ComScore, generally regarded as the most accurate web metrics firm (or at least the most trusted), has released the findings of a new study that are kind of surprising. Despite common logic to the contrary, it seems that the average online video viewer is up for some more ads. Six-to-seven minutes worth, to be exact… per hour of content.
Hulu currently runs an average of around four minutes of ads per each hour of content (again, from the same comScore study), which suggests—on the surface, at least—that they're missing a gigantic opportunity to nearly double their ad revenue.
Weren't we just reading a few months ago about the nearly inevitable rollout of a subscription model at Hulu because they couldn't make enough money from ads? Answer me this: why would they roll out subscriptions—a sure sign they've exhausted their ad-revenue potential on the "free" model—without having explored the sheer volume of ads per show that viewers will tolerate?
Another way to put it is: why is comScore drawing these conclusions first instead of one of the video sites? It's foolish to think Hulu hasn't done their own research, which begs the question of why their research would yield such vastly different conclusions from comScore's. What did they see in their users that suggested they were already at the peak of advertising levels that would be acceptable to viewers?
Another small concern for me is how this data was compiled. Was it a pure survey, wherein comScore simply asked people how many ads they'd be willing to tolerate? Or was this study conducted on more of a behavior-analysis plane? I honestly don't know. But if any of this data was compiled through good, old-fashioned polling, it's worth wondering aloud how honest the respondents were able to be about this question. I have a sneaking suspicion that people would tend to respond to such a query by saying they're perfectly willing to watch a bunch of ads—but then during actual viewing, those same individuals become annoyed with ads and click away.
It's a bit like the TSA. I've long argued that we should be willing to let the airport security people do their job to help protect us—that I'm fine removing my shoes if the trade off is more security for air travelers like myself. However, when I am actually standing in line, loading my shoes in a plastic bin… it's more annoying than my theoretical self imagined. It's the same with ads. If I were part of a survey like this, I'd probably respond with a very high tolerance for ads—after all, my logical self knows that ads
But I can also tell you that tonight, when I'm watching my DVR copy of last night's Lost episode (don't spoil it for me, please), I'm going to be really annoyed when the commercials come and I have to fast-forward them—on a side note, look how spoiled we've become, when even fast-forwarding the commercials is seen as an annoying hurdle to jump in getting to your content? And yet, this finding from comScore seems to suggest that viewers aren't nearly as spoiled as we've been led to believe.
The study also contradicts some commonly held beliefs about web video watchers—namely that they are prone to hate advertising and believe they should have unfettered access to whatever content they want for free. While that label might apply to those who illegally download television shows and movies—comScore's data shows that this is simply not the case. In fact, according to Tania Yuki of comScore, the data makes it seem like online viewers are even more attached to the content than television viewers… that the online folks are the more rabid fan base:
"They are not a group of dissident ad-avoiders. These are people that actually love TV.”
The research also implies that online viewers are discoverers—like Columbus—who often stumble onto something not in their regular television viewing lineup, only to enjoy it so much that they become weekly viewers of the regular broadcast version. Very interesting. So the Internet might actually be a way for certain TV shows to find more viewers, new viewers they wouldn't otherwise have reached.
Basic human reasoning suggests that the simplest solution to Hulu's dilemma of ad revenue is simply… more ads. And yet it's almost like they skipped right over that option for some reason. Maybe it was erroneous speculation about their audience. Or maybe Hulu did some testing on their own that produced results opposite of comScore's. It's possible.
Regardless, you can expect a host of video portals to take these comScore numbers and run with them, ramping up the total advertisements on their content. And it'll probably start happening very soon.
Personally, I am quite willing to trade some more of my viewing time for the privilege of seeing high-quality content for free on sites like Hulu--as opposed to paying for ad-free shows. I'm curious to know how our readers feel about it. How many minutes of ads per hour of content would you accept… what's your tipping point?