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Web to Soon See :30s

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David Payne wants to radically alter what online ads look like and how they get sold. And he’s recruiting some of Web publishing’s heavy hitters to help his cause, which is nothing less than creating a new standard video ad unit for the Internet that can be sold much like TV.

This summer, Payne’s company ShortTail Media will initiate a beta test of what it’s calling the Digital 30 (D30), a full-screen, deliberately intrusive placement built to showcase traditional 15- and 30-second TV spots. But unlike most Web video ads, the D30 loads between Web pages much like an interstitial.

Payne, the former head of CNN.com and current ShortTail CEO, spent last week meeting with nearly 20 top publishers—including the Wall Street Journal Online—in hopes of getting them to commit to testing the D30. So far, Reuters has signed on, and MSNBC.com and Weather.com are said to be strongly considering joining the test.

Back in February at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual meeting, Payne delivered a provocative speech urging the industry to adopt bigger, bolder creative and to be less sensitive to user-experience. But with the D30 he is aiming even higher: to shift online advertising’s fundamental currency away from banner ads sold on a bulk impressions basis to video ads that are sold based on a deliberately limited amount of inventory (he promises frequency capping).

“The reason we need change is that brands are not treating in-page display ads as brand vehicles, but they are [treating] video [ads as brand vehicles],” said Payne, who admits the D30 won’t get very far unless his company gets a large number of publishers and buyers on board.

Riley McDonough, senior vp, general manager, Americas, consumer publishing for Thomson Reuters, said that during this summer’s test he’ll be watching to see how many users are willing to view full ads via the D30. “Companies have tried things like this before with mixed results,” said McDonough. “But we may be reaching a stage in the growth of our industry that for video users tolerance is higher.”

Joe Fiveash, executive vp, gm for The Weather Channel Interactive, said he likes that the D30 runs between pages. “The concept of divorcing the ad from content is really interesting,” he said. Plus, the D30 offers “a new way to have video inventory on sites that don’t have enough.”

Sarah Baehr, Razorfish's national media discipline leader, wasn’t sure whether the D30 would become the industry’s new go-to unit, though she admired ShortTail’s willingness to shake up the status quo. “We haven’t had new ad standards [since 2002], and it’s probably time to rethink things,” she said. “Back then, broadband was low. It was a flatter and less interactive Web. The whole environment has changed.”

Baehr hoped that if adopted widely by publisher, the D30 would also inspire a creative revolution. “I hope that clients invest in creative. You don’t want bigger, [lousier] creative.”