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Where's the Money in Online Video?

The sharp growth in online video viewing, increasing availability of TV online, and proliferation of high-quality, web-originated content has made it easy to point the arrow for online video advertising up and to the right. But while video will probably continue to be a bright spot of growth in a dull economy, that’s mostly because it’s just getting started. The reality is revenues will be close to nothing for a long time, and the growing number of tech entrepreneurs and creative types in the space should probably be worried that industry watchers are now cutting their expectations for growth in online video revenues based on factors other than the shaky U.S. economy.

eMarketer, which has been putting out good research on online video recently, back in August chopped its estimate for 2008 U.S. video ad revenue by more than half, to $505 million from $1.3 billion. That’s a pretty significant downgrade more than halfway into the year, though eMarketer warned it was “more a change of methodology than of perspective.” But even with the methodology revision, eMarketer is forecasting growth to start declining after 2012.

In a market in which CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) for very similar ad formats can range from $10 to $100 depending on where they’re shown, it’s worth trying to pin down the factors affecting video advertising pricing. Everybody agrees that prices for video formats such as in-stream ads and overlays will stay at a premium vs. banner ads, but it’s not yet clear where rates will settle.

Jason Glickman, CEO of video ad network Tremor Media, attributes the major fluctuations in CPM prices for in-stream (mostly pre-roll) ads over the last two years to a combination of a few key factors. Initially, he says, there wasn’t much inventory, so CPMs were “north of $20 to $25 on a constant basis.” Then inventory started to increase, causing prices to drop to a range of $12-$20 about a year ago. They’ve managed to stay stable since then as budgets have started to migrate from television. Today, the most pressing factors affecting CPM prices are better accountability measures (a plus) and pullbacks on budgets (not a plus), according to Troy Young, chief marketing officer at competitor VideoEgg.

Video accounts for a tiny part of the $70-$80 billion spent on TV in the U.S. each year, and that’s barely starting to change. TV networks like CBS say they have always been able charge higher CPMs for the same shows online vs. TV, but that their digital revenues are not yet significant enough for that difference to be meaningful. Even by 2013, when eMarketer thinks advertisers will spend $5.8 billion on online video ads in the U.S., that will amount to just 7.6 percent of total TV ad spend and 9.8 percent of total Internet ad spend.

So going forward, what else might depress video advertising CPMs? First, online audiences in a post-TiVo world don’t much like ads, and in the “lean forward” online video-watching environment, they are more likely to reach for the mute button, employ ad-blocking software, or switch to another window. Second, the aforementioned demand for better tracking and accountability drives forward less lucrative performance-based ads. Third, while more intensive kinds of advertising like sponsorship and product integration are becoming increasingly popular, they’re even harder to measure. Fourth, the amount of inventory will only continue to rise, with more and better video being released and syndicated further out across the web.

“We recently brought down the average CPM again, to between $15 and $35, because of the development of video widgets,” said Brett Garfinkel, SVP of the original online content site maniaTV. “We can now reach more eyeballs for the same cost and afford to cut costs to advertisers and remain competitive.”

A big question for further growth is when advertisers will start to be comfortable with user-generated content. At this point brands are still extremely cautious about being associated with new content producers, perhaps unreasonably so, given that many of the big viral hits come out of nowhere. However, advertisers are becoming comfortable with a new kind of inventory — made-for-the-web content with high production values — and also with so-called professional content that is made for a lower budget so as to fit in better online.

But should advertisers accept UGC, it would open the floodgates for online inventory, which would surely come at a lower price. This is especially relevant for YouTube, which dominates the U.S. audience but only sells ads when it has a revenue-sharing relationship with the video’s creator, partly as a safeguard against profiting from unauthorized uploads. That means YouTube only makes money on an estimated 4 percent of its total videos. The site has recently been trying to milk that segment for more money by offering content owners the option to monetize copies of their shows and movies caught in YouTube’s copyright filter, and automatically playing post-roll video ads after partner videos end.

On the whole, video ads are still looking like a good market. But just like everybody else, online content providers would be well-advised to keep an eye on their balance sheets.

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17 Responses to “Where's the Money in Online Video?”

