Six advertisers that collectively spend upwards of $2 billion on TV time per year are putting their beloved broadcast assets to work on the Web. Starting tomorrow, AT&T, Pepsi, Honda, McDonald's, Warner Bros. and Vonage are participating in a six-week beta program to test a new video-commercial technology from Unicast.
The full-screen, broadcast-quality ad, which operates on the Microsoft Windows Media 9 series platform, loads while users are idle on a Web site and then plays without delay when they move between pages.
At a time when TV's dominance is being challenged, some marketers and agencies are encouraged by the prospect of airing those expensive assets elsewhere—on the Internet.
"This is an opportunity to bring broadcast out of the TV set," said Judy Gern, account director at Aegis Group's Carat Interactive in Boston, which handles online advertising for broadband telephone company Vonage. "This is giving us the best of branding and DR."
But will Web surfers be receptive to a commercial interruption? "That's why we're doing the test," said John Vail, director of digital marketing and media at PepsiCo, which is running two ads from the "It's the Cola" campaign by Omnicom Group's BBDO in New York. "The opportunity to take what we think is entertaining advertising and let consumers tell not only us, but the publishers what's the threshold is exciting."
A "skip commercial" feature will tell marketers if a consumer is zapping or interacting with the ad—variables that are not trackable in the offline world of bathroom breaks and channel surfing.
"For a marketer, you should be looking at this as 'I have this ad; where can I put it?' " added Jay Krihak, group media director at WPP Group's The Digital Edge in New York. "It's what content is best aligned with my message. And if it happens to be the Web, then you put it on the Web. If it happens to be broadcast, you put it on broadcast."
One of Digital Edge's clients, AT&T, is using both as a part of an effort to reposition Ma Bell as "the world's networking company." The commercials by WPP's Young & Rubicam in New York break Feb. 5 on TV and four days later on Web properties that include ABCNews.com, CBS Sportsline and ESPN.
While offerings from technology providers such as EyeWonder and Eyeblaster allow for TV-like creative on the Web, Unicast's latest is unique because it is a full-screen, 30-second unit that loads in the background, said Nielsen/NetRatings director of analysis Marc Ryan. And like TV spots, Unicast's video commercial plays at 30 frames per second, a significant improvement from streaming video that plays at 8-12 frames per second.
"The quality is there," said Krihak. "It's fluid. It looks like a television ad; it's not choppy like the other compressed video that's on the Web. It also has the size, finally."
Though beta participants are receiving preferred rates, Unicast svp of marketing Allie Savarino expects the unit to command prices on par with TV CPMs of about $25-30.