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Will YouTube Swim in Publicis' 'Pool'?

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Several of the Web’s  biggest publishers will meet this Thursday at Starcom MediaVest Group’s offices in Chicago, with the top item on the agenda being the second wave of The Pool, the agency’s ambitious media research project.

For some, though, there’s another item: getting YouTube to make a bigger splash.

Starcom and its partners would like YouTube to join them in implementing The Ad Selector -- the Pool-endorsed ad unit they hope becomes commonplace across Web video, basically becoming that medium's de facto "30-second spot." But so far, according to sources, YouTube has been resistant, telling other participants that it does not currently see a lucrative enough market for The Selector.

Back in February, Starcom announced that after completing “lane 1” of The Pool, which focused on finding an alternative to pre-roll ads for long-form video, The Ad Selector (ASq) was found to be the most effective and easily adoptable placement. Originated by Hulu, the ASq allows users to choose among several different video ads before viewing content.

YouTube was not part of lane 1, though it’s signed on for lane 2, which focuses on short-form content. Last month, YouTube announced that it was rolling out “skippable” video ad treatments, which allow users to jump past certain ads, and may eventually incorporate some form of user choice. That has fueled speculation that YouTube is going its own way.

Officials at YouTube deny that’s the case, claiming they have not made any decisions on the ASq. “We are constantly experimenting with a variety of ad formats to make sure we present users, partners and advertisers on YouTube with the best experience possible,” said a spokesperson.

Tracey Scheppach, Starcom’s svp, innovations director, said that it’s simply not possible for YouTube to have rejected the ASq, since her team hasn’t even formally presented the ASq to its engineers. According to Scheppach, all seven lane 1 Pool participants -- Hulu, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, CBS, Discovery and BBE -- will start running Selector ads on Sept. 15.

“I am simply blown away by the level of cooperation and excitement The Pool has created,” Scheppach said. “The technology is in place, every publisher that has been exposed has agreed to be certified and big spending advertisers are lining up.”

Adam Kasper, svp, managing director, digital innovation at Media Contacts, said his team is already seeing the ASq in the marketplace. “I’ll definitely try it,” he said. “If you are doing something like this you want YouTube to be a part of it, but it could exist pretty successfully without them. If advertisers think it is successful, they’ll want to keep using it.” Indeed, many Pool participants, though declining to comment publicly, reiterated their enthusiasm for the ASq and downplayed any YouTube issues.

“YouTube has been an outstanding partner through the entire lane 2 process,” said Scheppach. “[We] look forward to presenting them the plan to make ASq operate in a way that can truly turn advertisers’ TV budgets into holistic video investments.”

Yet some doubts about The Pool linger, as many wonder if enough of the industry will back the unit. Other notable exceptions are MTV Networks, Turner and MySpace. And buyers will always have clients that want to be unique. If the idea of The Pool is to find a standard ad unit for video, “I don’t believe that will be the case,” said Adam Shlachter, MEC managing partner, digital investment.

“But I also don’t believe we should have so many versions of video units, either...Then things become too diluted, too difficult to evaluate," he said. "But if there’s only one option, do you lose the ability to innovate and stand out?”

See also: "Publicis' VivaKi at a Crossroads"