Unicast Puts Full-Screen Video Ads Online

Move over, pop-ups. There is a new advertisement on the Internet promising television-quality video and audio without the usual stutters that typically have been associated with streaming media across the Internet.

Online advertising company Unicast unveiled this week its “video commercial” online ad format, which the company said is capable of delivering full-screen, broadcast-quality video over the Internet. Users soon will experience the 2-MB, 30-second video spots as companies and advertisers such as Pepsi, AT&T, Honda, McDonald’s, Vonage and others put their television ads online.

Rather than streaming media — which Unicast described as unacceptable for advertising purposes because quality is so variable — the full-screen advertisements use a patented, precached delivery method whereby idle user time is used to prepare the cached ad, which is then launched when users transition between Web sites.

The video ads — appearing on Web sites including ABCNews.com, About.com, Accuweather, CBS Sportsline, ESPN.com, iVillage, Gamespot and MSN beginning this week — use the Microsoft Windows Media 9 platform. Unicast and Microsoft collaborated on the format, which advertisers hope will spur more video content online.

“Because of advertisers’ commitment to video online, it will be a catalyst to sites to provide video content,” Unicast senior vice president Allie Savarino told TechNewsWorld.

While You Work

Unicast focused on the “transitional” playback of the advertisements, which also will include interactive elements, such as links to more information, company sites and a replay function. Savarino called the transition between pages a logical time to play the advertisements, which users can click to close anytime.

“The video commercial is the next generation of online advertising,” said Pepsi-Cola director of digital media and marketing John Vail in a statement. “It allows us to bring our broadcast messages online and deliver a television-like experience without the television.”

Backers of the new Internet ad format said it meets an increasing demand for video online and conquers the challenges presented by streaming, which often results in frozen, interrupted or stuttered video because of file sizes or connection speeds.

Giant Leap Forward

“Unicast’s Video Commercial is a giant leap forward for the online advertising industry because it allays advertiser fears about unpredictable or substandard ad delivery on the Internet,” said Microsoft Windows digital media group manager Jason Reindorp.

Unicast’s Savarino said the company fundamentally believes streaming is not sufficient for Internet advertising because consumer experience cannot be guaranteed.

“The technology and the precaching allows us to guarantee that, no matter what, every consumer receives content as it was designed and as intended,” Savarino said.

Building on Marketing

While users are likely to appreciate full-screen video without the usual interruptions and glitches, they also might wonder why the advertising is not accompanied on the site by other video content. Savarino, who said video typically has been limited and of poor quality, indicated that Web publishers had approached Unicast about using the technology for additional content applications.

“We have not established that business model yet; however, we certainly see this as a catalyst for an accelerated time frame for doing that model,” she said.

Yankee Group analyst Michael Kelleher told TechNewsWorld that the video ads are the next generation of online advertising, particularly with the growth of broadband Internet connections. However, the analyst added, the ads might not win the favor of users if they interfere with their online routines.

“I think with the advent of broadband, it’s going to be an easy way to reformat TV ads for the Internet,” Kelleher said. “But I think it’s got to be done in a way that doesn’t annoy the consumer. It’s almost like a pop-up.”

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