7 Lessons From Established Online Video Viewers
The online video industry is bedeviled by perennial expectations of “what’s next.” A decade-plus of constant transformation and audience growth has trained the spotlight on prognostication rather than empirical learning; as a result, enthusiasm over what might happen often impedes our understanding what already is happening.
Driven by a desire for deeper understanding of contemporary adult viewing behaviors, the video strategists at global advertising agency Ogilvy partnered with online news leaders The Young Turks (TYT) to study how established audiences consume online video content and advertising. The highly engaged TYT audience was tapped to serve as a proxy for committed viewers across the spectrum. In early June of 2017, nearly 2400 TYT viewers ages 18 and over participated in a survey detailing their interactions with video content and advertising across all online video (OLV) sources — not just videos from The Young Turks.
The results challenge many accepted norms and illuminate a path forward for both brands and creators. Peering away from the crystal ball and looking straight into the bright light of the present allows creators and advertisers to truly appreciate the massive opportunity available in today’s market.
Seven key findings rose above the rest:
FINDINGS: Traditional television as a content delivery mechanism may be closer to obsolescence than many realize. Eight out of ten respondents expect digital to be their sole source of video within the next few years, while six out of ten agree that there is already no need to own a TV. Lest anyone confuse this for a youth movement, nearly three in four Seniors and Boomers believe online streaming and svod will be their exclusive video delivery method within the next few years, with 54% of Seniors in agreement that the TV set itself is already unnecessary.
POTENTIAL IMPACT: While cord-cutters earn media headlines by stoking fears of audiences continuing to flee from TV for OLV, a bigger story lurks one level down. The viewers who have already jumped to OLV remain bullish, and that’s doubly bad for traditional television. If TV isn’t positioned to win back cord-cutting converts, then its only possible future is one of decline.
With viewer preference for online video advertising and content fluttering around the 50% mark, the audience may be signaling that OLV has come of age. Even the notion that OLV is at least as good as television could signal a crushing blow to the old stalwart. The numbers suggest it is time to take OLV audiences more seriously.
FINDINGS: Over the past few years, the Ogilvy team has anecdotally noticed a trend toward OLV “session views” — the continuous engagement of a viewer over long periods of time. A session could be five minutes. It could be 20 minutes. It could be over an hour. Unlike orderly binge-watching of episodic programming on Netflix or other “over-the-top” networks, OLV session viewing is an unstructured experience reliant on the whim of the viewer. The viewer may stay on one video platform or jump between multiple platforms, watching any number of videos and ads in a single session.
In the TYT sample, 68% of respondents reported their average online video sessions last more than 30 minutes, with 40% reporting average sessions of over an hour. The data suggests these are frequently occurring events, with 73% reporting having 30+ minute session views more than three days a week and 29% saying they view for 60 minutes or more — per session — on a daily basis.
When accounting for the frequency of session viewing, even casual viewers aren’t really all that casual. Of the 32% who reported their sessions typically last less than 30 minutes, over half (55%) said they engage in session viewing more than three days a week, with 19% sessioning every day.
As for the platforms driving sessions, it comes as no surprise that YouTube, with its user-friendly, viewer-oriented interface, dominates sessioning: 93% of respondents cited Google’s video hub as their most frequently used session platform. Facebook (30%) and Twitter (10%) were a distant second and third.
POTENTIAL IMPACT: Session viewing is good business for video creators, advertisers and the platforms. The longer and more frequently people watch, the more fertile the landscape becomes for advertising avails.
Sessioning also highlights an issue for brands: The data suggests a major disconnect between how consumers watch videos and how advertising is presented to them. Marketers tend to look at advertising on a per-asset basis while quantifying success by tracking views, completion rates and click-throughs of individual videos. This single asset focus disregards the fact that the audience is likely engaged in a session where an advert is just a small part of their overall viewing experience. It may be time for brands to change their thinking from “How do I get someone to watch my pre-roll before a video?” to “How do I integrate my brand message into a consumer viewing session?”
