Upfront 07

ABC Upgrades Online Video Player

Just as Others Begin to Tweak Their Own

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- ABC.com unveiled a new look this week, including an upgrade to its streaming-video player and the ads that play within it. The new video player offers a full-screen option and two smaller-sized formats to allow viewers to multitask while watching their favorite shows. But beware, time wasters: The player will go to full-screen with a new ad at the end of each eight-minute program segment.
Every time ABC's new streaming-video player is paused, a static ad from the pod's sponsor will appear, keeping brand awareness alive even when the show has stopped.
Every time ABC's new streaming-video player is paused, a static ad from the pod's sponsor will appear, keeping brand awareness alive even when the show has stopped. Credit: Ugly Bettty ABC

"That's something we considered in the development," said Alexis Rapo, VP-digital media for ABC. "We wanted the experience to be the same for the advertiser once the screen expands so the consumer can continue to interact with the ad pod. There's interesting concepts there that translate from an on-air to online perspective."

'Pause ad' feature
An additional "pause ad" feature will hit the second week of April. Every time the video player is paused, a static ad from the pod's sponsor will appear, keeping brand awareness alive even when the show has stopped.

"We know that at least one time per viewing, consumers pause their viewing experience one way or another," Ms. Rapo said. "This gets the advertiser sponsoring that particular stream an additional ability to send a message to the consumer."

Also added to the player this week are full streaming episodes of "Dancing With the Stars" and the new series "October Road," along with the network's first online-only short-form series, "Voicemail," which premiered last week to 600,000 viewers Tuesday through Sunday. "That's on par with some of the TV shows that get on-air promotion," Ms. Rapo said.

Broadband players are playing an increased role in the other broadcast networks' strategies as well. CBS' Innertube player is constantly being spruced up with new features, including a "boss button" that allows users watching "CSI" or "Survivor" at work to pull up a quick dummy e-mail window to throw off their supervisors.

NBC's new metric
NBC.com has become such an integral part of a show's success that the network will include streaming video numbers in its Total Audience Measurement (TAM) metric for this year's upfront, which research head Alan Wurtzel said will most accurately determine the amount of time viewers spend with NBC programming online and on TV.

A recent poll found 11% of "Heroes" watchers tuned into the show on both platforms, with 60% of those fans streaming the program online within 24 hours of the initial broadcast. But despite increased accuracy in ratings, NBC knows demographic statistics about its online audience only anecdotally, said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal cable entertainment and digital content.

NBC's joint venture with News Corp., however, should bring it closer to reaching a more qualitative 18-to-34 online demo, with AOL recently stepping in to handle ad-sales duty for the still-unnamed project. Tim Hanlon, senior VP-ventures at Publicis Groupe's Denuo, said the next step for all networks is to take a more "distribution-neutral" approach to getting their content in front of consumers. "To think you can completely control distribution in a closed environment is a folly in this age," he said. "If they don't do it right, they're effectively going to get laughed out of the room by the audiences out there."

Younger audience
As the online audience gets younger, the importance of having those eyeballs follow the proprietary content is higher than ever, said John Moore, senior VP-director of innovation at Mullen's Media Hub. Mr. Moore estimated ABC has a median age of 28 for its online content vs. 42 for its top shows on the linear network.

"The biggest challenge moving forward for all of these entities is once the novelty wears off and you're still stuck in the novelty stage," Mr. Moore said. "We've got to get into this space and understand what it looks like. One of these days the networks are going to have to aggregate more eyeballs."

ABC sat out the NBC/News Corp. deal but continues to seek distribution partners that will meet its long-term growth goals for the digital space. "We are committed to creating branded environments across a variety of platforms to make our sought-after, high-quality content easily available to consumers," said Albert Cheng, executive VP-digital media, Disney-ABC Television Group, in an e-mail.

Until then, ABC is still touting its growth in broadband views, having increased 800% over this time last year. "We're very encouraged by the growth and success of how 'Voicemail' has performed," Ms. Rapo said. "There's unique opportunities to leverage properties and get on the show. Our continued goal is to help engage the consumer, but also give them bite-size pieces of content they can watch whenever they want."
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