Monday, August 22, 2011

Kicking And Streaming

Yesterday I wrote about some of the shortcomings of advertising on VOD systems.  Notably, it seems that opportunities are being squandered at the expense of both the viewers and the advertisers.  With the amount of demographic data available, it should be easy to set up some basic targeting rules to make everyone happy.  Another new-media venue where this is the case is streaming television advertising.

One of the reasons Google has been so successful is because they were able to match a user’s intent to an advertiser’s product offering.  In other words, Google is able to target users very specifically.  Google matches relevant ads to relevant consumers.  This has been mostly the case all over the internet; everything can be tracked and analyzed.  The general belief is that more data equals better targeting equals better advertising.

Why, then, is the ad experience during streaming TV so terrible?  It used to be that that the programming had “limited commercial interruptions” or so Hulu said.  That was generally the case, however.  Then the breaks became more frequent and longer.  If my memory is correct, it used to be a total of one minute per half-hour program; this is now about 4x that.  This is still half of what you get during a regular broadcast, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If I commit to a night of television, let’s say a solid three hours, I will likely see the same ads a few times during the course of the evening.  It’s pretty unlikely that I will see the same ad during the same program, however.  Media planners are smarter than that, and they don’t want to overwhelm the audience with repetition.  Streaming TV plays by different rules.  Not only are there 3-5 advertising breaks during a 30-minute program, but each break will generally play the same exact 2-3 ads.

Think about this for a second.  You are seeing the same ad roughly three to five times during a 30-minute program.  As a viewer this is annoying.  As an advertiser, how is this even acceptable?  Is this really money well spent?  Is this repetition really making the best of all of the data and targeting of the internet?  This could be the best-targeted ad in the world, catering specifically to me, but I guarantee you that I don’t care about your product if I see the same ad five times in a half-hour.

The final grievance I have with ads during streaming content, at least in their current format, is how disruptive the experience is.  My experience is probably slightly different than most in that I permanently have a computer hooked up to my 42” LCD.  I use this computer as a DVR and also to watch streaming TV content.  I don’t think I need to tell you that I only watch in full-screen mode; until the ad collapses the content back into a window and requires me to maximize the screen when the show resumes. 

There are a lot of interesting opportunities that advertisers are capitalizing on, including skinned experiences and interactive features.  These should never come at the expense of the user experience.  You should always remember that the viewer is there to watch a TV program.  The ad should be secondary. 

Streaming content has been a boon for networks and content creators alike.  It’s provided an unanticipated source of revenue as well as a variety of targeting options.  As long as advertisers don’t let the providers abuse the ad space, it can even promote new loyalty among a new audience.  When the providers start over-playing ads and making the advertising annoying and intrusive, nobody wins.

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