- September 3, 2009

My Two Cents on the Online Video Conundrum

It’s occurred to me as of late that the online video conundrum – simply put, the fact that online video advertising growth is not tracking at the same rate as that of online video consumption – is in many ways self-inflicted. While there are several reasons for the slow shift in ad spend, I can’t help but think that one of the biggest is the apparent disconnect between the way agencies and their brands want to work with producers and how producers expect to work with agencies.

I recently moderated a discussion at the LATV conference about this very topic and wanted to share some thoughts…

On the panel titled “Digital: Show Me the Content: Online Video from the Media Buyer and Brand Perspective” were five people from the agency world, all of whom have had successful forays into original video and branded content campaigns. The audience, on the other hand, was largely composed of original content producers and writers, mostly from the traditional TV and film world. The unanimous agreement among the panelists was that the huge barrier to working with original content producers (assuming the agency had already overcome the barrier of convincing their client to invest in video), was the lack of understanding of how brands and agencies work and their expectations of the agency-producer relationship.

If you think about it, this shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the video industry exploded without a business model, and then decided that advertising support was how it was going to deliver on its potential. Agencies and advertisers were told to quickly catch up, without much evidence of the value of online video. At the same time, video producers and publishers saw this uncharted territory as a “big party” happening at the brands. They showed up with all their friends, the circus and pyrotechnics, and knocked on brand advertisers’ doors with the good news, to which brand advertisers responded blankly and fairly, “who are you and what are you doing here?”

Online video represents a different paradigm from the traditional TV development model. This new model is much closer to the world of product placement and brand integrations. Whereas an independent producer in the TV world would find it very typical to pitch several fully-baked ideas, this is not the case in today’s new world of original web video. It no longer cuts it for a content developer or producer to simply pitch an idea and run with it, without considering how a brand might fit into the piece. Agencies and brands want to be a part of the creative process so they can ensure the brand is being fully integrated into the story in an authentic way. They want the producer to truly understand the brand essence and broader brand objectives while allowing their agency to be more iterative.

This disconnect between the agencies and content producers is certainly one of the factors contributing to the slow shift of marketing dollars to the online video space. The conversations we had at LATV help bring these two sides closer together, which is why I wanted to continue the discussion here.

So, what are the key takeaways? How can we bridge this gap to create a more harmonious union between the two stakeholders? The message to producers from my agency-packed panel was simple: Content developers and producers must find ways to identify true synergies between a brand (its essence and objectives) and a particular media experience. Know the value you bring to the table and express it to agencies using quantifiable evidence (research, research, research!). Who is your audience? What will the distribution strategy be? What is the fallback in case you are not able to deliver the audience that you promised to the brands? In TV, you have make-goods. In video, what’s your proposed equivalent?

And finally, I think we all recognize that relationship-building is critical. There are no shortcuts to building strong relationships with agencies – or with anyone for that matter. Any producer, whether from the traditional or new media genre, understands that these relationships are built on trust over time, and a few solid credits under your belt also go a long way in proving in advance that you’re going to be able to deliver.

If the content producers and agencies can really begin to collaborate and see eye-to-eye, it will result in creating more integrated and compelling advertising efforts that will drive eyeballs and engagement. When that begins to happen, the trickle of advertising dollars to online video will become a flood and the medium will begin to fulfill its true potential.

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