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Is the demise of pre-roll already on the cards?

Evolution moves fast in the game of digital advertising. Formats once thought to hold all the cards can easily find themselves on a losing streak when a new player comes along and ups the metaphorical ante. Pre-roll video advertising – once seen as the forefront of digital innovation – is the latest to succumb to this rapid evolution and the format may soon find itself well and truly out of the game.

Despite video being the fastest growing advertising channel, investment in pre-roll is declining, with over 40% of video budgets already allocated to alternative formats. In a bid to improve the user experience Google is heading up the trend and abandoning its 30-second unskippable pre-roll YouTube format. And where Google leads the rest of the industry usually follows. Now Ipsos research has revealed the appeal and performance of pre-roll just doesn’t match up to emerging video ad formats such as outstream.

So could it really be game over for pre-roll and what player will take its place at the table?

Why the tables are turning for pre-roll

There are a multitude of factors behind the shift away from pre-roll but the key reason is the format’s tendency to intrude on and disrupt the user experience. The industry is responding to decreasing attention spans and a new generation that is used to accessing content quickly. Today’s internet users are often unwilling to watch 30 seconds of video advertising to access the content they require, and are highly likely to abandon the content altogether or seek it elsewhere.

Pre-roll video ads also come with viewability concerns, particularly when they are skippable. Facebook is working to find a solution to this issue by trialling mid-roll video ads which are only served once a user has viewed 20 seconds of the video content, but there is a risk of putting off viewers even further by delivering intrusive ads once they are immersed in video content. Finally there will be less long-tail inventory available for pre-roll video moving forward as Google has announced it will not serve ads on YouTube channels with fewer than 10,000 views in an attempt to address current concerns over ad misplacement.

Outstream takes control of the game  

While pre-roll’s limitations in terms of viewability and availability are significant, it is the format’s failure to deliver on key brand impact and perception metrics – when compared with emerging outstream video formats – that will ultimately determine its ability to survive when the chips are down.

The Ipsos study, conducted with Sublime Skinz, compared a traditional skippable pre-roll video ad format with a skin or wallpaper-based outstream format which included a video ad in the page header. The study aimed to determine which format was most effective in driving advertisers’ main KPIs, including awareness and recommendation.

When the study assessed the challenge brands face in attracting consumer attention in order to come to mind at the decisive moment, it revealed that the outstream video ad was far more effective than the pre-roll ad. Two-thirds (33%) of those exposed to the skin-based video were able to spontaneously recall the advertiser brand compared with just 15% for the pre-roll format. The results of the study indicated the outstream video had a greater impact on purchase intent with participants 30% more likely to take action after viewing the ad, than those who viewed the pre-roll video. And when the panel of respondents was asked which format they would prefer advertisers to use, the video skin was 1.6 times higher than pre-roll.

Outstream video formats don’t just score well on engagement and performance metrics, they also answer many of the issues associated with pre-roll. As they don’t prevent users accessing digital content or interrupt the user experience they are far less intrusive than pre-roll video. They also don’t have the same viewability issues as they play beside content, and they can be served alongside all types of digital media, not just video, meaning an almost endless supply of inventory.

The inability of pre-roll to engage digital users and drive results, as well as other shortcomings such as high intrusiveness and poor viewability mean its demise really is on the cards. While pre-roll may still be in the game at this stage, the time may soon come for the format to cash in its chips and make way for less intrusive, more engaging new formats such as outstream video advertising.

Shez Iqbal, Head of UK Publishers, Sublime Skinz