Web Video Companies Leaving Tons of Cash on the Table

FreeWheel CEO says digital players could quadruple their ad output

FreeWheel sees a lot. The company helps power video content management and ad decisions for a number of big media companies, including Fox, NBCU, Turner, Vevo and AOL.

As a result, the company has a unique vantage point when it comes to the Web video space, providing it with insight into consumption patterns and ad trends. Adweek talked to Doug Knopper, FreeWheels’ co-founder and CEO, about the state of streaming, the differences between traditional and digital companies, and the post-NewFront ad market.

Adweek: What sort of difference do you see between how the broadcast and cable networks handle Web video versus the NewFront players?

Knopper: We see a dramatic difference between digital pure players and the networks. It’s a total flip-flop. Digital guys don’t have destination sites like NBC does, so they are spreading their content everywhere. Meanwhile, linear guys are almost protecting their content and apps. Another huge difference we see is the ad load per content. The linear TV guys have the highest number of ads. They are highly monetizing their content. Digital pure players are the lowest. They are not monetizing it yet. It’s almost like they have different business models.

Is that just a function of, networks have long shows and the Web guys have shorter shows?

No. When you look at length of content, short form dominates everything. More than 85 percent of the video content we see streamed is short. It’s the vast majority of views for both TV and Web companies. That’s the same by device and across all providers. On the flip side, most of the long-form content that is over 20 minutes is being consumed on tablets.

That surprises me. Are the broadcast networks doing something wrong? They all talk about the value in full episodes on the Web. That’s definitely what advertisers want, that full episode-player inventory.

Well, if you look at Discovery, the vast majority of what they have on their site is content like Mythbuster preview clips. Or for NBC, it’s stuff like individual SNL sketches. That’s a lot of what people are watching. If you look at that open letter from the digital ad buyers recently, it’s true. The linear guys are not promoting their [long-form] content. NBC isn’t telling you to stream full episodes of 30 Rock or whatever. But if you watch HBO, they are constantly referring back to HBO GO. Plus, the networks haven't fully figured out the authentication model. Until TV Everywhere goes mainstream, the broadcast nets are not going to fully exploit video.

When’s that actually going to happen?

Actually, we see TV Everywhere and authentication accelerating rapidly. You see it with the new ABC Live app, and what Turner is doing. We think you’ll see it really take hold by the fall. They have to promote it. It will be even worse if they don’t. Same thing with VOD. We see that finally getting traction. The networks have to focus on getting user experience right and getting users there by Q4. I feel more confident than I have in six years regarding VOD tech. When it comes to user experience, the jury is still out.

Getting back to the digital companies, should they dial up their ad loads? Are they leaving dollars on the table?

Well, if everything is short form, you can’t over do it. But we don't see drop-off in viewership from long form for any segment from ad load. You don't want to get into TV mode with 22 minutes of ads per hour—that would be crazy. But when it comes to TV players on the Web versus digital, we saw an average of 9.5 ads per video sessions over 20 minutes in length. That’s compared to 1.3 ads per session among the digital companies. So they could quadruple their ad load without any drop-off.