Video’s Wild West is Getting Wilder: Most Video Advertising is Now Served in MPUs

Integral Ad ScienceYesterday Integral Ad Science published their quarterly report on media quality. On a positive note, video viewability improved slightly. In Q1 2015 viewability rose to 41.8 percent, an improvement on the 39 percent achieved in the previous quarter. But a more questionable trend identified in the report was the revelation that the most common player size for online video is now the 300×250 ad unit, more commonly known as the MPU, an ad unit that was originally designed for display advertising. Now over half – 51 percent – of video ads are served into MPUs.

While running video ads in MPUs isn’t easy on either the eye or the consumer, there are many publishers who are more than willing to make some extra money from their remnant display inventory. And over on the buy side there are advertisers – and occasionally brand buyers too – who aren’t particularly concerned about inventory quality or player sizes. They want cheap reach and have no interest in seeing their toilet cleaner ads on the FT’s homepage, or against toilet related content. A £2 CPM and minimal brand safety (i.e. no porn or violence) is often enough for these buyers.

So there’s nothing categorically wrong or even ethically dubious about serving ads into MPUs if the buy and the sell-side both know what they’re buying into. However, many in the industry also believe the practice is open to abuse and even fraud. Questions that brands, agencies and publishers need to be asking are:

  • Is the agency/brand client aware their ‘pre-roll’ video ads are being run against content served into MPUs?
  • Are publishers getting a big enough share of the pie, and are they always aware that video ads are being run in ad units designed for display?
  • If the ads are shown against content, has that content been properly licensed?
  • How is the inventory being priced? Do buyers think they’re getting ‘pre-roll’ in environments where the user has initiated a full-size video?
  • Do the ads bear any relevance to the context of the page (assuming it matters to the advertiser)?
  • Finally, how does it reflect on our industry and on video advertising’s reputation?

That last point is particularly important. TV money won’t magically move over to video if video isn’t perceived as a credible alternative, and advertisers don’t always have time to understand the nuances of each format, publisher and platform. If one player in the market lets the side down, everyone suffers.

And let’s not forget the huge amount of work that gone into ensuring video advertising is taken seriously. It really isn’t long since the content was derided as consisting mostly of ‘cats on skateboards’. Then the smaller (than TV) screen sizes were questioned, and the quality of streamed TV creatives was often regarded as sub-par. And that’s before you even mention the problems with fraud and viewability.

Again, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with running video ads in MPUs, but at the same time it seems unlikely that quite so many brands have decided they’re happy to have their big budget TV creatives displayed in 300×250 ad units.

Looking ahead, it seems likely the MPU video trend will have a limited shelf-life as the industry finds more elegant solutions to the supply problem. For example, a number of vendors are now offering outstream video ads (those that are embedded in articles etc) are helping to solve the shortage of supply in a more consumer and publisher-friendly way, and other in-feeed native formats look set to explode over the next couple of years. In the medium term, video will eat display’s lunch when it comes to brand spend, but just not by shoe-horning ads into display’s legacy ad units.

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