- March 30, 2009

Getting Beyond Big – and How to Make 14 Billion Video Streams a Month Count

Fourteen billion is a big number, and we like big numbers. They have impact. They are bold. They make great headlines (see above). But when it comes to making online video audiences targetable and valuable, big sweeping numbers can mislead us into thinking that video is complicated, or that streamers are somehow hard to reach in meaningful, measurable and scalable ways

So how do we crack open the black box?

To begin, understanding audiences is key. Demographic composition – based on real people, not cookies or machines – is crucial to ensuring that target audiences are capable of being reached via the planned streaming channels. And it’s dangerous to just make media decisions off a website’s demographic breakdowns – remember, frequently between 20-50% of a site’s video traffic occurs through syndication and viral distribution.

Further, understanding the nature of video experiences themselves is mission critical. Not all video experiences are created equal, and therefore cannot be used to achieve identical – or even similar - ends.

Put loosely, an online video experience can be broken down in two ways:
1) As transportation
2) As education or information

A transportational video experience – aka “Get me outta here!”– occurs when a viewer engages with online video in order to be swept away and consumed by the media experience. The program is the end in itself.

This can be in the form of a bite sized SNL clip parodying Sarah Palin designed to wipe momentarily the world’s woes (or in the case of the Palin clip, accentuate them but with humor). It can also take the form of longer format programming such as Lost, Heroes and Desperate Housewives, where traditional broadcast programming is repurposed for the web. In both cases, the viewer is looking to be entertained and to be immersed in the world of the show, and to receive a familiar experience sweetly reminiscent of turning on the TV or going to the movies. In this zone, the viewer will probably be reachable by ads, albeit passively. Not to abandon the program right in the throes of Peter Petrelli being flung from a window by Sylar in Heroes, but to hear the message and, if it resonates, potentially look for more information afterwards or otherwise hold the information in the psyche, filed for when it is needed when it comes time to pick brands and make purchases. In this instance, the effect of advertising is ‘soft’, and more likely to result in benefits such as increased brand awareness, brand lift and – ultimately – a purchase.

An educational or informational video experience on the other hand – aka “make me smarter, more interesting, informed or otherwise more able to be competent at something” – occurs when a viewer actively seeks out information that can be shared in video format. Here, the video is the means to an end – be it news information, cooking a meal, picking a travel destination, learning how to play the guitar. Something is shared with the viewer that he/she didn’t know prior to watching, and the viewer is in “action mode”.

Ads can become highly targetable – and content can encourage the type of engagement that prompts the person to do something – with this kind of programming. Imagine that you were researching or planning a holiday to Mexico, and wanted to see some video clips about the beaches along the Caribbean Coast, or the best cabanas. Targeted to this video, is a special overlay for Expedia offering cheap flights to Cancun. Or an offer for a package deal vacation, or 3 night stay in a beachfront cabana. Or even for travel insurance. The chance that the video experience would cause you to act is far greater than if you were treated merely as if you were part of a mass audience, none of your likes/dislikes or intentions discernible from the next person. Similarly, the viewer that avidly watches how-to-play guitar videos might be a great target for live concert deals or real-life guitar lessons, having already put up their hand and shown interest.

The takeaway here is this: the size of a network measured via streaming numbers is important to show scale and the potential reach through video advertising. Audience demographic profiles are also crucial in getting past “streaming” and to the people who are actually capable of being reached. But there is also a lot to be said for understanding both the content and the context of videos when considering this aspect of a campaign, in order to optimize the information that audiences are already volunteering about what they’re up for, and what they’re into.

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