Paps Shaikh, commercial director at SAY Media
The fundamental issue here goes beyond ad skipping; for most of us the internet and the technology revolution has led us to a place where we believe everything should be free of charge. But everyone knows there is no free lunch, especially online.
The reason we get social utilities like Facebook free of charge is because they take our data and making a commercial gain from it through their targeted advertising activities. If you were to ask all of Facebook's 900 million users to pay for an ad free Facebook membership, you'd be lucky to get 5% take-up. So as Facebook users we accept the trade off – our data in return for free use of their services.
So ad skipping falls into this psyche of everything being free. But the Facebook example shows that we as a populous are starting to understand the dynamic of our relationship with online products, be it searching on Google for free, or sharing photos on Tumblr.
The one revenue source these services have is advertising, and if we strip that away, it takes us down a dangerous, but unrealistic road. The ecosystem that props up the internet and the way use it depends on the ad dollars to keep it going.
So ad-skipping technology is something of a dead end in online evolution. There is no viable option whereby people can skip ads. The economics just wouldn't work.
Pre-roll kicked off in America about seven years ago, and there was a reaction from consumers at the time, “How dare you put 15 seconds of advertising in front of my content,” they cried. Seven years on it seems to be settling down, bar a few disruptive voices. That process is still going on, but people have started to realised that without that 15 second spot between them and their content, there's a very real danger that there could soon be a shortage of content.
Of course it's always possible that the real gripe people have about ads like pre-roll is that they want to skip them because the ad content is rubbish. They aren't skipping the ad because its an ad, they're skipping the ad because its irrelevant to them, irrelevant to the content, or just plain boring. The average attention span online is less than nine seconds, then yes pre-roll is going to be annoying as it's twice that length.
Advertising is a necessary evil. But if you blur the line between content and advertising, like we try to do at SAY, you approach that advertising nirvana of emotionally engaging content. In the early days of online, we just shoehorned ad units where we could, but today it's possible to use the medium to tell engaging brand stories that integrate with other channels. Once you've got engaging content, the question of ad-skipping becomes more irrelevant.
On a purely technological level, every user who enters a SAY Media ad has made a decision to do so. They want to be there, they want to see what's on offer, which removes us from the ad skipping conversation. I'm not overly concerned about ad-skipping devices, as the technology targets pre-roll, so it's down to those ad providers to up their content game.
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