Pre-roll ads for online video are among the least popular with users, because they have no choice but to wait for the ad to finish before they're able to see the content they came for. Often times the pre-roll ad is longer than the actual video itself, which only adds to the frustration. Now YouTube is planning to do something to solve this problem.
YouTube has announced plans to roll out "skippable" ads later this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The concept is pretty straightforward: there will be a "skip" button to their player, and users can click that button if they prefer to jump over the advertisement and get straight to the content.
For users, it's a no-brainer, and there isn't really much to explain. Users can skip ads if they want to, or let them play. That's about it.
On the other side of things, YouTube will shake up their ad model a bit for advertisers. If an ad gets skipped, that advertiser won't be charged. If the ad is watched, the advertiser pays for it.
The idea is that this system will force advertisers to create better ads, because the ultimate point of advertising is to have your ad seen by viewers. Ads that are constantly skipped by users will be largely ineffective (in a traditional advertising sense), forcing companies to get more creative. Numerous studies have shown that audiences are incredibly tolerant of ads that they enjoy.
So we're going to see tons of trial and error by advertisers with this new system. I expect we'll see some pretty strange ads eventually, as formulas and formats are tested against the skippable ad system.
In theory… it'll be great. Consumers will get the best of both worlds… the ability to skip the boring ads, while the overall quality and entertainment factor of the ads should go up.
I do wonder, though, how many advertisers will attempt to game the system. For instance, what value is there in having an ad play in front of a consumer for five seconds before it's skipped? It's certainly not as valuable as an ad watched in its entirety, but it's also not completely void of value either. What's to stop some advertisers from trying to front load the first few seconds of an ad with their logo or branding message so that even skipped ads will have delivered some measure of impact? My guess is that there is a time limit. Maybe ads watched for a certain length of time are billable by YouTube even if they get skipped prior to completion? Or maybe there's a sliding scale, wherein advertisers pay an amount to YouTube that is based on the average length of time their ad was watched before being skipped?
I also wonder what this will do to the overall ad rates for advertisers on YouTube. It stands to reason that a certain percentage of users will simply skip every ad once they're given the option, which would seem to suggest that ad revenue will go down for YouTube. Which might mean prices go up. Or maybe prices for ads watched in their entirety will go up? But there will have to be some adjustment on the cost and pricing in order to account for the user base that is either impatient or wholly anti-advertising.
Either way, it's an intriguing and exciting announcement. Baljeet Singh, a senior product manager at Google, said that the company has been testing these skippable ads for nearly a year, with great results—the rate at which ads are skipped, according to their research, varies greatly depending on the quality of the ads.
What kind of advertisement would it take for you to sit and watch the whole thing instead of skipping? I'm sure the answer varies from user to user—I'm much more willing to watch an ad that makes me laugh, for instance. On the flip side, what kinds of ads are doomed to fail once they become skippable? I'm pretty interested in seeing how this plays out, both as a user who dislikes pre-roll ads and as a video marketing professional. Better ad quality is a wonderfully utopian goal, if not a bit lofty. But I'm all for it if it pans out the way YouTube seems to think it will.