At the annual American Association of Advertising Agencies annual meeting later this week in Florida, the group's Advanced Television Committee will release an initial set of guidelines for ad messaging on video-on-demand platforms.
On the one hand, the action is rudimentary, because it deals with such mundane issues as verifying that ads ran correctly.
But in the larger picture, it's an important first step in getting numerous parties — agencies, advertisers, programmers and cable operators — on board with not only on-demand services, but with digital-video-recording and broadband platforms that stand to reshape viewing of video in the years to come.
Establishing measurement vehicles will be key to jump-starting ad revenue in these new services.
"As TV becomes more consumer controlled, the traditional forms of measurement will not hold up," said Tim Hanlon, the senior vice president of emerging contacts at Starcom Mediavest Group, and chairman of the Four A's Advance Television Committee. "With the advent of hard-drive capacity, VOD and broadband connectivity, [traditional measures] will not tell the whole story as to what people are doing with their viewing."
"Sample-based viewing methodology simply cannot be the answer for what's happening to the TV industry," he continued. "More census or data-based forms of measurement need to evolve."
With that in mind, the Four A's came up with an initial set of guidelines for the world to debate and reconfigure, as necessary (see box).
Hanlon is, by now, an old hand with the new media. His company is one of the largest media buying agencies in the world, representing Kelloggs, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Allstate, Disney World, General Motors and Coke.
Many of the ads that run on Cablevision Systems Corp.'s interactive platform and VOD via Scripps networks and Turner Broadcasting System were placed by Starcom.
"VOD was never designed with advertising in mind," Hanlon said. But now, "non-movie content and non-premium content is being talked about as being viable.
"If the medium of TV is evolving and programming is evolving, the advertising around that program should evolve and graduate with it. But the ads may not be your father's 30-second commercial."
IT'S TV 2.0
Starcom is working with its client base to understand this new world, which Hanlon calls TV 2.0. "It's about consuming video, versus watching TV," he said, and "on-demand is one component of that."
The issue for advertisers is maintaining relevance in all those new touch points. "Who's watching it? How do we ascertain that this is a significant enough audience? The data is becoming extremely important in the realm of TV."
Hanlon created an internal working group, called Access, to bring some ad creativity inside the walls of the media buying agency.
"VOD craves other forms of video," he said, beyond the 30-second spot, in both shorter and longer forms. "The creative assets need to be ready to take advantage of this stuff."
At the same time, new creative for these platforms requires some kind of measurement, and none exists today for VOD. "There is a vacuum of reporting and data. Most of the cable operators have been reluctant to share anything resembling actionable or insightful data," he said. That's holding back agencies and advertisers.
Now, all streams are linear, so the easiest thing is to insert already-made 30-second spots in those streams. "But the process is cumbersome," he said. "If Scripps wants to reinsert ads, they have to do that hardcoded during the production process, and ship the file two months before it would air."
Smart programmers are looking at various sizes of messaging units and different times to insert. There could be messaging prior to the program, during natural break points and/or longer-form ads at the end. That scenario seems to work well for HGTV-type content, where consumers may want more information on a product featured in a how-to segment. "It's a new palette," Hanlon said.
A second approach to VOD ads is operator centric, Hanlon said, where the operator gets involved — to sell VOD inventory across the content on their servers. MSOs could "sell" server space, much like Cox's FreeZone. But Hanlon said only the major brands, like Coke and Nike, might be strong enough to generate hits in such an environment.
And that brings up another key issue: navigation. "The real issue boils down to navigation. Navigation is extremely important. There is a lot of chasing between programming and the operator, and how ad supported content is accessed in on demand."
VOD interactive program guides are in their infancy, Hanlon said. "There is no elegant way to wrap up all these new service offerings. But it will play itself over the next three to five years."
"Network branding is probably very important for advertisers," he said, because it can help drive eyeballs to games while the navigational issues are worked out. Kohler, the plumbing supplier, is, for instance, interested in Scripps VOD content. "They could run generic ads in programs or they could do longer forms about specific fixture lines," he said.
It's with that view of the experience, to date, and the challenges, that lie ahead, that Hanlon's Four A's committee, working with the Advertising Research Foundation, the Interactive TV Alliance and the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, came up with the starting guidelines.
"We said: 'Let's start with on-demand as a generic starting point for desired measurement guidelines. Programmers would like to know what advertisers are interested in doing. The problem is that the ad community has been nonexistent in this dialog, with the exception of few agencies and advertisers."
The guidelines, Hanlon said, are definitely influenced by the Internet. "This is a step closer to session-based measure. The seeds were sown from the Internet. On an aggregated basis, it's more census-based and data-based viewing behaviors."
The Four A's is just one of several organizations tackling this problem. Another is an organization called the DiMA Group.
DiMA is spearheading a project called, IdiA, another cross-industry initiative to foster the evolution of advertising in VOD-PVR-broadband space.
Members of the IdiA steering committee include Procter and Gamble, Master Foods, Kraft, ABC/ESPN, Discovery Networks, Scripps, Turner Networks, Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp., Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and SeaChange International Inc.
That group is focused on four areas.
The first focuses on the development of an Ad Briefing Book. It is designed to provide a process for participants to review submitted ad campaigns and put them through a classification structure, with the goal to create on-demand ad types and ad tagging structure. This resource would then be shared with the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
The second is continued work on the 2003 Interactive TV Advertising Guidelines project on ad metrics, now in the hands of the 4A's.
A third area is an advertising-availability mapping process and basic ad unit development procedure.
The ad-mapping project is designed to support programming and navigation systems that provide advertisers a simple way to ID what ad avails are offered and what standard ad units are being integrated. The process also will include an initial list of basic ad units that all parties can agree to, similar to the seven rich media ad formats agreed upon by the Internet Advertising Bureau.
The fourth project area is the ad meta-tagging integration effort, where a common metadata standard would be used across various industries.
DiMA Group also is managing the On-Demand Ad Lab, where advertisers, agencies, programmers, system operators and technology companies work together in a research environment.