Get to know your Web video formats

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There's no arguing that advertisers are intimately familiar with the immense branding power of video. But while there's no need to get caught up in the technical details, marketers would do well to learn a bit about the technology of online video. A solid technical foundation not only helps drive creative and ad buying decisions, but also ensures that even the savviest marketer doesn't drive their online video advertising strategy down a blind alley.

"I don't think we're really at the point yet where advertisers have to place bets on a particular technology or format," said Jeremy Lockhorn, director of creative strategy for Avenue A/ Razorfish. "The bottom line is that advertisers need to be flexible about formats and approaches and smart about testing."

So what should the smart marketer know? For starters, realize that online video comes in a variety of flavors, including Apple Computer's QuickTime, Macromedia's Flash-based video, Microsoft's Windows Media Format and RealNetworks' Real Video. Those formats are all about how digital video is encoded and decoded-the process of making the video file size smaller for more effective delivery over the Internet. Advertisers should understand the strengths and weaknesses of the main formats.

In addition, marketers should become familiar with an emerging subset of specialty vendors that offer techniques and formats for turning online video into an effective ad medium. These vendors often tout-and in some cases have "invented"-distinct approaches to online video advertising, including pre-roll and post-roll spots, transitional (between page) ad placements and a variety of in-page and in-banner ad formats.

"Right now, I believe the best approach to online video advertising is a hybrid approach-use pre-roll, use in-page, use transitional, use it all," said Allie Savarino, senior VP for video ad vendor Viewpoint, which counts Sony, AT&T, BMW and Miller Brewing among its customers. "What with all the different formats and specs at different Web sites, the logistical work in running a video ad online can be much greater than running a television commercial," she said.

"When it comes to video advertising and buying media, it's important to have the lowest common denominator covered," said Ian Schafer, president of Deep Focus, which produces online video advertising for entertainment industry operators HBO, Miramax Films and Universal Music Group

So the best technical strategy at this point may be to not have any strategy at all. "Right now, you have to be technology agnostic," said Jupiter Research analyst Nate Elliot.