Video, Toast, and Rocket Engines

I don’t like calling people out. I really don’t. But sometimes I feel like it is my duty to stop people from propagating industry views that are either dishonest, self-serving, or otherwise detrimental to progress.

That sounds a little bit harsh — and maybe it is — but such is my reaction when I read articles like the one posted on MediaPost’s Video Insider blog earlier this week.

To summarize: Matt Berry, the post’s author, describes at some length the idea of temporal (or time-based) meta-data for video. Essentially the theory is that temporal meta-data would work like dynamic image alt-tags that update every frame. In a specific video clip, for example, if Charlie Sheen walked on-screen in frame 124, then the meta-data for frame 124 would include the words “Charlie Sheen”. If he says the words “pepperoni pizza,” the meta-data for the clip would include the words “pepperoni pizza,” and so on.

Pretty cool stuff. And provided all of this meta-data didn’t delay the delivery of video frames, there are some pretty important implications here. Video analytics become more meaningful when they’re associated with specific keywords – and without temporal meta-data we’re left to make those associations on our own. This kind of data allows us to sift through mountains of video content to find specific video footage related to a particular keyword — and this keyword doesn’t even have to be present in the video’s title, description, or surrounding text. Imagine the possibilities!

Well, either Matt Berry’s imagination isn’t very good, or else he has some kind of agenda behind his blog post. What does he suggest we do with the mountain of data that temporal meta-data could produce? Use it to sell ad content.

When an ad spot is available for sale, it is always best for the buyer to understand what is happening during that content.  Time-based metadata gives advertisers the ability to not only determine where to put an ad break, but also can provide insight on what is happening right before and right after the break.

Seriously, Matt Berry? Are you being serious?

Using temporal meta-data to sell ad space is like using the business end of a rocket engine to make toast. Advertisers have been able to contextualize ad space since the advent of television, without the need for meta-data at all. The fundamental problem — a problem with which Mr. Berry is apparently unfamiliar — is that the future of Web video has nothing at all to do with selling ad space. Ask Hulu how effective this business model is. Ask the guys at JibJab. No, the future of online video has more to do with targeted delivery, content customization, formatting, search optimization, and so on.

I understand that as the co-founder of Digitalsmiths — whose clients include The WB, Extra, The Bonnie Hunt Show, The Tyra Banks Show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and so on — Berry has a vested interest in force-feeding ads to Web viewers like they do on TV. After all, most of their clients depend on ads to survive in TV land, and I wouldn’t doubt that many of them assume that the same ad model works for the Web. Digitalsmiths needs to keep its clients happy, so telling them they’ve come up with a better way to serve ads is a smart move.

But it’s entirely self-serving. Web video is moving away from selling ad space. The “sucks-but-necessary” attitude surrounding video ads has eroded to just “sucks.” To claim that a new technology could breathe new life into a marketing tactic that the rest of us are forced to tolerate is just plain dumb.

We expect more from people like you, Matt Berry. We expect to be told how new technology will make people honestly want to engage with our content. We expect true innovation, not a better mousetrap. Video meta-data is a powerful tool, and you are one of the very few who demonstrably understands it. Now use your platform to tell the rest of us what it can do to move Web video marketing forward — not what it can do to make a polished turd shinier.

Wayne Wall is Executive Director of the Web Video Marketing Council.  He can be reached at wwall@flimp.net.

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