Advertising in online video

I watch a lot of online video.

My schedule doesn’t really allow me to be available during “prime-time”, nor can I commit the every-week-consistency that following a serial TV show requires.

So streaming TV shows online is, theoretically, great for letting me watch 10 minute chunks of my favorite shows while I devour Honey Nut Cheerios at 1am. But by-and-large, the experience is just frustratingly awful, given how easy it is to imagine a better solution using only slight re-arrangements of currently available technology. 

So let me throw a few exhortations out into the ether, for all you online video executives who surely have nothing better to do than read my tumblr.

1. The exact content I want must be available immediately, in high quality, exactly when I want it and in the format I want it. I know studios want control over how viewers receive their content so they can control brands or whatever blah blah blah. Too bad. That war is already lost. If your customer is sophisticated enough to find your official streaming version, they’re sophisticated enough to find a restriction-free pirated version. And within ten years, nearly every viewer will be that sophisticated.Pass PROTECT-IP or whatever Orwellian-appellated laws you want, you’ll just hasten the advent of strongly encrypted P2P, and it’s game over. Get on the right side of history.

2. I prefer official versions. I don’t want to pirate, and I do want the creators of the content I enjoy to get paid lots of money so that they keep producing those magical moving images. So make the official version clearly better than the pirated version! Make it easy to find! Make it high resolution! Build interactive content in or around the player-window (e.g. make it easy to tweet about an episode, or find facebook friends who are watching the same thing). Provide behind the scenes photos or directors commentary IN AN EASY TO FIND place.

3. And the big point. Don’t suck at advertising! If I try to watch three episodes of South Park online in a row, I’ll see probably five different advertisements. But I’ll see each of them repeated four times! Even if I wanted to buy Redbull, and even if I liked the ad, seeing it four times will make me hate Redbull, and hate you. 

I can only assume that the extremely thin selection of ads in most online video is because advertisers just aren’t buying the spots in quantity. That’s mystifying to me. Online video seems like such a better place to advertise than TV.

You have:

1. Demographic information about the viewers (especially if they’ve used facebook to log into the viewer). You may have the site they redirected from. You know what time they’re watching the show, and probably their location.

2. You know they’re already at a computer, and are literally two lazy clicks away from buying whatever your advertising in the ad, instead of having to remember it until next time they’re at a computer (and actively track down and buy your random product.) 

It seems pretty inevitable to me that within a few years, we’re going to have all of TV available instantly online, supported by ads that are delivered in HD, tailored to the audience, relevant and entertaining enough that users would rather watch them than find pirated sources, and full of compelling “oh I want to click that” elements that will directly drive sales. Cf. Spotify.

Whoever makes that happen is going to make some serious money, and make it seriously easier for me to hate myself for watching another episode of “The Only Way Is Essex.”