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By Robert John Davis
H E A D O F D I G I TA L , O G I LV Y U S A
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S2
HE 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
Seven key findings rose above the rest:
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S3
Yes, the Future
of TV Is Bleak1.
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.
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S4
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
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.
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S5
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?”
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S6
Not Just for the
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
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S7
Is a Prime Time
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.
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S8
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, non-
skippable 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
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S9
Context Are Allies
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
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:
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.
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S1 0
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
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S1 1
Save Your Emotion
and Your URL
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.
L E S S O N S F R O M E S TA B L I S H E D O N L I N E V I D E O V I E W E R S1 2
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
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
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.