes for all parties involved. Ad blocking threatens the economics of the premium content ecosystem, limiting the supply of quality, engaging advertising environments.
For premium video publishers, if they get this right, then audience engagement should increase, enhancing the value of each viewer. In the second-quarter 2016 Video Monetization Report, FreeWheel found that viewers who were more committed to the content, visiting more frequently and engaging deeper with each video, could generate over seven times more impressions than those who only sampled premium content.
Advertisers want to ensure their brand is positively associated with premium content—especially in a world of fraud and viewability—through ad experiences that support maximum engagement. These ad experiences may need to be customized based on the content, the screen and the viewer profile (i.e., "snacking" vs "bingeing"). FreeWheel customer data tells us that a greater percentage of viewers drop off during content than they do during ads, but there is still plenty of opportunity for all stakeholders to ensure the ads don't give the viewer an excuse to change the channel.
Three Ways to Improve the Ad Experience
So what can we do as an industry to optimize the ad experience? The FreeWheel Council for Premium Video has identified three key themes that will help the advertising element contribute to a more positive overall digital video viewing experience:
1. Prevent ad fatigue from repeat ads.
Controlling the frequency of exposure to messaging is a vital part of the ad-experience equation. Generally speaking, premium video publishers are capping frequency at two per program episode, preventing a consumer from seeing excessive repetition. Focusing exclusively on long-form and live content, and using a data set of over 1 billion impressions running on the FreeWheel platform, we saw that for the most part, that frequency of one to two exposures is being enforced within each publisher's network.
There are a number of reasons why a user might see the same ad more than twice. Browser settings and a lack of creative diversity provided by the advertiser or agency are some of the biggest drivers. Overlapping creatives from different sales channels (both direct and programmatic) is another potential driver and was not captured as part of this analysis so instances of repetition are likely higher.
We also looked at repetition across single streams versus longer sessions (multiple stream/episode viewing), which showed an expected increase in repetitive ads: Creatives appeared three or more times during 5% of single streams and 11% of user sessions running up to 24 hours. All parties involved need to work on improving frequency management across time, screens and partners.
There is also a cumulative frequency effect for the consumer that is worth considering: Even if frequency caps are being adhered to, a viewer might see three to four campaigns repeated twice and come away feeling that the ad experience was repetitive. Campaign diversity and a dynamic rotation of ads are tactics that can counter this cumulative effect.
2. Customize the ad experience based on content consumption.
We believe that viewers' acceptance of ads is related to their consumption of content. Different types of viewers, whether sampling short-form content or binge-watching full episodes, have different expectations of the amount and timing of delivered ads. Tailoring the ad experience based on the screen (e.g., mobile vs over-the-top) is also a key factor in managing viewers' expectations and engagement.
As an industry, we can get smarter about how we customize and optimize the ad experience, and we are already seeing examples of premium video providers experimenting with different models to maximize impact for advertisers while retaining audiences through better viewing experiences.
3. Maximize creative diversity and quality.
There has been an increased focus by marketers on storytelling via video ads and a rich set of creatives, but there are a number of issues in delivering the optimal set of creative executions in all formats, which we will explore in an upcoming publication.
As premium video providers scale their distribution footprint and partnerships, there is an increasing number of advertising sources that have sales rights (distributors, programmatic partners, etc.), which adds complexity. To maintain a consistently positive ad experience, it's also important to optimize the quality of creatives and appropriate amount of tags from all demand sources. Indirect programmatic channels elevate the risk of poor quality and tag-laden creatives, and it's important to have comprehensive and continuous quality assurance processes in place to mitigate issues such as latency, buffering and audio issues.
All stakeholders should take responsibility for limiting ad delays and viewer frustration while they wait for content to start or restart. In digital, milliseconds count.
Providing an optimal ad experience to viewers and advertisers alike is a complex challenge that we won't solve overnight, but we do need to start collaborating and innovating. Most elements are within reach of publishers, advertisers and partners today, and each stakeholder in the premium video value chain has a part to play. If everyone takes responsibility, then we all benefit—not least the viewer.