‘Longer is still is the standard’: Six-second ads aren’t taking over pre-roll ad inventory

When it comes to pre-roll video ads, conventional wisdom usually says the shorter the better.

Six-second pre-roll video ads, mostly muted and popularized by Facebook and YouTube, have been getting a lot of media hype with broadcasters like Fox, AMC and NBCUniversal all testing six-second TV spots in the last year. But for short-form content on publisher sites, this isn’t yet making much of an impact.

One publisher that has been offering six-second pre-roll for the last six months said the spots make up less than 10 percent of its total video inventory, and it’s been slow and steady growth.

“It’s not clear if the blockage is the perceived value or availability of creative,” said the exec. “Twenty-second and 30-second demand beats it every time in terms of valuation. We can monetize more effectively through more standard lengths.” The publishing exec charges CPMs in the low £20 ($26.23) for video and doesn’t differentiate by length, so six seconds needs to be able to compete with the demand for longer formats. “The question is either why aren’t clients doing more or why aren’t they valuing it higher?” said the exec.

There’s a clear gap between the buzz and the reality. A recent study by AI company GumGum found ad buyers think the shorter format is the most effective digital ad type. The research predicts 77 percent of marketers will be using the six-second format in two years. According to ad tech platform Sublime Skinz, less than 12 percent of the mobile campaigns that ran through its network in the first six months this year were less than eight seconds long. Pre-roll lasting 20 seconds and over made up 52 percent of the campaigns.

“For greater adoption, it lies in the hands of advertisers and agencies to step out of their comfort zone and take the time to learn before jumping straight in,” by Andrew Buckman, managing director Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Sublime Skinz.

Because six-second spots can’t be cut from 30-second TV commercials, they need a new narrative, structure and production, creating another set of assets which traditional agencies don’t always put high up on the priority list. Typically, agencies will create up to 50 different six-second spots to test and rotate which perform best; the whole way of working is different. Smaller, nimbler digital agencies will start with the six-second spot and lengthen out to 30 seconds.

Most can agree the user experience is better with shorter ads. View-through rate isn’t exactly a measure of quality on six-seconds but is often 100 percent. By comparison, digital sports publisher Give Me Sport sees 70 percent view-through rate on its 30-second spots. But with a shortage in assets from brands and agencies, publishers are stuck while marketers can demand less for shorter spots.

“Direct sales are still just a sliver of the market,” said Brian Rifkin, co-founder of video platform JW Player. “On the open exchange CPMs are lower for sixes; there’s not a ton of fill rate. That’s why Google is pushing advertisers to create more. As an ad unit, it’s not even close to monetizing at the rate of 30-seconds. Publishers are already complaining about CPMs, it’s a constant battle to yield the highest CPM; it just doesn’t pay off.”

“We have to see six-second creative command the same CPMs as 30 seconds,” said James Pringle, founder and CEO of video ad tech platform Suggestv. “Video is expensive to do. If advertisers are only going to pay a sixth of the price of normal CPMs the economics won’t match up. That needs to be proven for agencies to push short-form social ad through premium pre-roll environments.”

YouTube introduced six-second pre-roll in April 2016, so the format is in its infancy. As with all newer formats, measuring success is tricky. A longer canvas can pack a bigger punch with a heavier call-to-action. “With six seconds, the best you can hope for is to make an impression and get them to re-engage later,” said Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer at 4C Insights. “It’s harder to tie direct return on investment.”

Combining shorter sports with 30-second creative has the most positive results in metrics like engagement, brand recall and purchase intent, according to research from FreeWheel from May this year on 45 global publishers and 5,000 participants. But while the number of six-second spots is growing, it’s still a relatively small proportion of ads being served in the premium video space.

“It’s not in our interest to monetize [six-second] at a higher yield when 30 seconds is a user experience we’re comfortable with,” said the first publishing exec. “Longer is still is the standard. It’s the norm, rightly or wrongly.”

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