Archive for the ‘Doug Render’ category

Ad Servers and Online Video Ads

January 18, 2008

ClickZ ran an interesting article on the “state of online video ads” from the vantage point of ad serving firms like Atlas and DoubleClick. While SpotXchange is much more than an ad serving firm-we are, in fact, a full service video network that provides a marketplace for dynamically matching advertisers with available publisher inventory, in addition to providing the video serving, tracking and reporting functions associated with pure ad serving firms-I took an interest in this story.

Author Hollis Thomases identifies various barriers to broader video advertising adoption, particularly third-party video ad serving. The lack of standardization in reporting and measurement guidelines has certainly been a point of contention in the space, but I would argue that it has not been a fundamental barrier. Until the Interactive Advertising Bureau makes much more serious progress on standardization, agencies, publishers and service providers alike recognize that we must make due with the respective measurement and reporting that is available. Reach and CTR, familiar metrics offline and on, respectively, have shown to be those generating the most interest from advertisers. A number of more advanced metrics are available from some service providers, including SpotXchange, but I’m not convinced that advertisers have figured out how to best act on those metrics, so they remain a novelty to most.

Different ad formats, according to Thomases, represent another challenge to advertisers. I agree with Atlas’ Geoff Coco, quoted as calling this a non-issue. (SpotXchange has worked quite closely with Coco as members of the IAB’s third-party ad serving committee). Transcoding an advertiser’s original video commercial into the few formats that publishers need (more than 94 percent of the traffic across our network in December 2007 was FLV) is a commodity service that should intimidate absolutely no one. If Thomases and her colleagues do not see this happening readily, the problem isn’t that they are not asking “loud enough”, it’s that they are not asking the right question, or perhaps not the right person.

The more pressing challenge, as Coco points out, is “how the player interacts with the ad system and its content feeds…[and the]…interoperability…[of] the ad request and delivery formats.” I think this point may be lost on the author because she is mistakenly under the impression that, “with initial online video ad space in demand and inventory availability low, publishers could easily sell out their ad space without having to make any system modifications.” This may be true for ABC’s Desperate Housewives, or other “super premium” content providers, but it’s not the reality for the other 99 percent of publishers out there. Not only do they not have the “brand name” that brings advertisers to them, they lack the sales and serving infrastructure that would allow them to fully accommodate these advertisers if they did come knocking. Show me 99 different publishers and I will show you 99 different video player components and configurations that may, or may not, be compatible with advertisers’ preference for serving and tracking their campaigns.

Most publishers rely on multiple ad sources to fill their available inventory-generally a direct sales effort, as well as membership in one or more networks like SpotXchange. It’s the diversity of the various publishers and their player technologies, compounded with the diversity of ad suppliers, that make interoperability and integration the industry’s real bugaboo. Serving video ads is hard. Serving video ads from multiple sources (and creating the business logic to direct which source to hit at which time and under which circumstances) is even more challenging. Serving multiple ad units, including InStream (pre-, mid-, post-roll) and interactive overlay units (such as SpotXchange’s own InnerStream unit), from multiple sources is more daunting yet.

These complexities are why SpotXchange and other ad providers invest so much time and energy developing competency at ad syndication and integration-it’s one of the most significant assets we bring to the advertiser/publisher equation. If advertisers and publishers allow us to do our jobs correctly, neither of them should have to invest heavily in building their own capabilities in these processes.


Casual Games=Engaged Players

November 28, 2007

The Casual Games Association released its 2007 report on the casual games industry this week. According to the release:

– Casual games are a $2.25 billion a year industry.
– The casual game market is growing at 20% a year.
– Over 200 million people play casual games each month over the Internet.
– Men make up 48.3% of casual game players, women 51.7%. However, women account for 74% of paying casual game players.
– Casual gamers who pay for a subscription and/or are community users average 7 – 15 hours of online play a week.
– Heaviest play times are right after dinner from 7pm – 9pm and during lunch from 11am – 2pm.
– The majority of online portals feature catalogs of over 1,000 games and add between 75 to 300 new games to their catalogs each year.
– Casual games are usually played for a short period of time increments, from five minutes to 20 minutes–though it’s common for people to play one game after another for many hours.

