The Advertising Conundrum Part 1: Does video content even matter anymore, or is it just an ad vehicle?

As journalism—and the media as a whole—struggles to rebound from the beating its reputation has taken over the last decade or so, it is clear there is a lot of work left to do to restore integrity, respect and legitimate connections with audiences. Print, broadcast, and audio media outlets are starting to show signs of a return to objective reporting and fact-vetting, and doing a better job of separating news from opinion and punditry. However, restoring trust and connection with readers, viewers and listeners will take years, perhaps even decades to achieve.

That said, one area where all three of these industries can immediately have a positive impact is by making it easier to access and consume the news, stories, opinions and messages they wish to communicate with their audiences. No, I’m not talking about embracing and adapting to modern mobile technologies that made dissemination of media convenient and easy for today’s audience on the go. That undertaking has been expertly handled, with media companies now staying ahead of the curve of the latest delivery methods.

Rather, I’m addressing the advertising overkill. From the frustrating placement of ads before, during and after every story we read, every video we watch or every broadcast and podcast we tune into to click-bait articles to “sponsored content” on news sites disguised as real stories that you should know about, media is pushing its audience away—frustrating them, walking them down paths that make them ignore or merely glance over the very messages you feel are most important.

Now, I am certainly not anti-advertisement. As a former journalist and editor, I know how important advertising is. It pays the bills. It supports your staffs and pays salaries, it helps media outlets grow, and grow their influence. The more advertising, the better. I’m not saying kill the ads. Let’s just find a different way to deliver them so that your audience doesn’t lose its interest, and neither story nor ad gains any traction.

I’ll start with videos, one of the earliest areas where the frustrating use of modern advertisement strategies has been deployed. YouTube is a great example. Sure, while not a traditional news outlet, it is a thriving media company, based around one of the best ideas in modern times—creating a database to find just about any video imaginable, letting users upload their own and create their own channels. It has created YouTube personalities and celebrities. It has led to new ways to disseminate news and information. It has been, in short, a media powerhouse. It used to be that advertising was limited and not very intrusive to the viewer experience.
However, as YouTube grew, the resources needed to sustain it demanded significant more revenue, and advertising was the most effective way to achieve that while keeping it free to use for viewers and contributors. Fair enough. YouTube increased advertising—even allowing contributors to monetize their own videos and earn a share of the revenue. Even better. Soon, ads started popping up in nearly every video. These were usually limited to 15 seconds or so, as to not disrupt the viewer experience too much.

As advertisers, YouTube staff, and contributors alike saw the opportunity, the length and format of ads evolved. Fifteen-second ads became 30, sometimes even 45- or 60-second ads. Folks complained. In response, a “skip” button was put in place, allowing viewers to skip to the video content after they had watched at least some of the ad—usually five to 10 seconds. Once it became clear that most folks preferred not to watch the ads, new, more draconian measures were put in place to make damn sure viewers watched the ads. Skip buttons on a lot of videos were replaced with a new message that told viewers their video would begin after the allotted ad time had surpassed. If that wasn’t enough, ads were then interspersed in between segments of longer video content, breaking up viewing to ensure that watchers had to endure the advertising message. Today, advertising is so in users’ faces on YouTube and other video sites that it discourages the dissemination of the actual content being delivered.

Many news and media sites have mirrored the advertising trends on YouTube. And indeed, content is suffering. Just the other day, I was perusing media sites following a handful of political stories. With every video I clicked on, I had to endure a lengthy ad before being able to digest mere snippets of actual content. In three separate cases, I was forced to watch unskippable 60-second ads before watching actual video clips that were a mere 15 to 20 seconds long. And most of us can relate to being thwarted by the dreaded “ad loop,” where a glitch (or maybe intentional?) causes pre-video adverts to repeat or cycle indefinitely, resulting in us never making it to the video content we clicked on.

Because of these recent advertising trends, I have taken to avoiding most video content altogether as it has proven unfulfilling—even for a die-hard news junkie like myself.

In Part 2, I will look at when video advertisements cross the line of basic viewer respect and decency.