Can you remember the last time you clicked on an ad whilst watching a video of Muppets a cappella? This is what's worrying the owners for YouTube. Only a few users in a thousand actually respond to the advertising, a tiny proportion of their views make the site any money.
Part of the reason for this is the difficulty of targeting adverts for the videos uploaded to the site. Should every free-running video advertise trainers, or every cat video pet food? This week saw the news that YouTube are spending $100 million buying content from a number of partners in an attempt to tackle this problem. Unlike the 35 hours of video uploaded every minute to YouTube, the content from their partners can be watched and analysed for the most effective advert placements. The traditional way of advertising.
This is the problem of the modern media, it's still traditional at its core. We see the old methods being forced onto the new system. 4oD and ITV player insert ad breaks into their online content at quarter hour intervals; video streaming sites put ads at the start of their videos, more and more sites are putting gates between users and what they want to watch.
Since the invention of television, and particularly in the last decade, there's been the push to deliver on demand content to viewers. Ever since there has been more than one channel, there's been people who skip between them when the ads come on. Viewers want the most uninterrupted experience they can get. It's no wonder that users turn to piracy, internet viewers are the network's creation. TiVo and sites like iPlayer have given viewers the ability to watch what they want, when they want, and how they want: able to skip, pause, rewind through their programs.
It is only from the torrent sites that these viewers can get the purest, unadulterated content; stripped of ad breaks and trailers, high quality content for free. It's criminal, yes, but everyone thinks twice when they realise they don't have to watch that patronising "You wouldn't steal a car" trailer at the start of every DVD. Don't the distributors realise that the only people in the world who saw that horribly annoying pre-movie clip are the people who have legally bought the DVD?
Unfortunately, the response has been to shut down, rather than learn from, these sites. All it takes is a tweak of the model for everyone involved to come out from this situation happy. There are two reasons users go to these sites over buying the DVDs and using the online streaming services provided by the networks. The first is price, you can't beat free. The second is experience, an uninterrupted, unbound version of a program is always going to be preferable to ad laden platform restricted version. Looking at that setup it's difficult to think how the networks can adapt to this. But, the solution isn't new.
In 2005 Mark Pesce gave a talk entitled 'Piracy is Good', in it he describes the power of the 'bug'. The bug is that little logo that sits in the corner of the screen during broadcasts. It's usually the network's logo, but occasionally it's a brand's. Potentially, the bug could change television. Pirated video strips out the ads and the trailers, but they don't change the actual content. So if there is a bug in the corner of the uploaded video it will remain there as it is infinitely copied around the world. If that bug is an ad, then it's being seen around the world by millions of viewers, viewers who can't skip it, but don't even mind it's there. It isn't obnoxious and it doesn't interrupt their viewing.
Networks could start distributing their bugged content through torrents, Pesce even suggests posting DVDs out to people's homes for free. The entire operation funded by the advertisers. That's the modern way of advertising, but no one seems to be jumping on it. Pesce gave his talk six years ago, yet we still have obnoxious, irritating, flow breaking ads.