How much of a video ad does a viewer have to see for that commercial to have made an impression? 10 seconds? 30 seconds? It depends on the content, right? It depends on the content, and the delivery of the content and the placement of the ad - there's a whole heap of factors that contribute to the overall effectiveness of a video ad. Given that, how do you come up with a universal charging policy that ensures you're maximizing your return while delivering value to your ad partners?
This is the dilemma that social media platforms are dealing with as video becomes an increasingly important element in their ad offerings. And this is before you even get into the additional, unique characteristics of each network. Facebook, for example, introduced autoplay - so now, video ads are being served without interaction, and without sound. Past precedents don't account for this.
This complexity has been brought into question once again with advertisers reporting that Snapchat is charging for video ads every time they load - whether they've actually been viewed or not. How could that possibly be fair? Snapchat video ads, which appear in the 'Discover' and Live Stories elements of the app, take up the whole screen and have to be tapped to be skipped - so, theoretically, in order to skip an ad, the viewer has to first view it, otherwise, how do they know what they're skipping? Snapchat, therefore, sees this as a valid impression methodology - but is it an effective way to charge for ad impressions? And if it's not, what is?
Platform by Platform
To clarify the complexity around video ad charges, here's how the major platforms currently charge advertisers for impressions/views.
(Sources: AdAge, Twitter, Google AdWords)
As you can see, there's no consensus on the best way to go about it, it's largely dependent on the platform and the way the ads are presented on each. There are further variables than this too, like how each platform measures unique views, but for the sake of comparison, these are the most common ad formats and charges that relate to video content on each platform.
Which of these seems most equitable? Well it depends. YouTube has long been the leader in online video, and have had years to refine their structure and ad charging policies, so their policies would likely be the most accepted and established of the three. But then again, they've been so dominant for so long, maybe their charges are outdated? Either way, the 30 second view threshold seems to be a fair and reasonable amount for advertisers to pay on a cost-per-view basis.
Facebook only introduced their 10 second threshold recently, after advertiser complaints about their charging process - previously, ads were being charged on impressions and with autoplay in effect, the clarity on actual impressions delivered was getting pretty murky. Facebook has said it doesn't think charging after 10 seconds is the best option, in terms of meeting the best value and brand objectives, but it's offered the option to give advertisers more control in the process.
And Twitter, while they also now serve autoplay content, have gone down the YouTube path of charging after a certain amount of time viewed - with three seconds being their charge point.
While each platform differs, there's a pretty clear logic behind each, and given the nature of the different networks, audiences and offerings, there logically needs to be some variation in how advertisers are charged. Given that, does Snapchat's charging policy make sense? It may seem unfair, and it goes against the trend of other platforms who are moving towards more quantifiable, and measurable, view counts to ensure advertisers are getting value for money, but the immediate nature of Snapchat, and the fact that the content totally dominates the viewer's screen, may mean impressions are delivered differently - and given their reach to the Millennial market, advertisers are likely going to pay, regardless.
The bottom line is, given the variable nature of the platforms and their content, there's likely no way to implement an industry standard on how much video content constitutes an impression - advertisers will have to go with whatever platform works best for them, based on value for money and reach to their target audience. And even then, that value will be dictated by the content they provide - the more popular the content, the better the return - while increasing competition amongst providers for a share of the ever-expanding video advertising pie will ensure that their offerings remain equitable, at least to some degree.
But then again, things are always changing - it would only take one shift to alter the entire video advertising landscape.
Autoplay No More?
This week saw the tragic murders of two TV news staff in Virginia, when a former colleague confronted them during a live cross and opened fire, executing them, with viewers watching on. To add to the horror, the shooter filmed the whole event from his perspective and uploaded it to both Twitter and Facebook - where the content autoplayed. The video got shared and re-tweeted, subjecting a wide range of users to highly disturbing content, content they did not choose to see.
As a result of this, political groups are now calling on Facebook and Twitter to remove the autoplay functionality in order to stop the spread of offensive material. Currently, if graphic content is going to be shown on TV, networks are required to issue a warning about the nature of the material beforehand to allow viewers to switch away, but autoplay subverts this - an issue this incident has highlighted to regulatory groups.
There's a clear logic to the argument, but the introduction of such a change would mark a significant shift in the social video landscape, and require a major re-think for providers in how video is presented. The query highlights the unexplored nature of the new media landscape we're now in, the evolution of which may take years to fully settle and enable us to bed down standardized measurements and thresholds which we can all agree upon.
Add to this the fact that YouTube is now looking to implement subscription services, and the continued introduction of new options like live-streaming, and it's clear that there's still a ways to go before we see any stability and universal clarification on the presentation and measurement of video content and related advertising.
The important thing, as always, is to utilize that which works best for you and your audience, and to adapt with the changes to ensure you're keeping in trend to meet user demand. If you don't want to pay for ad impressions charged for less than a second of view time, don't - unless, of course, it makes sense to do so for your target market and brand.
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