Many news publishers struggle to balance maintaining a good user experience while hitting ambitious revenue growth targets.

Last October, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf introduced guidelines on the lengths of its video pre-roll ads in order to improve user experience. At the same time, it introduced six-second video ad formats — a strategy that has since borne fruit. CPMs have increased by up to 20%, and six-second video ads now account for 10% of its daily video income, according to the publisher.

In order to take into consideration the publisher’s inventory, the demand from advertisers and the reader experience, the news publisher divided up its editorial video into five different categories by length, ranging from under 30 seconds to over 180 seconds. Within that, each editorial video category has its own ad specification and a maximum number of ads. For instance, editorial videos under 60 seconds only run six-second pre-roll ads.

Before this year, 60-second editorial videos ran pre-roll ads that were six, 15 and 20 seconds long before they were restricted to six seconds. It will alter this again if there a change in market demand. Video ads are capped at one every five visits.

“A lot of people feared it would lose money,” said Denny Plaggenburg, head of video at Telegraaf Media Groep. “We are strict, we say no to a few ads before serving the content. But it is a matter of supply and demand. It’s about quality, not quantity. We have a lot of inventory; we would prefer to have less and sell it for more.”

Plaggenburg said that now around 20% of its inventory is six-second ads. The publisher has 30 million monthly pre-roll impressions on its own site, which now adhere to these guidelines. It also has another 30 million monthly impressions on YouTube, which it can sell itself and keep all of the revenue. Plus another 100 million on monthly outstream impressions.

According to the publisher, by limiting supply on certain editorial videos, CPMs for its on-site pre-roll have increased between 15% and 20% compared with last year. Currently, six-second ad CPMs are around €12 ($13.42 / £10.71), while the floor price for longer formats is €15 ($16.78 / £13.39) CPMs, but the average is higher, with some bidding €30 ($33.55 / £26.74) CPMs. The publisher has also run some campaigns on a cost-per-completed view model. Around 90% of ads are sold in programmatic private marketplace deals, around 10% are sold direct, more often than not because they are part of wider cross-channel deals.

The growth of six-second ad formats has been stymied by a lack of available creative assets and the format’s perceived value. While multiple studies extol the virtues of shorter ad formats, they mainly focus on human behavior and short attention spans, rather than the effectiveness of the format, according to agency sources.

While six-second ads are growing for De Telegraaf, the most popular on its site are 15 seconds and 20 seconds, while 30-second is a dying breed. But Plaggenburg estimates that in the next few years demand for six-seconds will nearly catch up with that of 15-second ads.

“It’s a bold move,” said Chris Hardiman, product director at Xaxis, about De Telegraaf’s six-second ad limit. “Until [six-second ads] become a requirement it can be an immobile landscape. Using short-form video to reach people, six-second creative is the right way to do it.”

Six-second formats work best when they complement other media, working to peak curiosity, send a key message or tease something new, rather than a standalone ad, according to Hardiman. “You can then be more creative with longer video ads, rather than have to drive awareness, then engagement, then consideration all in one ad,” he added.

However, the tide is moving in the right direction. Two months ago, if an advertiser didn’t have a six-second ad creative the conversation stopped there, said Hardiman. Now Xaxis, with the help of GroupM agencies, helps advertisers create the content. Publishers like De Telegraaf are also increasingly offering to edit advertiser creative to fit the format.

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