Two or three years ago, all the talk in online video was about the Long Tail and the enormous opportunity presented by figuring out a way to match brands with the torrent of user-generated content flooding YouTube. That never happened. Nowadays, it’s all about the torso.
Digital media buyers are confronted with a bifurcated market. On the top end is the high-end TV content available through Hulu and other well-lit sites. On the other end is the long tail preserve of networks with some inventory that, to be kind, is sketchy. The part that’s in the middle — the torso — is the area that’s not getting enough attention and dollars, meaning video content on top-flight sites like Discovery.com and WSJ.com. That content is considered high quality and brand safe but difficult or labor intensive to buy.
The problem with video content like this, buyers said at yesterday’s Digiday Video conference, is that individually many of these properties don’t have the viewership scale of a YouTube or Hulu. Plus, clients right now are enthralled with their idea of buying inventory within TV on the Web, either on sites like ABC.com and NBC.com or on Hulu, leading to some top publishers getting ignored.
Some in the industry have predicted that the torso will benefit from TV networks’ windowing
their content on the Web, delaying access to primetime episodes a week or more as Fox has. But so far that has yet to prove true.
“The torso is still really hard to buy,” said SMG’s Suzanne Claassen, who estimated that 40 percent of the Web video dollars go to sites which generate just 7 percent of the views. “There is no aggregate, efficient way to buy it. [As a result] virtually zero dollars go to the torso,”
“It’s a huge miss,” added. Elizabeth Firth, associate media director, Universal McCann.
Wait, don’t video ad networks exist exactly to sell torso inventory, whether it’s Tremor Video selling inventory for MLB and YuMe selling video spots for MSNBC.com? Several buyers expressed major doubts about the premium nature of video ad nets, putting their inventory in the category of the long tail rather than the midtail. However, because they can pile up a lot of inventory, video ad networks also receive a disproportionate amount of money, said Claassen: 35 percent of spending while delivering about a quarter of all streams.
“Many of these networks use ‘black box optimizers’ but sell a lot of the same inventory,” added Mary Shirley, vp of digital activation, Horizon Media.
Because of the lack of faith in networks and the inefficiencies seen in buying the torso, many buyers at Tuesday’s conference said they’ve taken to using demand-side platforms for buying specific audiences within video inventory — much like they increasingly do in the display ad world.
Not everyone agrees with these assessments or with the need for yet another network claiming to sell only premium video. While he didn’t name names, Adam Kasper, evp of digital investments at Media Contacts, said that he believes several of the current video ad networks have pared down their partner lists to the point that they can claim to be torso sellers.
Meanwhile, Dina Kaplan, CEO of Blip.tv — which showcases torso-esque native Web video series, objected to the enitre notion that quality content and brand dollars are limited to big traditional media companies. “There is premium and non-premium,” Kaplan said. “But premium inventory to me is anything that is brand safe. It doesn’t need TV production values to be safe for brands.”