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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Are YouTube video ads getting longer?

April 9, 2019 | By Todd Krizelman, CEO—MediaRadar @ToddKrizelman

When YouTube first introduced the six-second video ad in 2016, it seemed like the future of the industry would be all about shorter ad content. At the time, Google linked the launch to the rise in mobile viewing, saying that “many people prefer to watch on their smartphone – for the control, personalization and ease it offers.” Everyone expected to see more snackable inventory and ad formats.

Among advertisers, these six-second “bumpers” quickly became a commonly used format. A number of marketers claim to love them, and for good reason. The six-second video seemed to address the problem of some viewers ignoring ads outright or complaining about an extended intrusion on their viewing experience.

Quick Success Story

Google was quick to tout the success of six-second campaigns as well. A blog post from April 2017 titled “Say It in Six: Why marketers and creatives are embracing the newest video ad length,” reports that they analyzed 122 six-second US campaigns and “found that 70% drove a significant lift in brand awareness, with an average lift of 9%. On ad recall, they perform even better – over 9 in 10 drove ad recall globally, with an average lift of over 30%.”

To keep up with the industry leader, YouTube’s competitors focused on shorter video advertisements, too. Facebook, for example, rolled out six-second ads almost two years after YouTube’s initial launch of the format. Per this Facebook blog post, “in a mobile-first world, shorter video ads drive results” as consumption patterns have shifted, with people not “watching ads for as long as they used to, on any medium.” However, there is some evidence that the market is recalibrating – at least on YouTube.

Room for Growth

Here at MediaRadar, we analyzed all online video ads that ran in January and February of 2018 and 2019. In doing so, we were able to compare the ads that ran on YouTube to ads appearing on other video and streaming platforms year-over-year (YoY).

Surprisingly, the data shows that, for 2019, longer video ads are becoming more common again. Only 16.5% of YouTube ads at the start of 2019 were six-second ads (down from 20% in 2018) and 30-second videos made up 24% of YouTube ads in 2019 — up from 19% in 2018. This is a statistically significant shift for the site and could even signal a category-wide change

Additional data about video length mined in the study supports the longer-ad trend:

  • 15-second ads were the most commonly used format, accounting for approximately 40% of all video ads running during the study and 47% of ads on YouTube; this was consistent YoY. There is some nuance involved here, however. Fifteen-second ads were previously not available for auction to all advertisers. Only recently has YouTube opened up the supply from a reserved model.
  • There are almost no 0-5 second ads. The format made up only 3% of all online video ads and 1% of YouTube ads.

So What Time is It?

Is this signaling the death of the short six-second advertisement?

I’m not so sure.

However, it does show that long-form digital video content still has a role to play, as it allows for more information to be conveyed and has proven more effective than videos six seconds or shorter. According to analysis by Teads, “six-second ads have an average view-through rate (VTR) of 55% on mobile devices but have an EmotionAll score of 3.6 compared to 5.1 for 30-second ads.” They are viewable, but not always resonant.

However, I wouldn’t count out the six-second video altogether. It has a place in the attention economy, especially when a younger demographic is targeted. Research time and time again finds that Gen Z, for example, which watches YouTube the most – and does so primarily on mobile devices – is more receptive to shorter ad formats. This might be why we’re seeing the 15-second video ad as the house majority. It just may be the video advertising sweet spot, balancing the desire to keep things short but long enough to drive an emotional impact.

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