The Association further reports that the most popular casual games worldwide are:

– Solitaire (Microsoft Windows XP)
– Tetris (Tetris Holding, LLC)
– Bejeweled (PopCap Games)
– QQ Games Collection (Tencent China)
– Diner Dash Franchise (PlayFirst)
– Mystery Case Files (Big Fish Games)

A number or interesting articles have since appeared about the space. Jane Pinckard had a good industry overview at GigaOm. Despite these space’s diminutive size compared to the gaming enthusiast market (think World of Warcraft and Xbox Live) which takes in more then $20B a year, Pinckard’s analysis confirms that “casual gaming is an area of enormous potential for the gaming industry…if only the industry can avoid some potential pitfalls along the way.”

Meanwhile, Venture Beat writer Chris Morrison addressed some of the future technologies ahead in the space, including users’ ability to embed games on their social network pages, or to upload their own photograph or image into the game, and play the game with that image standing in for their character.

Troy Wolverton at the Mercury News (registration required) had a piece on new business models in the casually gaming industry.

I’ll focus on the advertising opportunities around casual gaming. Like the majority of other forms of “free” content on the net, causal gaming is subsidized by ad support. Much to our surprise, when we first launched SpotXchange a year ago, two of the earliest publishers to sign up were casual gaming networks. At least a dozen additional sites have since joined SpotXchange, carving out a strong niche in a field focused mainly on ad support for in-stream video. Implementations include “pre rolls” to the game starts, as well as “mid rolls” that are offered between game levels or rounds or deals of the cards.

In retrospect, it makes sense: casual gamers are on broadband connections, they are focused on the activity and engaged with the UI. Furthermore, they seem happy with the ad supported model. A Macrovision study conducted earlier this year confirmed that casual gamers themselves express broad support for advertising, finding that “8 in 10 are willing to view an ad in return for free play.”

Since video ads generally earn exponentially higher CPMs than their banner counterparts, it seems appropriate that the game publishers would pursue this newly-available, higher CPM ad unit. Happily, we’ve observed that the niche is likewise a win for advertisers. Casual gaming channels in our network consistently generate strong click thru rates, demonstrating that gamers not only support, but are engaged with the ads. More than one casual gaming channel last month had an overall CTR of greater than 5% for SpotXchange-delivered ads, which is extraordinary.

Breaking the market down further, analysis of our traffic numbers show that whether the games are played online or downloaded and played locally, the ads perform comparably. Gaming sites that require a user to complete a profile sometimes break their SpotXchange channels into male and female audiences. Based on our measurements, the female channels query our network for ads three times as frequently as their male counterparts, suggesting that the male/female split, at least in some channels on our network, is more heavily female skewed than the balance suggested by the Casual Gaming Association’s figures.

If you’re an advertiser interested in this engaged, largely female audience, log into your SpotXchange advertiser account and search the marketplace for casual gaming. You’ll then be able to review all the channels in that category and make your own selections. You’re sure to find an opportunity that meets your needs, and likely to enjoy a strong campaign performance when your ad runs on your selected sites. Alternately, you could target your campaign run-of-site against the gaming category, and it will run against all channels within the casual gaming category.

Attention SpotXchange Publishers: New Enhanced Channel Management Tools – Pushed November 8

November 10, 2007

We just completed some new functionality that will enhance your visibility among advertisers in our network and allow you to provide additional information about the specific advertising opportunities your properties offer.

You will notice these enhancements when you create a new channel or edit your existing channels.

