Think Outside the [TV] Box: Stopping Pre-Roll Ads From Eating Your Video Snacks

We’re Long Overdue for a New Pre-Roll Ad Playbook in the Digital Age.

I was about to go to bed last Saturday night. But before I did, I had to get one last glorious look at some highlights from Oregon’s historic victory over Kansas that put them into the Final Four. You could say I (pictured below) was on a bit of a high from the smack down my Ducks put on the Jayhawks.

My happy thumbs and I headed over to the ESPN app. I quickly found the Jordan Bell monster dunk highlight. I hit play and waited with bated breath, but my excitement soon gave way to Jennifer Garner holding a credit card.

Damn you pre roll!

Hopefully it’s only 10 seconds or skippable I thought. Nope. It was a non-skippable 30 second ad — the same Capital One ad I saw 10 times that night while watching the game.

But here’s the thing… the game highlight was only 13 seconds. Let that lopsided ratio sink in— 30 second ad, 13 second highlight.

How have we arrived at place in advertising where an ad is 2.3x the length of the original content?

Why was the ad 30 seconds long? The answer is simple. It’s because advertisers are force fitting tv ads into a host of digital environments. They’re taking the products of past (tv ads) and sticking them in the containers (digital) of the present.

Advertisers are moving their dollars from tv to digital in record numbers as a result of consumer’s habits transforming in the age of mobile. However, amongst all this change, video advertising formats have remained the same. Whether you’re watching Sunday night football on a 47 inch tv or otters holding hands on a 4.7 inch smartphone — the same ad is delivered.

Until Trump builds a wall in the land of advertising, tv ads have an unrestricted passport to visit us as they please regardless of the videos we’re watching or the device we’re using.

This needs to change!

To be clear, my problem is not with tv ads. I think tv ads can be great with one caveat — if they are on TV! When a tv ad is placed in front of a 13 second basketball highlight, it really stinks. It’s time for the advertisers to stop pretending your iPhone is another television!

Bonus: Check out the 7 New Truths of Mobile Video Advertising on my Slideshare.

Looking at Pre-Roll Through a TV Ad Lens

Let’s translate the above pre-roll scenario through the tv ad model. When extrapolating the same 2.3x volume ratio of ads to content, a 60 minute tv show would look like this:

16 minutes of original programming

44 minutes of commercials

The average 60 minute tv show has about 16 minutes of commercials — about 25% of the show. As documented above, pre-roll ads can take up 75% of the clips you watch.

Sure, “my show” was just 13 seconds long, but the fact remains that the rules for pre-roll ads are backwards. The volume of original programming should always outweigh the ads that surrounds it to ensure the value exchange is reasonable for the audience.

Stop Asking Why… Start Asking How.

“I just don’t get it,” says the media executive. “Why are so many people using ad blockers?” I’ll tell you why. It’s things like a 30 second pre-roll ad to get to a 13 second video. Is it really that much of a surprise that Adblock Plus and Crystal are now used by 615 million devices worldwide.

Nearly 1/3 of the internet users in the US have an ad blocker

The advertising industry needs to stop asking why and start asking how. How do we build a better system where advertising doesn’t suck. Let’s shake up the status quo. It’s time to disrupt the age of disruption.

One Small Step for the User Experience, One Giant Leap for Better Advertising

I get it. Reducing the length of pre-roll ads is not a silver bullet to solving the current woes of advertising. But it’s a start. We have to push the current system to innovate and adapt in the face of new consumer behavior. Our attention spans and video clips have shrunk significantly over the last 5 years — ads should too.

I challenge the advertising industry to re-write the rules of pre-roll. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, here’s five ideas to get us started:

  • New Standards: Adopt a similar framework to TV ads. Limit pre-roll ads to a maximum of 25% of the total time of the original video. In other words if your cat video is only 32 seconds, then a pre-roll ad can be no longer than 8 seconds. This would force advertisers to stop using the current cut and paste tv ad to digital strategy for pre-roll and start creating more purpose built creative for mobile video environments.
  • 0:30 -> 0:03 — The Three Second Audition: With shorter pre-roll ads comes a shift in how they can be used. Rather than seeing pre-roll as a fixed one time engagement, use it as a 3–5 second audition to earn the audience’s attention. If an advertiser’s creative succeeds at earning your trust, then ads won’t be skipped or better yet users will respond to the ad by researching or even buying the product or service.
  • Impact > Reach: Every nine months, the amount of content on the web doubles. #Mindblown. To this end, in the noisiest world ever, attention is the scarce resource — not how many zeros are in the impression column of a performance report. Unless the mass reach measurement game shifts to attention based engagement metrics, pre-roll ads will never change.
  • Severing Ads vs. Serving the Audience: With all the new ad tech and programmatic ad solutions, pre-roll ads still don’t recognize the attributes of content they’re served against (see news on ads appearing next to offensive YouTube videos). Instead, ads are served based a user’s cookie ID. Smarter pre-roll standards will enable ad serving to match the ad relevancy to the user and the content they’re consuming.
  • Real Time + Relevance: Dunk in dark, 8 person SnapChat teams, the list goes on of examples where marketers are resourcing for real-time mobile content. There’s a big opportunity to create pre-roll ads that are relevant to the videos that proceed them. Especially if advertisers have a good idea of what will capture the attention surplus of audiences. For example; brands could have spun up custom pre-roll cuts focusing on basketball themes and highlights over the last three weeks.

What do you think? How can we build a better future for digital video advertising? Shoot me a note as a response below or tweet at me with your take.

Lastly, here’s the Jordan Bell highlight for your viewing pleasure… without a pre-roll ad. You’re welcome.


About the author:

Luke Kintigh is the head of publishing at Intel iQ and a 5 year veteran in content marketing strategies and brand publishing.

Recognized as a Rising Star in Content Marketing by the Guardian, and member of Onalytica’s Top 100 Content Marketing Influencers, Luke speaks at prominent content marketing conferences and regularly contributes to industry publications such as Business2Community, PSKF, and the Content Marketing Institute.

Looking for the ultimate guide on content distribution? Download Luke’s new eBook: How Intel iQ Does Content Promotion.

Like what you read? Give Luke Kintigh a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.