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Pre-roll: Right Idea, Wrong End

Posted by The Marketing Intern on June 10, 2009

shaqenstein3

O Shaqenstein! How you vex me!

Last weekend I was visiting with my sister, having a perfectly pleasant conversation about the apparent return of Celebrity Jeopardy to SNL. I hadn’t seen it yet, I told her. At this, she got all excited, ran into her room to get her laptop (one of those HP mini laptops, the ones that look like the missing link between the laptop and the cell phone), and punched up Hulu. A couple of taps, and we found the link to the Celebrity Jeopardy skit. Cool.

Then came the pre-roll. Fifteen seconds of Ben Stein and Shaq getting themselves handcuffed together. Then the punchline: “Shaqenstein!” Just awful stuff. I suffered through fifteen seconds of it, something which I try not to do out of principle when left to my own devices.

Finally, the video rolled. And it was hilarious. Will Ferrel at his best. Tom Hanks playing a mindless farce of himself. Top-notch comedy. And then all of a sudden, there they were again. Shaq and Ben Stein telling exactly the same bad jokes, ending with the exact same godawful punchline. Shaqenstein. Who is the comic genius that came up with that little gem? I’ve seen this ad twice now, and I still couldn’t tell you what Shaqenstein was advertising. I spent the whole ad bracing for the last three seconds, and paid no attention to the content.

Jeopardy came back on, and it put me in a slightly better mood. Burt Reynolds made an appearance, and then mysteriously disappeared. Sean Connery made raunchy jokes about Alec Trebec’s mother, as he is wont to do. Great hilarity. I was enjoying myself, not paying any attention to the progress bar, when suddenly there it was again: Shaqenstein! For the love of all things holy, when will they stop? Now I’m just mad that this advertisement keeps popping up and forces me to watch it if I wish to continue viewing what could be one of the funniest skits that SNL has ever produced. This time I paid attention to the awful ad to make sure I knew the company that made it, because whoever it was (it was Comcast) I vowed never to use their services or buy their  product again.

Four-minute video clips do not need three commercial breaks. Even if they did, I would not want to watch the same fifteen-second ad three times. What about that is difficult to understand?

The reason why the Shaqenstein ad didn’t work is because it is A) of a subject that is completely irrelevant to the content of the video in which it is embedded, B) is not nearly as funny as the video in which it is embedded, and C) interrupts my enjoyment of higher-quality, more entertaining video. If the ad is frustrating enough, I will bail on the video clip just so I don’t have to hear that mindbending punchline again — Shaqenstein! — for the seven millionth time.

Pre-rolls and mid-rolls are bad. They hold my content hostage. I don’t want my content held hostage. I want my content to be freely available, if that’s what the website in question claims it offers (as Hulu does). On the other hand, I understand that Hulu needs to monetize. So what’s the alternative?

Post-rolls. Precise, targeted, high-quality, relevant post-rolls. And here’s why:

Say I’m watching a video clip online of an illegal drag race that ends in a horrific crash. The video lasts 30 seconds. At the end of the video I’m confronted with a well-edited ad for “America’s Worst High-Speed Police Chases,” a TV show on the Tru channel. What are the odds I’m going to watch that ad? Pretty good, I’m thinking. In fact, I might even click on a link in the ad to find out when that show is on.I appreciate the fact that the ad isn’t interrupting my enjoyment of the video. I appreciate that whoever was in charge of placing the ad made sure that the subject matter was relevant. Maybe I feel targeted, but I think that’s a good thing: somebody tried really hard to figure out what I want. That’s admirable. I like that.

See what I just said there? I said I liked being targeted for my interests. That’s not the reason I’m upset at Hulu, though. Hulu has garnered my disdain — and has lost my traffic — because it doesn’t understand what I want. I want uninterrupted content. Give me that, and I’ll be more receptive to whatever product or service you want to sell to pay the bills. Just give me what I want first. Is that really so difficult to understand? I didn’t think so. So why isn’t anyone doing it?

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3 Responses to “Pre-roll: Right Idea, Wrong End”

  1. Arjun said

    Great post.

    I think either Hulu’s player messed up, or Hulu was testing out a new ad strategy when you watched. I watched the skit over the weekend as well, and then again today, and I was able to watch the full 9:13 of the skit without a single commercial interruption besides the pre-roll both times.

    I think post-rolls would be ideal for the viewer, but not for the advertisers. With a pre-roll they know you watch it, while with a post-roll it’s very easy to stop the video as it ends and miss the pre-roll without knowing what it’s going to be for. I definitely think that as Hulu gets more advertisers, they should start allowing you to submit your interests, and specifically mark ads you don’t want to watch (like the Shaqenstein ad, or the awful Stride gum ads).

  2. Jason said

    Hi Matthew,

    I work at Hulu, and saw your post via Twitter. Sorry about the ad repeatedly coming up in the Celebrity Jeopardy sketch – we must have had a hiccup in our ad delivery system when you watched the clip. (I did a spot check of the video, and can confirm that we don’t have any intentional ad breaks in the video, and never did.) Our policy is to run a pre-roll ad in front of clips longer than a certain length (I believe it’s over three minutes), but not to interrupt said clip with breaks in the middle.

    We try to deliver what users want, and how they want – it’s part of our mission as a company. We always appreciate hearing people’s opinions about the service, and what we can do to improve it. I’ll forward your comments to our advertising team – I’m sure they’d appreciate hearing your perspective on our ad delivery.

    Thanks,

    Jason N

    • The Marketing Intern said

      Thanks, Jason, for your reply.

      I went back and revisited the clip, and it does indeed seem as though it is currently preceded by a 30-second preroll. But look at that preroll: it’s an ad for a camera. What, exactly, is the logic behind attaching this ad to a Celebrity Jeopardy clip? Hell, the Comcast ad was fine, as far as content goes — at least the ad attempted to be funny. The camera ad, in some ways, is even worse. Now it seems as though Hulu really has no idea what I want.

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