  • Media Kit – You can now upload a media kit—advertisers will have direct access to this document to help them make more informed decisions about your offering.
  • Channel Image – You may likewise upload a thumbnail logo that will be used to graphically represent your properties in the SpotXchange marketplace.
  • Enhanced Demographics – We have made the demographic profiles more comprehensive for advertisers. Publishers can now provide detailed demographic information about their audience, and designate which 3rd party measurement service (e.g. – comScore, Quantcast, etc.) provided the information. While this field remains optional, you are encouraged to complete it to the extent that you have user demographic data available—we have found that advertisers frequently turn to this type of information to guide their purchasing decisions.
  • Ad Filters – There are several new content filters that you can apply to your channels to exclude additional unwanted ad categories: sweepstakes, religion, land based casinos and dietary supplements.
  • InStream Ad Slot Position – To further help advertisers target their campaigns, you may now specify if you are showing instream ads in “pre”, “mid”, “post”, or multiple positions.
  • InGame Ads – We have separated “casual gaming” advertising opportunities out into a distinct ad type, to better call attention to this growing niche in our marketplace. If you are a casual game publisher or network, you will want to update your profile to reflect that your channels represent casual gaming opportunities.
  • InnerStream Ads – Publishers can now apply to serve our new overlay ad, called InnerStream, that we plan to launch later this year. Stay tuned.
  • Network Bids – Finally, you are now able to set minimum CPM limits to ads targeted across network, separately from the minimum CPM you set for ads targeted specifically to your channels. By way of example, while you might want a $10 CPM minimum for ads specifically targeting your SpotXchange channels, you may be willing to accept an ad targeted to Wisconsin that runs across our network, at a CPM of only $5. This lower value ad would only be shown to your users from Wisconsin.

I encourage you to login and update all these new fields in your channel profiles at your earliest opportunity. Feel free to ping me if you have any questions.


October 25, 2007

kaizen1.jpgThe engineering team at SpotXchange is always striving to improve our network’s ability to help advertisers manage their online campaigns, while helping publishers maximize their revenue opportunities. We pushed a significant amount of new code recently that should result in some noticeable improvements in both our self-service advertiser tools as well as our self-service publisher tools.The most apparent improvement advertisers will notice in the online tools is increased speed and response, particularly while searching our marketplace for appropriate advertising opportunities. As the number of publishers and channels in our marketplace has grown, backend systems have had to sift thru ever greater volumes of data to help advertisers find opportunities relevant to their needs. The new code makes these processes run more quickly.

We likewise made some improvements to the UI to make the tools easier to navigate and browse, and to allow the advertiser to display their online campaign data the way they want to see it.

The publisher tools have likewise been improved. There is a new 7 day rolling report that provides a performance snapshot of the most recent 7 day calendar. The addition of sortable columns makes it easier for publishers to see relevant statistics about their channels, and should be particularly welcomed by some of our larger publishers who may have dozens of individual channels in our marketplace.

On the backside, we have completed the work that will allow us to provide white label advertiser and publisher platforms, and hope to launch our first white label network next month.

How to get the right advertisers targeting your ad inventory in the SpotXchange marketplace!

October 18, 2007

bullseye.jpg After being approved as a SpotXchange publisher, you will need to set up channels using the self-service SpotXchange publisher tools. Channels represent buckets of content that typically attract like demographics. The following article provides an overview of how to best set up your channels in the SpotXchange marketplace to attract advertisers at the highest possible CPM rates.

Profiling Your Channel: Filling out your channel profile with descriptive and compelling information is an important step towards connecting with appropriate SpotXchange advertisers who might be interested in advertising against your site’s content. Keep in mind that the information you enter in your channel profile is the only information prospective advertisers will have available to them to make a determination of the “fit” between your content and their campaign objectives—it’s a WYSIWYG system—the information you enter is the exact information the advertiser will have access to. So put on your marketing cap and make your profile as descriptive and persuasive as possible.


Mind Character Limits: All fields have character limits—this forces you to describe your site with a great degree of specificity. Channel name limits are 50 characters (including spaces) while the description field permits 255 characters.

