While the half-minute commercial has been a staple of the traditional TV-advertising business, the network group is expected to announce today that it will not accept pre-roll online video ads longer than 15 seconds.
"We all intuitively know when we accept these 30s, we're aiding and abetting in the delay of the evolution," said Peter Naylor, senior VP-digital media sales at NBC Universal. The majority of the online video content today is snack-size, short-form content; the exception to NBC's new policy is full-length episodes of broadcast-TV shows, where such ads have proved highly effective, largely because of the uncluttered environment.
Cutting extra fat
The policy, which goes into effect July 1, harks back to the days when iVillage was a leader in taking a stance against pop-up ads, said Mr. Naylor, who came over from iVillage a year after the acquisition. Of course, NBC's bet that creating a better user experience will make its sites more popular and, thus, profitable is also a revenue risk, considering about a quarter to a third of all pre-roll coming into NBC Universal still clocks in at 30 seconds, according to Mr. Naylor.
NBC's move is part of a larger industry one to figure out what the right ad model for online video is and -- if it is pre-roll -- what the right ad-message-to-content ratio. Today, Tremor Media will announce a similar standard in conjunction with a deal to sell video ads in front of Brightcove content. Under the deal, pre-roll for all of the videos in Brightcove's select network of vetted content will be limited to 15 seconds. The deal also includes frequency capping, so a viewer won't see the same ad from the same advertiser over and over.
Thirty-second pre-roll "is low-hanging fruit," said Randy Kilgore, chief revenue officer of Tremor Media. If marketers already have sunk money into creating a 30-second spot, then why not run it online? But, he said, "they need to think about this as a new form of viewing consumption online. How do we match the message to the medium?"
That, of course, is a challenge for agencies. Jeff Minsky, director-emerging media platforms at OMD, said he philosophically supports the idea and agrees there's an ad-to-content ratio -- consumers don't want to watch a typical commercial spot in front of a two-minute video. But he said there's also a practical issue: Clipping 30s limits the base of advertisers who can make a buy.
"Not every advertiser is producing a 15, and they maybe feel their story can't be told in that time," he said.
Mr. Naylor acknowledges that challenge and said that's why he's working with third-party rich-media vendors and the Interactive Advertising Bureau to develop standards and make it easy for advertisers to buy into online video. He views this move as just the first in the evolution toward a proper online-video ad model.
"This is not us saying what broadband video advertising will be; it's saying what it is not," Mr. Naylor said. "The best uses and most effective practices are yet to be discovered."