Why online video remains in TV's shadow

Brands and their marketers would like to shift more budget to online video -- really. They know perfectly well that consumers are there waiting. But online will never have the gravitas of TV advertising until one very important change takes place.

It's not technology or inventory (or lack of it) that's the problem. It's not the sites or the screen size or the devices. And it's certainly not measurability.

It's how video is sold online. And until it changes, TV will rule.

Why in-stream remains in TV's shadow

Digital video, specifically in-stream, is marketed as a TV-like experience. Indeed, like TV, viewers must watch the entire ad to get to the desired content (although they rarely do in either medium). What's fundamentally different, however, is the connection between the programming and the ad -- the emotional or thematic link that captures a viewer in the right frame of mind for a specific product or idea. And it's totally missing online.

TV media buyers are extremely deliberate about matching advertising to content in order to create or exploit the emotional connection the viewer has with the programming. "The Office" viewers are there to laugh or cringe themselves to tears. NBA playoffs watchers are there to be exhilarated. "Mad Men" fans are immersed in a world that wears high heels and sips bourbon before 10 a.m. -- emotionally miles away from the nearest health club. The demographic for all these shows may be right-on for a running shoe maker, but the emotional vibe? Might as well be three different planets.

Marketers know how crucial this emotional connection is, and they carefully select the TV content that best showcases their brands. In-stream media doesn't offer the ability to synchronize brand and programming, and it's a huge handicap.

Digital video buyers rarely know which content they're buying -- only that it's premium or not, long-form, or short. They can buy a specific audience and day part, but ad networks and many premium publishers such as ABC don't sell ads around a specific show. In fact, they don't even report on them.

How can we expect TV buyers to invest in online advertising when we fail to provide them with the attribute they desire most -- the emotional connection?

Even with all the developments taking place online, in-stream will remain an underdog until we change how it's sold. The emergence of the Newfronts this year was a big step forward. The availability of online GRP, more premium inventory, and lower rates are all great news. But until we can provide viewers -- and thus marketers -- with a viewing experience that is emotionally integrated, video will always come up short and in-stream will continue to be bought (or received free) as a second-string part of the TV buy.

Publishers and networks: It's time to let buyers out of the dark. Sell specific content, and you create an entirely new kind of media buy that offers everything TV can and more. Transparency's time has come.

Boaz Ram is the senior manager, video product marketing at MediaMind.

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