Channel Hierarchy: Put some thought into how you want to arrange your channels hierarchically in the SpotXchange network. Does it make sense to group your channels as subchannels under a parent channel, or should the channels be insulated from one another?

This is an example of using subchannels effectively to represent a theoretical publisher’s offerings:

  • MicroMotion News
    • MicroMotion Entertainment News
    • MicroMotion Sports News

The more granular you can make your channels, the more apparent their focus becomes to advertisers.

  • MicroMotions Sports News
    • MicroMotion Sports News: Baseball
    • MicroMotion Sports News: Football
    • MicroMotion Sports News: Hockey
  • MicroMotion Entertaiment News
    • MicroMotion Entertaiment News: Movies
    • MicroMotion Entertaiment News: Music

It makes more sense to keep your channels as stand alone entries if they do not share any familial qualities:

  • MicroMotion Sports News
  • Blue Spruce Auto Reviews

Channel Names: Brand your channel names. Instead of generically calling your channel “Baseball News”, brand it “New England Baseball News” or something else that distinguishes your “Baseball News” content from other channels that may likewise offer similar content. The names you select are the names that will represent your channels in the marketplace when advertisers search for properties to sponsor.

Channel Pitch/Description: Write persuasively! This is your chance to describe, in your own words, why your channel deserves advertiser attention. Keep it concise, but make it compelling.

Banner Sizes: You are highly encouraged to serve a banner adjacency next to the video ad. Analysis has shown that sites that offer a banner adjacency achieve noticeably higher CTR than sites that do not—and CTR is an important metric for all video advertisers. If you need guidance on selecting the most appropriate banner size to use, we suggest 300×250 or 468×60 as these sizes seem to be the most popular among advertisers.


Keep Your Profile Focused: Selecting dozens of categories from the menu will not get you more advertisers—it will probably get you fewer than selecting two or three closely related, focused categories to characterize your channel. If your channel spans several disparate, unrelated content categories, you should probably consider breaking it out into discrete sub channels. Advertisers feel most comfortable when the content against which they will be advertising is transparent to them to a high level of specificity. The same principal of focus holds true when specifying your channel’s demographics.

If you don’t feel you nailed it the first time, don’t worry, because you can go back and edit your channel profile at any time.

SpotXchange supports Atlas In-Stream Video

October 1, 2007

SpotXchange has recently enabled third-party ad serving support to Atlas In-Stream Video advertisers. Third-party ad serving (wherein a publisher’s ad query is fulfilled by a third-party ad service, rather than by a primary or in-house ad service) is old hat in the banner advertising space, but more difficult to coordinate in video advertising due to a lack of standardization around methods for commercial syndication and impression counting and reporting.
Although some might view Atlas and SpotXchange as competitors, we view this collaboration as a win-win for both companies: Atlas advertisers can now advertise on publisher sites unique to the SpotXchange network, while continuing to leverage the Atlas tracking and reporting systems they’ve come to rely on for managing the performance of their banner and search campaigns.
Here’s how it works. SpotXchange publishers query us for ads just as they always do. When one of the ads that matches a query is that of an Atlas In-Stream advertiser who is participating on our network, the syndication response we provide the publisher includes the Atlas In-Stream syndication instructions, and the publisher plays the relevant Atlas ad, served from the Atlas CDN. Atlas video impression reporting information is triggered as the ad plays, and visitor click thru events are captured on the advertiser’s landing page and tracked thru their Atlas campaign management tools. In parallel, SpotXchange likewise tracks video impression and click thru events, reporting statistics back to both the advertiser and the SpotXchange publisher. All parties get the data they need, when they need it, while the complicated transactions that occur underneath remain both transparent and seamless to the user experiencing the ad.
Support for Atlas In-Stream tracking and reporting opens the SpotXchange network to a number of Atlas advertisers looking for the types of opportunities unique to our network.