What the U.S. Can Learn from UK Video Market

The Brits really are different. And it’s not just extra u’s, royal weddings and phone-tapping customs that separate Great Britain from the USA. Take online video.
Although there exist many similarities between the online advertising markets in the U.S. and the U.K., there are striking dissimilarities within online video advertising specifically. On a recent trip to the U.K., I noticed three in particular that are worth calling out.
First, in the U.K., TV media buyers control about half the total budgets for video. Unlike in this country, they typically consider online video advertising as simply “more television,” not some new digital format that requires teams of media planners, rich media developers and creative departments to execute. Therefore, GRPs or iGRPs dominate reporting, as opposed to view-throughs and impressions.
As a result of positioning online video as an extension of television, clients and agencies can move spend online more quickly, while using comparable performance metrics. In the U.S., the process of re-allocating offline budgets is often unnecessarily drawn out because of the perception that online video is a totally disconnected medium that requires a vast investment of new resources. And while it’s true that video offers things like advanced targeting and interactive capabilities that are lacking in TV, much of the strategy, creative and technical work is the same.
Secondly, among digital media buyers, there is a growing trend in the U.K. towards spreading online video ad budgets around, as opposed to allocating them solely to television properties. Although historically the opposite has often been true, most digital media buyers I met quickly acknowledged their embarrassment with this and expressed excitement that they were rapidly moving budgets to more efficient media outlets.
The U.S. would do well to take heed of this, as spending one’s entire online video ad budget with a television property or group of television properties is lazy and leads to both overpayment and limited reach. Surprisingly, there is less produced non-TV content in the U.S., so the content answers a demand for reach, rather than driving the long tail.
Third, U.K. media buyers follow the rule of “trust but verify,” particularly when it comes to claims of reach and relevance. Many of them scoffed at one of the measurement agencies’ ranking of the video category and referred to either direct experience (having run media with that vendor before) or anecdotal evidence (having referenced a vendor with someone whom they had worked with). In one case a buyer joked, “That vendor is ranked No. 2, and they don’t even have an employee in this country. How useful can they really be?” In the U.S. there is often a tendency to take the word of these agencies as gospel, when in reality we should be more apt to take a second look at the numbers they put out.
In general, the online video ad market in the U.K. shares many of the same challenges that we face in the U.S. That said, it’s the nuanced ways in which they are responding to these challenges that have spurred their impressive growth. While the U.S. market is obviously much larger, we would do well to heed some important lessons from our friends across the pond.
For one, while recognizing that online video has qualities which make it distinct from TV, we should not think of it as some alien category that requires a massive investment of time, energy and resources. The two media have more in common than they have differences. Getting in and experimenting is the quickest way to effectively leverage this medium.
Plus, agencies and clients ought to be more willing to allocate budget to the vast amount of non-TV content out there. The Web is full of high-quality video content that is less expensive and more effective than what you will get from the networks. The British have already benefited from being more daring in this realm.
Lastly, we all need to take measurement agencies with a grain of salt. Sure, they serve an important purpose, but we shouldn’t be afraid to dig a little deeper into their claims. The more clients experiment with different Web video outlets, the better chance they’ll have a true feel for how large their audiences are and how accurate (or inaccurate) third-party research is in this category.
Tod Sacerdoti is CEO of BrightRoll, a video ad network. Follow him on Twitter @todsacerdoti.

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