The Smart Money Watches You Watch Videos

By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Last summer, a video clip featuring comedian Sarah Silverman went up on YouTube to promote, an online campaign for cleaner fuel.

Then, two months ago, the video saw a sudden spike in traffic. But the video's producer, political-marketing firm MSHC Partners in the District, could not figure out what prompted the delayed jump.

To find out, MSHC turned to YouTube Insight, a measurement tool that was launched last month. The tool tracks how, when and by whom a video was watched. Using the data, the producer discovered what was behind the resurgence. When a clip of Silverman's appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" was posted on YouTube, it drove new traffic to the older CleanMyRide video, said Michael Bassik, MSHC's vice president of interactive marketing.

Knowing exactly how a video becomes popular can be critical to selling advertising associated with it. The audience for video is growing rapidly; in February, U.S. Internet users viewed more than 10 billion online videos, a 66 percent increase over the same month in 2007, according to ComScore's Video Metrix service. Advertisers, meanwhile, spent $554 million on online video promotions last year, compared with $398 million in 2006, according to Jupiter Research. Still, many marketers have been reluctant to place big bets on ads paired with video, largely because it has been difficult to measure the ads' effectiveness.

"When you're a manager of a brand, the idea of risking a significant amount of money to understand this new social-media world is very challenging," said Troy Young, chief marketing officer of VideoEgg, an advertising network that places ads on video clips. A video might gain popularity because it was linked to in a blog or incorporated into a social-networking profile and circulated among friends, he said. The tracking tools can help an advertiser figure out whether the video is reaching the desired demographic and, therefore, whether it should buy ad space related to that video.

Online publishers such as CBS Interactive and advertising agencies such as Hill Holliday now use video-tracking services to help plan their ad strategies. Video creators, both amateur and professional, are starting to use these measurement tools to get a better view of which clips are most popular on which Web sites.

Well-known media-tracking companies such as Nielsen and ComScore have launched tools to track the popularity of video, the way they do with television and Web sites. In addition, at least a half-dozen start-ups, including Visible Measures and Quantcast, have designed their own systems to track how and where videos are watched and shared as they travel across the Web.

Visible Measures, based in Boston, for example, uses software to record when users rewind and fast-forward through a video, when they stop watching, and if the sound is turned on. It also tracks how popular video is on various sites and how clips are shared.

Another company, Quantcast, allows media companies to embed a "pixel" in each video to track how many times they are played by Web surfers. Quantcast's software also collects geographic and demographic data based on other sites users have visited and other information that is not personally identifiable, such as a specific Internet address. In addition to using software it developed, San Francisco-based Quantcast has a panel of 1.5 million volunteers whose Web-watching habits the company tracks, similar to the way traditional TV ratings are measured.

YouTube's own measurement tool helped understand which strategies work best to drive traffic to videos it posted on the site.

"Going back into that campaign and tying specific spikes to various blog posts or other ad campaigns lets us know what we can expect from different kinds of online marketing," Bassik said.

Video-tracking tools let advertisers tailor their messages for specific audiences or test a variety of pitches before committing to an ad strategy, said Matt Cutler, vice president of marketing and analytics for Visible Measures, which is two years old.

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