When VivaKi kicked off its Web video ad standardization project The Pool, it set ambitious goals: create the Web’s equivalent to TV’s 30-second spot and lure $100 million to the market.
That’s hasn’t happened. Since the ad-selector format ASq went live in October, it has generated less than $10 million, according to several estimates by knowledgable insiders. Few top Web video publishers have committed large bundles of inventory to the placement, which can still be hard to find. Perhaps more ominous for the initiative, the biggest player in Web video, YouTube, is putting more resources behind its own suite of user-controlled ad placements, which fall under the umbrella TrueView.
The problems could be just hiccups from an ambitious project. But they also point to the perils of a single agency group trying to impose standards — and the entire premise that tinkering with an ad unit can lure dollars from TV budgets.
ASq was the result of a process begun by VivaKi as a research project to find the next great Web video format.The unit, a version of which was first tested on Hulu, allows users to chose among several different video ads prior to streaming content. Right from the start, the ambitious effort had critics, who complained that the ASq was just a dressed up pre-roll ad — one that might favor flashy or fun creative. Others complained that the consumer choice feature would make forecasting inventory a challenge. Some grumbled that VivaKi’s $250,000 participation fee was too steep, and would be used to line Publicis’ pockets –something the company vehemently denies.
“Everyone has gotten their money back,” said Tracey Scheppach, VivaKi’s director of innovation. “This is not inexpensive research to conduct. We are trying to find the scale ad model of the future, and that was not going to be easy to do.”
According to Scheppach, 100 companies have signed on to become certified to start selling the ASq, indicating major momentum for the product. To date 26 advertisers have run a total of 91 campaigns, generating 200 million impressions. Some publishers clearly see potential in the effort.
“We’ve had huge success with it, I can say that unequivocally,” said Mark Marvel, director of video monetization at MSNBC.com. “It’s brought us new advertisers. What I think maybe we all didn’t quite prepare for is just how different everyones video players are. We were all maybe a little idealistic in the beginning that you could just execute and go.”
The effort has been unable to sway the 800-lb gorilla of Web video: YouTube. It’s instead betting on its own effort. Yet according to Suzie Reider, head of ad sales at YouTube, the company is generating more revenue from its own ad selector treatment, the InSlate, as well as its skipable Instream format.
“We’re moving material revenue with our TrueView ads,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what we’ve sold with the ASq, but we haven’t moved as much.”
Per Shishir Mehrotra, director of product management, video monetization at Google, hundreds of brands have signed on to test the TrueView ads since they were rolled out widely in December. “Some of the engagement rates have been three times higher [than average video ads],” said Mehrota. “It’s a very visual product, and its great for people with good creative.”
Reider was quick to praise VivaKi’s efforts, and the ASq concept overall. “The work Tracey and team did, solving some of the industry’s key challenges, is really admirable. Just getting decision makers in one room is impressive. And as a publisher, we all believe that when a consumer choses, they remember ads.”
One guess as to why YouTube hasn’t gone gangbusters over the ASq is pricing. The ASq is meant to command a premium, and YouTube sells alot of midtail inventory, and often allows advertisers to bid rather that pay a set price.
As for why other publishers may not have sold as much ASq inventory as many expected, some may simply be exercising caution. Another theory: publishers participated in the Pool just to get close to Starcom and VivaKi, not necessarily to create an industry buying standard.
While Scheppach claimed that several non Publicis agencies have purchased ASq inventory, several prominent buyers contacted by DIGIDAY had not heard of the placement.
Scheppach remains highly enthusiastic. “With anything new, you don’t run at something like this,” she said. “Six months in, the ASq is performing as well as thought. We’re on a fantastic course.”