FINDINGS: One could be forgiven for assuming only the young are hanging out online all day, and it is true that 74% of Millennials report average session times of over 30 minutes, but that is not the entire story. 70% of Gen Xers, 63% of Boomers and 53% of Seniors also report average viewing sessions lasting 30+ minutes. Even more shocking, 55% of Seniors report sessioning more than three days a week.
POTENTIAL IMPACT: Conventional wisdom tells us OLV is a young person’s pursuit, but the data refutes that. As brands move advertising dollars from television to digital in an effort to target youth, it may be time to consider doing so for a broader demographic range. Marketers who shy away from targeting the breadth of OLV audiences risk missing an intimate connection with older consumers.
FINDINGS: When are these viewing sessions taking place? Half of all respondents (50%) report their sessions typically occur in the evening, while 29% cite late-night viewing. Less than a third indicate that holding morning or afternoon viewing sessions is typical for them. These preferences may align with the lifestyles of the participants. Most were students or full-time employees at the time of the study, thus time to engage in long-session views comes later in the day … during TV’s lucrative prime time and late-night hours.
The survey data shows audiences are reaching a point of equilibrium with preference for TV or OLV advertising. Just under half of the respondents prefer OLV ads over TV commercials. Millennials are most likely to agree (61%) that OLV ads are more engaging than those on TV, while Boomers are least likely to agree (44%).
POTENTIAL IMPACT: The respondents’ viewing patterns suggest that time spent with OLV competes directly with television’s most valuable time slots. From the creators’ point of view, the data supports the argument that OLV entertainment should be considered on par with television — a point that raises many questions about how OLV advertising is valued, both strategically and financially. Viewers clearly see OLV as an alternative to television, while advertisers tend to think of it more as an ancillary platform. With consumer preference for OLV and TV advertising at a virtual draw, there seems to be a strong case to argue that the two platforms should be valued equally in the marketplace.
FINDINGS: If sessions are good for business, then it stands to reason events that cause viewers to abandon sessions should be avoided. Unfortunately, the advertising counted upon to support content is also a catalyst for lost session time. An ill-conceived or inappropriately placed ad can prompt the viewer to end their session, robbing the creator of additional viewing time, limiting the platform’s monetization opportunity and eliminating the advertiser’s chance to connect with the consumer.
Over one-quarter of the respondents (27%) reported ending a viewing session because they didn’t want to watch a non-skippable ad. Irrelevant content, nonskippable formats and poor contextual placement all contribute to a consumer deciding to stop watching video altogether, rather than sit through an ad that doesn’t connect with them.
POTENTIAL IMPACT: Session-killing is no joke and it happens more than we’d like to think, even though the evidence is right in front of us. Brands rarely see 100% completion rates for non-skippable ads. Most are happy with anywhere from 85 to 90% completion rates. What happens to the other 10 to 15% views that aren’t complete? Those are the session killers. The only way for the consumer to avoid completing a non-skippable view is to abandon watching videos all together. Every incomplete view is a vote of disinterest from the viewer that registers a very clear message that they would rather not watch any videos than sit through a specific ad. That’s not only bad for the brand that created the ad, it’s devastating for the content creators who rely on extended viewing to drive revenue.
FINDINGS: If OLV viewers are fickle enough to give up entire sessions over bad advertising, there’s good reason to focus on OLV advertising traits that encourage engagement. The importance of understanding these traits is laid bare by data revealing six in ten (64%) respondents who watched online videos at least one day a week preferred not to see online video ads at all. Nearly all participants (92%) report not paying full attention when viewing ads.
If viewers are predisposed to ignore ads, how do brands engage? Audiences have given very clear signals as to what kind of advertising they value in connection to OLV content. The data reveals several key variables are at play, including length, relevance, context and content.
Let’s begin with one of the top issues in the OLV world: length.
While longer content is sought after by audiences, longer advertising is not. Six in ten respondents indicated they are more likely to pay attention to shorter ads (61%) and reported a preference for a series of short ads spread out during a session (57%) rather than one longer ad. Four in ten (39%) indicated they would be more likely to wait for content if presented with a six-second, non-skippable ad, and 44% reported no preference. Taken together, the results suggest that a suite of six-second ads run over the course of several minutes may be more conducive to the session viewing experience than one longer asset.
