Should There Be A New Category Of Video Buying: Silent Video?

The power of traditional television has always been conveyed in three little convincing words used for ages by CMOs, agency media strategists and creatives alike: “sight, sound and motion.” In fact, up until cinema advertising crossed the Atlantic, it was the only medium that could deliver all three values together.

Now with new and fragmenting distribution channels for television/video (T/V) including online, mobile and OOH, these qualities have been fragmented, causing advertisers to face at least five different types of viewer experience:

1. Video runs as auto-play, instream (within a fixed video player), with sound on.
2. Video runs as auto-play, outstream (between text paragraphs,for example ) with sound on and a “mute” button.
3. Video runs as auto-play, outstream with sound off and an “unmute” button.
4. Video runs as click-to-play, instream with sound on, and skipping or fast-forwarding disabled.
5. Video runs as click-to-play, instream with sound on for five seconds, when a “skip” button appears.

These combinations mean that T/V ads can be delivered at three levels of value:

1. Sight, sound and motion.
2. Sight and motion, with no sound.
3. Sight and motion, with delayed sound activated by the user.

Sound or audibility is an issue for advertisers, as it is often an essential element of the sight/sound/motion message, which has in the past been expanded to “sight/sound/motion/emotion.” The sound of a human voice, sound effects, musical background or the combination can really help connect a media consumer with the message.

Sound is also an issue for viewers, especially for auto-play ads. Those that run as auto-play, off-screen in browser tabs, can be annoying and hard to locate to shut down. With new viewability standards coming from industry associations and the Media Ratings Council, these ads that have no value for advertisers or consumers should be a thing of the past.

However the new “outstream” ads that are free from fixed video players on a given page, can also be sound-intrusive, especially if the consumer is settling in for a good “read” and suddenly presented with sound. Worse yet, if at work or a public location, an unexpected blast of sound can be disturbing, and draw “shushes” from surrounding humans.

For this reason, a majority of auto-play ads (sometimes called “view to play” for outstream formats where ads only start when they visibly appear on the viewer’s screen) are delivered with sound off at the publisher’s choice, with an “unmute” button where readers/viewers can pop on the sound. This means that 1) buyers need to be aware of whether they are buying full sight/sound/motion ads or not; and 2) creative must be designed to communicate the brand message or call to action without sound, or entice viewers to unmute. Advertisers should pay less for this format, unless they agree to pay higher CPMs only for sound-on delivery.

Click-to-play ads found with pre-roll formats generally run with sound, since the viewer expects sound with the video content that follows. These ads should command a higher rate, because they have viewer activation plus willingness to receive the full measure of sight, sound and motion. Google’s TrueView ads are only paid for when 30 seconds or the full unit (if less than a :30) are completed and not skipped. Clearly there is more value in terms of audibility and viewability for such deliverables.

The following will be necessary for the industry’s integrity and the future well-being of the emerging T/V business model:

1. Publishers and their ad sellers must be fully transparent with advertisers about delivery of sound for all T/V ad buys.
2. Advertisers should pay less for “silent video,” and more for full “sight/sound/motion video.”
3. The industry needs to incorporate audibility guidelines for ad delivery, even as we all strive to resolve the viewability ad-verification issues for video advertising.

This article first appeared September 23, 2015 on

About John Osborn

John R. Osborn is an ad agency veteran, formerly Senior VP, Group Media Director BBDO/OMD. For 23 years, he led traditional and new media efforts for clients Visa, Bayer, Eli Lilly, DuPont, FedEx, GE, Charles Schwab, Discovery Networks, HBO, Lifetime Networks and more. John is a longtime advocate for and action-taker around emerging media technologies through the emergence of Cable TV (Pillsbury, DuPont - 1980s), Interactive TV and Internet (Visa, US Navy - 1990s) and online, wireless, Wi-Fi access and Advanced Television (Ultramercial - 2000s). In 1994 he won BBDO's agency-wide Founders Award for work reflecting the BBDO ethic of quality, creativity and effort. Most recently he was Director of Business Development at Ultramercial LLC, an emerging media company providing a unique business model for TV, Online, Wireless and Wi-Fi access. - Author of “The Next Business Model for Ad-Supported TV?”, published February 20th, 2009 in Ad Age Mediaworks - Facilitated and trained agency staff and clients in Creative Ideation sessions at BBDO/OMD. - “Integrating Creative Leadership” Certificate from the Creative Problem Solving Institute. - Past President and Interim Executive Director of Creative Education Foundation (CEF). - Grandson of BBDO co-founder, CEF founder, brainstorming and Creative Problem Solving process co-creator Alex Osborn.
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