What’s Up With Pre-Rolls?

Despite the indignation some video viewers may feel for pre-roll ads, by all accounts they seem to be quite effective.  This may help explain their rapid rise in the world of YouTube and other popular video sites.  These ads – usually 15- or 30-second commercials which roll before the viewer’s chosen clip – herald the more popular videos such as music hits and professionally-done how-to’s.  Because they generate revenue for the video’s hosting site and accomplish sales goals for the paying companies, they are probably here to stay. Nevertheless, to some, pre-rolls symbolize the ever-advancing tide of monetization on an internet once considered by many to represent the voice of the people.

Not all pre-roll ads are alike.  One category, the “non-interactive” pre-roll, functions much like a television commercial.  It may be 15 or 30 seconds long, and plays through prior to the content that the viewer has chosen.  Then there is the “interactive” pre-roll.  Viewers can click on an icon embedded within the video or simply anywhere on the video itself, and land on the brand’s website or offer page.  A recent study evaluating pre-roll ads on the sites Break Media and Panache found click-through rates on interactive pre-rolls at 10%, which is considered very high in the world of internet marketing.  The study used leading brands, such as Honda and T-Mobile.

Another statistic encouraging brands to find favor with pre-rolls concerns how often people skip.  Most advertisements that roll before internet video contain a “skip this ad” button which becomes functional about 5 seconds after the commercial begins.  An August, 2011 ReelSEO article reported that, based on two independent studies, somewhere upwards of 40% of viewers do not skip pre-roll ads.  However, this statistic leaves out a lot of information, including whether viewers simply chose not to skip but also didn’t pay attention.  A site called The Next Web estimated in June 2011 that only 30% of viewers actually watch the ads, based on a YouTube service called “True View.”  In this procedure, a big red “X” is available for viewers to click when they found the pre-roll “not funny, interesting, or intriguing.”

While The Next Web reports this procedure useful to brands as it measures consumer engagement, whether positive or negative, I can’t help but think about a fellow who back in January blogged, “I, of course, immediately hit mute on the computer. Poured myself another cup of coffee and when I looked back at the computer the spot was over.”  Are ads that play through in this way counted as being “watched?”

A media company called Visible Measures has introduced a method in which viewers can choose which ad they want to watch, on social media sites.  The information they have posted leaves open the question of whether an ad must be watched in order to activate site content.  In any case, Visible Measures reports, “when audiences choose which ad they watch – as opposed to being forced to watch a pre-roll advertisement – brand lift metrics increase between 300% and 450%.”
“Brand lift,” according to the tech creatives at Vizu, define brand lift as a rise in measures such as awareness of the brand, positive feelings about it, and intent to purchase (though not revenue itself).

Some advertising companies disdain pre-rolls on principle, postulating that they detract from the organic, voluntary experience of the internet.  If someone clicks on a friend’s posted link on Facebook, eagerly expecting to see a funny cat video, that person may be annoyed by the interruption of a pre-roll, whether or not it is skippable. Jeff Eddings, Senior Project Manager of Stumble Upon blogged in July of this year that he believes pre-rolls detract from virality in that they may inhibit friends from sharing content with one another. This type of hesitation could reduce the expectations of internet users, lower the bar for entertaining videos, and dumb down the internet experience as a whole – a sad prospect indeed.  On the other hand, the spread of pre-rolls may distinguish videos that don’t come with interruptions, and elevate branded content that is more surprising and delightful. Eddings hopes to engender such an experience with his company Stumble Upon! Users click the “Stumble!” button, he says, as a way to say “Surprise me….”  As we know, when consumers ask for content, they are much more likely to be engaged
with it.

Time will tell whether the phenomenon of pre-roll will wash away scrappy, innovative and astonishing video content tasked with brand development, or if it will create essentially two camps of video advertising:  more conventional on one hand, richer and more artistic on the other.  In the meantime, we can sit back and watch what we choose to, and share that which we see fit.  Ask yourself how many
videos you’ve posted or embedded lately that have pre-roll ads in them, and you may have some idea of where we are heading as an internet culture.

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