  1. Many companies are creating a larger customer base through the power of a Video. If you are not using Video Marketing in creating brand awareness for your products and services online, you are missing out on so many great opportunities over the internet. This is because more and more people are using a Video when they want to be informed, entertained, or when they are simply whiling away the hours. If you can create and post your Videos on a website, you’ll improve your chances of generating even more traffic to your website that can surely boost your online income.

  2. This problem forces advertisers to negotiate ways to use a new medium to their advantage, as a result video ads will become more innovative. I think advertisers are understandably resistant to putting their name on content they can’t control. Ultimately, I think advertisers will favor highly vetted sites as a means of protecting their brand

  3. Well it’s definitely no secret that video advertising is the most challenging form of advertising it seems. @John L – is something I’m very familiar with myself but I too don’t know how mobile video makes their money either – especially mobile video as ads are pretty much non-existent on the mobile version.

  4. I think video advertising is the latest fad, a pie-in-the-sky marketing gimmick that will go the way of banner advertising, email advertising, and assorted rich media. I pay $0.065 CPM for my link ads on google. And you think I might pay $20+ CPMs on anything? Perhaps for a month or two, to prove their relative worthlessness. Then its over. Question: have you ever purchased anything or been significantly moved by a video ad? Not I.

  5. I think the problems facing online video advertising go much deeper than low CPMs and a surging inventory. The industry doesn’t seem that comfortable with online video ads, for a number of reasons — too many small niche players, lots of variation among platforms and measurement systems, and a lot of experimentation as people try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In the meantime, content producers are paying the price, in terms of unsponsored programming costs. I have hope for video advertising, but not in the near term.

    Ian Lamont
    Industry Standard

  6. Great post.

    As the online marketing world shifts to proper measurement – tracking ROI beyond just the last ad clicked and giving credit where credit is due – video cpms will slow their slide even as more content comes on board because it is rather foolish to measure performance for one ad when every marketer knows that it takes multiple impressions to convert a user into a customer.

    Frequency still matters in the great marketing equation and video will always provide an opportunity to communicate more than a banner ad, even a rich media one.

    Lastly, just like WebMD is able to charge upwards of $60 cpm for its audience – the audience matters the most.

    Building a niche audience and having original content positions an online video venture to charge higher advertising rates, just like other forms of media.

    Those who go for the masses get mass advertising rates. Those who can facilitate demographic, behaviourial and even psychographic targeting will be the big winners in terms of cpm rates.

  7. Right on.

    Video is a brand advertiser’s game. It’s certainly an effective channel for advertisers to measure when compared to offline media channels like TV and others.

    But when compared to performance based online media metrics it bears more vulnerability. It’s easy for an advertiser measuring campaigns for a defined action than the serving impressions to a targeted audience.

    In situations now where many advertisers are re-evaluating their ad spending budgets – channels like video that bank on brand advertising campaigns have the most to lose.

  8. Liz, very good report!
    YouTube/Google shows again that in the online world, you first need to get the audience in volume and revenues will come later. Google knows that the cost of servers/technology exponentially decreases and the marginal cost tends to zero in the long run. Once they have captured a massive audience and massive video inventory, even if they only get to monetize a small share of the inventory, it will still add to many millions.
    If YouTube manages to monetize the clips caught in the copyright filter, that would give a huge boost to their “monetizable” inventory.

  9. While this is interesting isn’t the constant revising down of the CPM figure significant? If people can make a living producing online video by reducing overheads far enough, lower spending on advertising won’t necessarily mean lower quality.

  10. I agree recent changes in the economy are going to dampen eMarketer estimates in regards to the growth of online video advertising. But user generated content continues to grow and be placed in many of the free sites. The content may lack HD and directorial excellence but never-the-less it is being created.

    With millions of small businesses out there attempting to grow and create or manitain a competetive edge, there must be cost effective and less intrusive solutions. Being the founder of one low cost alternative where advertisers come together to co-mingle with consumers, I believe (especially now) there are other ways to generate content and place it where it will be viewed.

    Companies like,, and give smaller companies a low cost alternative to producing content–Hot Pluto gives them an even less expensive place to post their complete business profile and multiple video ads. Just another solution in a time where options are necessary!

    Brett Hill- CEO