YouTube has been experimenting with live video more and more in recent months. And I'm not just talking about live concerts. Just last week, they partnered with Conan O'Brien to host a 24-hour live video stream from his talk show offices to help promote the show's launch November 8th—the best bits from the broadcast were spliced up and loaded into YouTube again so they could be passed around virally.
At the same time, Google—YouTube's parent company—has been experimenting more and more with video advertising, generally using YouTube as it's playground for such testing.
And while I never considered the possibilities of combining live video with video display advertising, Google sure did. As Ad Age points out, today's YouTube home page featured a banner ad containing a live video feed. (The live feed is now over, but the ad remains, and you can easily start the feed over from its beginning to see what you missed.) Here's what it looked like:
The feed was from Times Square, and involves a dance competition. It was hosted by Audrina Patridge of MTV's The Hills and Jai Rodriquez of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" fame, and pitted would be dance kings and queens against one another in a video game dance battle. The game is from Ubisoft—one of the leading video game developers—and is called Just Dance 2. So participants played the game against each other in the live broadcast.
Now, it's important to point out that I don't think this is newsworthy because of the product advertised, the hosts, or the participants… or any part of today's actual live broadcast. It's important because it's live video inside a display ad, which is somewhere between exceedingly rare and completely unheard of.
Ad Age suggests that live video ads have a limited impact, since the beauty of video is the viewer's ability to watch it on their own schedule. And while that flexibility is definitely one of the greatest attributes of online video, that doesn't mean live streams are useless. And I'm not sure I'm ready to dump the notion of live video ads as quickly as they seem to be as well. In fact, I think it has tons of potential. Of course, I would hope to see live video ads featuring something a bit more exciting than a video game dance off.
Imagine if the Old Spice Man were to come out of retirement for another day of Internet domination—only this time… instead of a series of customized YouTube videos, it was a live ad like this one. Throw in a chat room or live audience to give Isaiah Mustafa some material to work with, and it almost sounds like a must-see event. And just as Conan O'Brien did, Old Spice could then splice up the best of moments from the live stream and turn them into viral videos for those that missed the action as it was happening.
How about Apple? Every time they release a new iGadget, people line up around the block for it, many sleeping on the street overnight. And plenty of strange and entertaining things happen in those lines. Why not set up a live stream of a group like that, and let it serve as a video advertisement for whatever the new product is? You never know… Steve Wozniak might stop by and do some magic.
The more I spend time thinking about it, the more potential uses for live video ads that come to mind.
Of course, live video ads a fraught with potential pitfalls. For instance, who's to say the average YouTube visitor even knew the ad was live? There's text in the banner declaring that it is "Live from Times Square," but I'm sure many users missed that notice.
There's also the problem of the unexpected. As anyone who has ever done live television or theater can tell you, performing live is a bit… unpredictable. There are an awful lot of things that have to go right behind the scenes to pull it off, and every mistake is magnified ten-fold—because you can't just do another take to get it right. The flip side to this danger, however, is that the viewers tend to be even more engaged, feeling that the live nature of the performance puts them in rare company as part of the audience.
But we're probably getting ahead of ourselves. The fact that Google is testing this type of ad unit on YouTube.com, rather than on a customer's site, is a pretty good sign they're just experimenting a bit… testing to see what potential the idea has. I think it has plenty of potential, provided you can keep the production costs down. As I've said many times in this space, I'm happy whenever a company the size and reach of Google continues to experiment, test, and stretch their own abilities. Even if live video ads are slow to catch on, it's indicative of the company's goal of constant improvement and innovation.