This has been something I’ve been pondering for some time. It is still a work in progress, and feedback or suggestions are welcome.
I believe that online video can be categorised into four broad categories:
Reference – Largely, this is the how-to guides such as Videojug which relay advice and practical tips. They will have a steady, but most likely small, stream of visitors looking for specific content. For how-to, specific content is related to the genre or topic but not necessarily the producer. I am also grouping the long tail of video on demand into this category. Arguably it could be a fifth type as the content producer is now key, but I believe the specific nature of the search is enough to group it within this category. People that watch Buffy on the WB (US only) will go there specifically looking for Buffy – few viewers will arrive there via another method with another show in mind
Scheduled – Web series and TV catch-up fall into this category. The Secret World of Sam King had a new video every weekday; the latest episode of Spooks (UK only) arrives on the iPlayer shortly after it is aired on BBC1. Similar to reference videos, people will seek out scheduled videos with the specific content in mind. The key difference is that time is now as important as a mindset, and viewers are more likely to visit after an external prompt – such as a TV guide for catch-up, or email reminder for a web series – rather than a simple desire to view.
Topical – This differs from reference videos because they represent the long tail, whereas topical videos are the short head. TMZ will get a spike in traffic whenever a celebrity has a “moment” (such as Mel Gibson or Michael Richards), and the news sites will see growth whenever there is a major story such as an election (NB: the link refers to unique users, but the trend holds for video). Topical videos continue to get small levels of traffic in the long-term, but nowhere near the levels of when the story is breaking. Portals and news sites will be the primary vehicles for this type of video as their superior resources will ensure the fullest coverage.
Viral – Youtube’s bread and butter. A viral video can be attempted by anyone, but success is far from guaranteed. They may be corporate (Nike has a good track record at viral videos), user generated or a combination. If you ignore the fact that Youtube is now the primary mechanism to consume music for free, the top videos on the site include a stand-up show (Evolution of Dance) and a home video of a newborn and his toddler brother (Charlie Bit My Finger). Not content people would necessarily have predicted to have enjoyed the success they have done. Virals don’t seem to have many rules – they can break instantly or after bubbling under a surface; they can come and go or they can hang around.
But like Creative Commons licences, these categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Examples where content can straddle multiple categories include:
Reference/viral – the Japanese art of T-shirt folding has circled the Internet on more than one occasion
Viral/scheduled – Web series such as Kate Modern that encourage interactivity
Viral/scheduled/topical – Tina Fey-lin got the short head, but the long tail shows no sign of abating
Of these four broad types, which would be the best for video advertisers to target? The best choice will be campaign dependent but each format has its advantages and disadvantages
NB: A previous post of mine details the advertising options available around online video. Given the swift evolution of the medium, I may need to write an updated version soon.
Viral – these tend to have the biggest numbers but success or failure cannot be legislated for nor accurately planned. It would therefore be best for open-ended campaigns, but even then the quality or content of the viral video needs to be carefully moderated
Topical – these will be short-term so the campaign needs to be perfectly timed with an immediate call to action
Reference – likely to be special interest and so the audience will be more targeted and efficient. Good for niche brands, but the numbers may not be there for those with a more mass appeal
Scheduled – using the traditional TV model, these can be planned in advance to a greater degree of accuracy. But TV flops show that predicted audiences are an art rather than a science, and the large growth in online gives an extra degree of uncertainty compared to the gentle fragmentation of TV audiences. Scheduled content means quality can largely be vetted in advance and so the advertiser has reassurances of their investment, but this sort of model may come at a premium.
However, this premium can be justified. When asked to choose, the vast majority prefer professionally produced content to amateur work, and people are also more accepting of advertising around this content.
As an employee of a TV owner making forays into online video, I am biased but I do believe that for the most part advertising around scheduled content is the best method to use. There is nothing preventing multiple video formats being utilised (after all, each has unique advantages) but in most situations, I believe scheduled content should be the primary focus.
Viral clips may provide mass reach, but scheduled content has the advantages of
- Easy incorporation into a media plan
- Assurances over the quality of content
- Acceptance from viewers willing to sit through ads in exchange for free, premium content
A “best practice” ad model is yet to emerge, but there are interesting experiments going on, and it will be fascinating to see how this develops.