Q&A: How Twitter's Pre-Roll Ad Marketplace Will Work

'We Didn't Have That Daily Driver,' Says Twitter Amplify Boss Mike Park

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Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Twitter has been selling video ads for a few years. But until now, brands have had to force these ads in people's faces. They would either sign a deal with an individual publisher in Twitter's Amplify program, such as the NFL or ESPN, to append pre-rolls to the media companies' clips and pay to run them as promoted tweets -- or they had to run their brand's own videos as promoted tweets.

However, earlier this month Twitter announced a YouTube-like video ad program that will let brands buy pre-roll slots that will appear before organic videos tweeted by participating publishers, such as Fox, BuzzFeed and Fullscreen.

"We started with that sports car [in Amplify], but we didn't have that daily driver that you can take out every day," said Mike Park, director of content partnerships and Twitter Amplify. "What we're building here is a daily monetization opportunity. As straightforward as we can, Twitter is now open for business."

In the interview below, which has been edited lightly for length, Ad Age asked Mr. Park why Twitter thinks pre-roll ads will work in a feed-based environment and how Twitter will sell the autoplaying, muted-by-default spots to buyers like GroupM that are eschewing such formats.

Ad Age: Twitter's native video push just started in January with the introduction of native organic video. Why add the ad revenue piece now as opposed to taking some time to get publishers posting their videos natively to Twitter first and building up their audiences?

Mike Park: If you think about the three phases we've set up, the first was align with super premium content through Amplify. The second phase: "Hey advertisers, if you've got your own video content, you can now promote that directly yourself." And now phase three is bringing that same easy-to-use ad platform to short pre-rolls, and all the same Twitter targeting that's available from Amplify and Promoted Video is now available in this third phase of an open Amplify model.

Ad Age: But it's a big change, bringing the ads from the promoted slots and incorporating them now into organic, eligible tweets. Why was that decision made?

Mr. Park: When we talked to advertisers, they continued to want more scale and more reach. And they wanted to leverage their video assets in new ways. What's unique here is you're reaching an audience on Twitter that's actively watching videos. It's not directly promoted to them like the Amplify custom model or Promoted Video model, but you're reaching them while they're actively engaged. And those organic videos are, a lot of the time, accounts that they know and love. If you're following MTV News or Fox Sports or Sports Illustrated, you're seeking those videos out. Now you're hitting users when they're in a little bit of a different frame of mind. And it's new. It's six seconds, so you're getting the complete brand message across in a native mobile environment.

Ad Age: Pre-roll advertising in a feed-based environment seems tricky. Facebook has avoided it so far. Putting an ad before a video could create more of a barrier between the audience and the video, and it's easy enough to just swipe down to the next tweet instead of waiting for the ad to finish. Why does Twitter think this will work?

Mr. Park: We think this will work for a few reasons. One, we've experimented with it and found that the main users, publishers and advertisers, love this experience over other ad experiences where different types of click-to-play models have existed in the past. Also when we've looked at this before, there's a range between five and seven seconds being about the right amount of time for a creative message to get across. When you look at other platforms where there might be skippable ads, you have to put up with five seconds before the skip button appears. So why not turn it on its head and get the message across in six seconds? The second piece is we've got scale from the standpoint of Vine. A lot of advertisers have taken to Vine and created a lot of interesting content there. Nothing's stopping a brand from repurposing a Vine and turning that into a six-second pre-roll. I'd add one point to what's unique about Twitter's feed if you're suggesting pre-rolls may or may not fit in there. Users have great context from a tweet itself. You've got the icon, typically some hashtags and copy and you also have something like a countdown timer. So you actually know it's a brief ad, and we've seen advertisers get really creative with that. So we think even within that feed environment, the context of the account and other callouts like the number of retweets are great signals for users to want to experience both the ad and the content.

Ad Age: Will the ads play automatically when a video-carrying tweet appears in my feed, or will I need to click on the video and then watch the ad and then finally watch the video?

Mr. Park: In that latter experience, that was the experience that we had about a month or two ago, and we've moved to autoplaying pre-rolls in the timeline. So for Amplify both the custom model and the new open model that's in beta, the current ad experience will be an autoplaying pre-roll directly in the timeline. It can be six seconds or less; you can run a three-second ad if you want. We found that by doing that there are actually more efficiencies to campaigns for advertisers, and we have also found it's not disturbing the content viewing experience.

Ad Age: By having the pre-roll play first, I would now also need to consider whether I want to watch the ad when deciding whether I want to watch a video, as opposed to being able to preview the video first. How will you make sure the ads don't steer me away from the videos?

