‘Forget time-shifting, start ad spend shifting’: Fairfax releases research on online video viewing, trumpets effectiveness of pre-roll advertising

Online video is booming here and around the world. And Fairfax is looking to get a bigger slice of the audience—and the ad revenue—that’s heading that way. So it’s released a campaign based on recent research from Colmar Brunton that promotes its popularity as a video platform and the effectiveness of pre-roll advertising in an era of rampant time-shifting. 

“Like all publishers, we want to get closer to our audiences,” says Fairfax Media’s marketing director Campbell Mitchell. “The trend lines globally are really clear. Online video is growing at a rapid rate.” So it’s aiming to cater to that demand and share in the spoils.

  • Download the research slides here

He says Fairfax has built a really strong editorial video team and its staff now creates the equivalent of three feature films or eight hours of video content every week. It’s also picking up and curating content from a range of other sources, such as broadcasters, readers and online platforms. 

It’s recently employed ex Al Jazeera, ITN and Sky News news editor Asher Finlayson as head of video at Fairfax Digital and he says its 45 photographers around the country now film video content wherever possible rather than solely taking stills. He points to the first video of Lou Vincent, post match fixing scandal, which was filmed by a newspaper photographer and went around the world. He also notes that Fairfax’s 650 journalists are now being trained to film video on their smartphones as they are usually the first at the scene of breaking news and it’s also developing video-led editorial projects, such as the NZ on Air-funded The Roadtrip, which is based on a couple of characters travelling the country taking suggestions from readers and “telling great stories about average New Zealanders”. 

Colmar Brunton’s study on 1,000 Kiwis showed that 90 percent of New Zealanders watch online video. YouTube is far and away the number one destination for that and it’s particularly strong when it comes to entertainment. TVNZ is next on the list. Stuff.co.nz is next and, not surprisingly, it’s strongest in news. Mitchell says it serves one million video views per week but it’s planning on growing that number and it will focus on both news and entertainment to do it. 

“People come to us first for news. They want to see the video of the house fire, and we’ll generate that. But we’re not either or.” 

Overseas, The Sun has bought mobile rights to the English Premier League. Telcos and other streaming services are also buying up sporting rights previously reserved for big broadcasters, so, in a world of convergence, where TV networks and radio stations are becoming news sites and where news sites are becoming video providers, the old rules don’t always apply. And while Mitchell can’t give any details about the discussions Fairfax is currently having, he says it “needs to play a bigger role in that” and it is “looking at the options of securing more compelling video content”. 

The research also looked into the prevalence of and reasons for time-shifting and it showed what everyone intuitively knows: 72 percent of those who time-shift do so to avoid the ads, second only to convenience. 

“The old TVC is still a great way of communicating, but more and more people are skipping it,” he says. “And the high-value audiences are harder to reach.”

He says Stuff reaches the younger demographic and Household Shoppers with its pre-roll advertising, which he says is the best way for Fairfax to commercialise its video content. And he says the research shows “it’s really effective at generating action.” 

In a world of banner blindness, ad blockers and miniscule click-through rates, seeing a stat like ’46 percent of viewers took action after seeing an ad’ gets the spidey senses tingling. So what does take action mean? 

Mitchell says it’s a range of things, like visiting a website, saying they found out more about the product or purchasing it after seeing the ad (its video above says 26 percent went on to visit the brand’s website). Perhaps surprisingly, ‘taking action’ doesn’t include swearing at the screen because of annoying pre-roll ads, something Colenso BBDO and Burger King played on for a purposefully ironic online video campaign a few months back. 

Unlike YouTube’s options for skippable pre-roll advertising, most online publishers including Fairfax stick with unskippable ads. And overseas (but less so here), there has been a fair bit of discussion about the role of auto-play video, something both Fairfax and NZME employ on their sites. Ads are still seen as an intrusion. And they probably always will be. But Mitchell believes there’s a real awareness from the audience now that there’s an exchange of value taking place, whether that’s in the form of data, time, or both.

When NZME launched its in-read video ad units, it did so because it had run out of video inventory to sell. And in These Difficult Times publishers will take any opportunity for additional revenue. Fairfax wouldn’t provide figures on what percentage of its online revenue now comes from video and how much that’s grown. But the IAB’s Q2 vs. Q3 stats showed online video now makes up 7.11 percent of digital display advertising, up 32 percent year on year.   

Mitchell, who has been in the job for almost a year, is confident the strategy that’s been put in place by the new Fairfax executive team is starting to bear fruit. Events are another big focus for the company, and he says its second Women of Influence Awards that were held this week were a great success. And he says it has a lot more to talk about in the coming months. 

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