In a lean-forward experience like OLV viewing, the difference in user expectation between content and advertising can be quite small. Relevance and context are the key factors driving interest in both. Over half of the respondents reported frustration from inability to relate to the content of OLV ads they were exposed to.
65% of all respondents wish ads were customized to their personal interests, while 62% would prefer ads that predict their future interests rather than retarget based on past behavior. While common cookie/pixel-drop retargeting is simple to execute, OLV viewers are looking for content that is more useful than regurgitated recent website visits.
Personal relevance isn’t the only factor. OLV consumers also prefer advertising related to the content they are viewing. Three out of four respondents wish online ads were relevant to the shows they are watching when the ad runs. Nearly six in ten (57%) report paying more attention to ads featuring talent from the specific video they are watching. That’s good news for content creators who work directly with agencies and brands to develop advertising.
POTENTIAL IMPACT: The message from the viewers is clear: Unless an advertiser makes the effort to place a highly relevant ad, the consumer will ignore it. The kind of creative that connects with OLV audiences eschews brand-first messaging for something more personally relevant to the viewer. In the age of hyper-targeting and dynamic video assembly, there are very low technical hurdles to clear in order to meet high levels of personal relevance. All it takes is effort.
Making contextual connections is even more straightforward. It harkens back to the earliest days of television when cast members of a show would also be involved with advertising segments. OLV viewers respond to the same thing. The viewing audience builds bonds with the talent they watch online; thus advertising featuring that same talent feels more connected to the overall session experience. Given that OLV is a two-way platform where viewers and talent can (and do) communicate, the more we mix the style and creative of favorite programming into advertising, the more likely the viewer is to feel the ad is an extension of their session rather than a disruptor.
FINDINGS: When it comes to the content of the ads themselves, 87% of respondents indicate they should be entertaining. But what kind of entertainment they are looking for? Humor reigns supreme, with 52% preferring funny content. 48% look for interesting content and 34% seek ads that are relatable (perhaps a call-back to relevance?). Visual appeal was also cited as a draw (31%). Emotional content and ability to engage (link to an external website, like, or share ads) were the clear losers with less than 11% of respondents looking to be moved to share.
POTENTIAL IMPACT: Emotional content and the predictable “URL in the end frame” dominate OLV advertising output, yet both run against the wishes of the viewer. When considered alongside the data about relevance and context, it makes sense to consider OLV advertising that trades clickbait sappiness for logical connections targeting audience need.
The lack of interest in click-through links might be unexpected, but it makes sense when viewed through the frame of the session view. Clicking on an OLV ad takes the viewer out of the session, often to a daughter window populated with content from another website. If the viewer is deep in a session, bringing them to another window runs counter to the experience they are enjoying.
CONCLUSION: MARKETING RAMIFICATIONS
With audiences across all adult age groups reporting long-session viewing, the time is right to challenge the “one pre-roll/one video” paradigm of the current video advertising space. By adopting advertising that meshes with the experience of long-session viewing across multiple platforms, brands and agencies can work to build bonds with the consumer based upon their behaviors. It is a chance to move the status of the video ad from interloper to its optimal place as an asset that enhances the entire viewing experience.
The desire of viewers for greater context and relevance also plays well against the thorny issue of viewability. If brands make advertising that relates well to consumers and is distributed via media plans that align advertising with relevant content, the data suggests viewers will be more likely to watch the ad. Viewability becomes less of a problem when the consumer actually wants to watch the advertising.
Advertisers need to become more cognizant of how their advertising impacts the viewer’s journey. Every time an incomplete view is recorded for a non-skippable ad, it means the user was so turned off by the advertising that they gave up their viewing session. One way to avoid this danger is by featuring the talent/topics of the content being watched in the associated advertising. Viewers are hungry for relevance and context.
Taken as a whole, the study suggests that the OLV audience is in this for the long haul (and long-session view). Are the rest of us? That’s the challenge ahead.