The future’s bright for paid digital video

The future’s bright for paid digital video

        16 Jul 2013                     |             Nick Adams

The future looks bright for paid digital video and brands need to get on board – not just big, well-established brands, but the small and medium ones too. So why has it taken so long for paid digital video to come within touching distance of the big time, and where exactly is the spectacular growth going to come from? Mindshare UK’s head of digital development Nick Adams explains…

One of the perplexing questions in the media industry today is why video-based paid digital media represents such a small proportion of overall digital media billings. According to a recent eMarketer report, online and mobile video is projected to be a paltry 4% of overall digital media spend in the UK for 2013.

However, it would appear that the fortunes of digital video are changing because, by 2017, its portion of the paid digital media sector is set to increase dramatically to over 12%.

A three-fold increase in marketers’ focus on paid digital video over a three year period is worthy of some contemplation. After all, this is the kind of increase in marketing focus which search advertising last enjoyed in the gold-rush days of the mid-noughties.

But why has it taken so long for paid digital video to come within touching distance of the big time, and where is the spectacular growth going to come from? Could new short-form video sharing platforms like Instagram Video and Twitter’s Vine hold the key to digital video spend growth? Or does the answer lie with something altogether more prosaic?

The ’emotive’ power of video is certainly not in question – nor is the associated effectiveness of audio-visual advertising at driving awareness, consideration and purchase. Online streaming speeds are not a barrier – we have had sufficient broadband in the UK for many years now. Scaleability is not an issue – after all, we live in an era of mass global platforms and increasingly automated delivery systems.

No, the rub is more around the inherent differences in video consumption between TV and online/mobile. Lean-back versus lean-forward. Appointment-to-view versus snack ‘n’ browse. Highly-polished content versus mostly user-generated.

It’s not that one is a better communications opportunity than the other – they’re just massively different. We all know that. And we’ve been told time and again by the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr that you can’t just stick your TV ad on to their platforms and expect them to have the same effect as on TV.

You have to make content which works for the specific vagaries of their platforms. Indeed, YouTube has hundreds of people across the world dedicated to helping brands leverage the specific needs of its platform.

But therein lies the issue. When you have to create something tailored to each and every platform, things get inefficient pretty quickly, and it takes a combination of both adaptive skills and proper resourcing for agencies and clients to leverage the current digital video and content opportunity effectively.

What’s needed is a combination of more standardisation on the side of the platforms and more adaptive skills on the side of the agencies if we’re ever going to see the promised growth in digital paid video.

Standardisation of planning and trading currencies would be a great start – having a currency which translates well from TV to online – and the battle between Nielsen and comScore to become the number one online campaign ratings provider will rage on and on. But even if this currencies battle is resolved, I can’t see it being the single biggest reason why digital video is about to triple its share in three years.

Perhaps the answer to video’s impending growth lies less with left-brain analytics and operational-efficiencies and more with right-brain creativity.

But to talk about creativity in the same context as standardisation is surely anathema? Don’t creatives nowadays love the diversity afforded to them by the long tail of digital platforms, APIs, and new ways of exchanging value with consumers? Isn’t that why agencies now employ ‘creative technologists’ to help us navigate through all the bewildering options and maximise the tech opportunities?

Maybe. But simplicity is still the key. For every successful campaign which leveraged the complex digital video landscape (e.g. Nike’s My Time is Now – YouTube’s most successful video campaign of 2012) there is a long list of campaigns which went barely noticed because they tried to do too much with too little. The media equivalent of a tantalising but ultimately unfulfilling taster menu.

And it would appear that the big digital platforms are now finally coming around to this way of thinking. YouTube introduced its new simplified One Channel for all channels, and are migrating all brands across to the responsive design over this summer. Just last month, Facebook announced it would be simplifying its various native ad options, reducing in number from 27 (!) to less than half that over the next 6 months.

But the biggest omission from Facebook’s announcement was around video. Facebook had a premium video ad unit from 2008, but it was pulled 6 months ago. And now it looks like there won’t be a new video ad option until at least the autumn.

It feels like there’s something big cooking and Facebook doesn’t want to mess things up by introducing the new product before it is perfected. The reason has got to be down to perfecting the integration with Instagram, which it bought last year.

Going back to my assertion that simplicity and standardisation are the bed fellows of creativity – it is surely no coincidence that Facebook’s forthcoming video ad units are mooted to be 15 seconds in length which, low and behold, is the same length as the videos on Instagram’s new filming service.

So brands and consumers will both be working with the same video time length on what is looking increasingly likely to be a seamless integration of the two platforms (thanks to the introduction of hashtags which will organise all the content).

It doesn’t take too much to imagine that we’ll soon be able to use Instagram to film (and edit) a video, and then use the new Facebook video ad unit to target that video across its platform. In other words, the barriers to entry for video creation and distribution are about to be massively reduced.

Indeed, it might not even be necessary to employ a creative agency if you want to quickly develop and target a video campaign across the biggest ad targeting platform in the world. Whilst this might seem crazy, it’s also exciting for established advertisers and brands who are already using video but are keen to be more adaptive in their approach to marketing.

Being able to shoot and test multiple videos and get them online in a matter of minutes is powerful stuff. Quite apart from using this approach to road-test different executions and inform creative decisions for launching bigger, more polished campaigns, the new standardised shoot and distribute model should encourage new forms of creativity with video.

Just look to brands like Burberry or film distributors and independent artists who are already starting to experiment with the format and the editing.

But perhaps most exciting of all is how the new opportunities will open up video creation and distribution for SMEs who have never considered using video as a communications tool in the past. It’s not hard to reimagine how Victoria’s Secret’s approach to Instagram Video could be used to illustrate a new weekly menu for a local restaurant for example.

And this, I think, is where we will see a good deal of eMarketer’s forecast growth for the digital video sector. In the same way that Google’s revenue has been driven by the long tail of advertisers, new short-form video platforms and distribution models could drive the future growth of paid digital video.

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