Ads dominate ESPN online videos

nobody likes prerollsThe Cowboys won last night on ESPN, so I spent a little time this morning at ESPN’s website to catch the analysis and post‐game interviews. The experience was irritating, to say the least, and it reminds me again that television companies, who are used to “monetizing content,” are going to have a really hard time with consumers as unbundled viewing continues to explode. Let me repeat: pre‐roll ads don’t work for viewers, especially not in this kind of segmented environment.

It’s clear after watching about 10 videos, that the only thing that matters to ESPN is the “draw” that the headlines and video captions produce. It’s all about the ads. Clicking on a link leads immediately to a volume‐enhanced, 15‐second commercial (often the same one), regardless of the length of the clip you’re about to see. When the clip is finished, ESPN’s video player defaults to the next video in line, which results in another ad being served. Even though I was clicking out of the player, I’m sure ESPN recorded those as ad views.

The point is that, at least for ESPN, it isn’t the content that has precedence; it’s the ads, and this is going to bite them in the ass, because pre‐rolls are not at all like ads in a television commercial pod. They’re far more disruptive, and consumers have the choice of bailing out altogether and doing so with a substantially bad taste in their mouths. I am extremely reluctant to click on videos knowing that such is coming, and that’s true regardless of how badly I want to see the content. As a consumer, I also make a mental note of the brands that employ this strategy. I have choices.

The industry misses all this in its need to find a replacement for the money tree that it used to harvest in the legacy world. Online video ad rates are far, far too low, because we’re using old wine accounting for a new wine universe.  Assisting us in this fool’s folly is Madison Avenue, which relies on the old wine accounting methods to get their share. Folks, it’s going to crash and burn, because nobody has asked the people formerly known as the audience if they’d accept all this. I would bet the ranch that 20 years from now, we’ll look back and laugh at the lunacy of sticking a 15‐second commercial in front of a 30‐second piece of video “content.” It’s a hopelessly archaic concept.

Much is written about how the entire TV universe will eventually be delivered via the Internet, complete with pictures of people in easy chairs “leaning back” to watch what they want, when they want it. Put a scowl on the faces in the easy chairs, however, and you get an idea of the untenable nature of forcing this on people. They will not stand for it. Will. Not.

So rather than timidly going along with it, we need to find the coconuts to stand up and say “no!” Online inline advertising is doable but not by using old accounting methods and pricing. We also need to get off this 15‐second bandwagon. It’s just too long to be viable in today’s time‐is‐the‐new‐currency world. Think about it. People don’t skip commercial pods via their DVRs because they hate commercials; they just don’t have the time for so damn many of them!

This is our business. Nothing should be more important than finding a reasonable substitute.



  1. i truthfully enjoy your own writing kind, very remarkable, don’t give up as well as keep writing due to the fact that it simply just worth to follow it. looking forward to see a whole lot more of your current well written articles.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis. ESPN has driven me away from the site with ad that are even running 30 seconds before a very short video. 30 seconds! Then if I have the patience to wait, I’m hit with another ad — often the same damned ad I just watched — before I can see another clip. It’s a horrible user experience.

  3. http://ESPN,%20Ugh says

    It’s 2016 and it’s worse than ever. 15 sec commercials for a 8 sec dunk clip. 30 sec commercials for a 40 second highlight. And if you want to rewatch it because there’s no instant replay, rewatch the commercial. Even worse is their use of a game specific headline and a video picture icon of in game action only to follow the commercial with two local nobody’s talking about the game. Bait and switch all over the place.

    With people ditching ESPN and cable subscriptions I fear this will never end. How have people not boycotted the site yet? Stop clicking on the videos!

  4. http://Jordan says

    Watching content on ESPN is one of the most irritating moments life has to offer and I don’t believe it will be sustained. There’s a much better way of going about it. I have to watch a 15 second ad to access a 30 second clip of play coverage of my favorite sport. There’s literally no point. I come out of it annoyed because of the numerous short clips I want to watch. If I could watch 3–5 clips after a 30–60 second ad I could put up with this and ESPN could still, potentially, monetize. But 15–30 second ads before EVERY SINGLE CLIP eventually screams disastrous to me.

  5. http://GoSaints says

    I did a search to see if I was the only one who thought this ESPN website is the absolute worse. It’s unusable due to the damn advertising. Hell I get one every once in a while. But you actually wind up watching more commercials than content. It’s shameful that they would allow this nonsense.

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