Mr. Park: I'll answer that first from the custom side. There's a really amazing creative opportunity to tie a brand message into the content clips themselves, and with our technology we can serve up as many short pre-rolls as the advertiser is willing to create. If you're a creative shop cutting 15s and 30s of a campaign, we want every creative shop cutting 6s and thinking about how that content could be customized for a big content sponsorship program. Then on the open side, you will be able to target users actively watching these organic videos but you can also layer on some content targeting. So if you have five different six-second pre-rolls, you can create one for the sports category or the entertainment news category. So you can get really creative within the campaign settings to make sure you're hitting the right audience.

Ad Age: How will Twitter be monitoring pre-roll ad quality?

Mr. Park: It's separate from the promoted side, but the same systems are in place to reward high-performing campaigns. If you're performing well, you'll see efficiencies on a cost-per-view basis. The other thing to note is that we're bringing the same great platform-leading viewability standards from our Promoted Video product and applying that to this program as well. Advertisers will only pay for views that are three seconds in duration and 100% in view or clicked before three seconds, whichever comes first.

Ad Age: If I click on an ad and that opens up a page on an advertiser's site, is there a way to make sure I can still go back to watch the publisher's video that carried the ad?

Mr. Park: The ads today are not clickable. You tap them, and you basically go from a muted, in-timeline experience to a full-screen, audio-on experience. But we don't currently have a way to drive users away from the publishers' content. We've explored opportunities for advertisers, and we want to work with them, particularly those that are direct-response-focused, for what makes for a good clickable experience because we know that not everybody is looking for just reach but they're looking for action. Today we don't have those links, but we'll probably explore them at some point.

Will the ads also appear if an eligible video tweet runs in Twitter's new Moments section?

Mr. Park: Right now, not yet. Moments is still the same great premium, timely content experience that you've seen. We're always looking at ways to scale monetization on the platform.

Ad Age: Advertisers can target these ads by content category in addition to the standard Twitter ad targeting options. But will advertisers be able to select specific publishers, and will they be told which specific videos their ads ran against? I know an issue for some advertisers when it came to YouTube early on was they wanted better control over where their ads appeared.

Mr. Park: Advertisers have control two ways: at the category level and at the account level, which is at the Twitter handle level. Just like the way you can target users through acount targeting, you can enter in publishers that you wish to blacklist. Today they cannot select publishers one to one, but if an advertiser is interested in working with a particular publisher, our sales team would guide them to the custom option for Amplify.

Ad Age: The six-second limit means brands will need to recut their ads or create new ones. Will Twitter be doing anything to help them on the creative side?

Mr. Park: We have an interesting opportunity with Niche, [a company that Twitter bought earlier this year that matches brands with social influencers]. It's a good opportunity for them to reach out to creators for branded content. Particularly the creators you see within Niche are very adept at creating mobile-focused content, interesting content that's still very short in nature and they know how the platform works. Also we work alongside our brands to help them with best practices.

Ad Age: Making ads play with audio off by default seems like a situation where Twitter's appeasing one customer base -- its users -- but aggravating the other -- its advertisers. GroupM has said it only wants video ads that play with the sound on but don't play automatically. Why default to audio off, and how are you going to sell this to media buyers like GroupM?

Mr. Park: The decision to auto-play ads in the timeline was not actually new for this product. It came when we began auto-playing Promoted Videos. Our opportunity is to give advertisers more scale and also get more in line with what the platform is becoming, which is a rich, alive timeline. The same opportunity that applies for Promoted Video is now in the form of a short ad. I'd say to the media houses and buyers, we'd love to have a conversation with them to continue to make sure the models are aligning, but that this is a great opportunity to get an entire brand message across that's aligned with great premium content.

Ad Age: But what would you say to someone at GroupM who hears that and says that's fine but I still only want to buy ads that play with the sound on?

Mr. Park: Right now we think that this is the right way to approach a mobile-centric timeline [on a] live conversational platform. We think it's the right thing to do to give brands opportunities, particularly where the content clips are almost always less than a minute, to align with a really short branded message in front of it. We're taking the best of what the new mobile video standards are on Twitter with what the traditional advertising opportunity has been online, you know, pre-rolls. You won't find any other platform out there with this opportunity. We think we're paving the way in creating what the brand-new mobile video ad unit should be. If there are issues, we'd want to keep working with them to figure out what the best way to work together is, particularly around visual units that attract the eye and ensure potentially with research that the brand message is hitting home.

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