Unicast Rolls Out Web Commercials

Unicast begins rolling out video commercials today to more than a dozen Web sites, hoping to lure advertisers online by playing to their love of TV commercials.

The new full-screen ad format is a 2-megabyte, 30-second ad built on the Microsoft Windows Media 9 Series platform that plays between pages. Thanks to Unicast's caching technology, the ad plays immediately, without the buffering and loading time needed for streaming video.

Fifteen Web publishers have signed on to run video commercial campaigns, including ESPN.com, ABCNews.com, CBS Sportsline and Accuweather.com. The six advertisers running the initial campaigns include Honda, Pepsi and McDonald's. The eight campaigns will run over six weeks and serve more than 100 million impressions, according to Unicast.

“What we're trying to do is respond to market demand for online advertising formats that can justify either increases in budgets or reallocated budgets,” said Allie Savarino, senior vice president at Unicast.

All ads include video and audio for 30 seconds, like a regular TV commercial. Unicast requires the ads have an exit feature that lets users end them whenever they want.

The video ad market is still quite small. According to Jupiter Research projections, it accounted for just 3 percent of Internet ad spending.

Still, Jupiter Research analyst Nate Elliott said advertisers are interested in putting TV-like ads online: “30-second spots are like crack for marketers.”

Savarino said Unicast would satisfy this by offering a regular video experience as opposed to Flash video available in its other formats and those from rich media providers like Ultramercial.

“Advertisers, in their mind, not just love TV, but they know TV works,” she said. “With online, they're getting an added benefit of delivering the exact same message, understanding if someone saw it, and finally including interactivity.”

As part of the rollout, Unicast contracted with Dynamic Logic to do studies measuring the branding effectiveness of the ads.

Few publishers have run online video ads since they are extremely disruptive and could alienate visitors. Savarino said Unicast could allay fears that the videos will slow the site to grinding halt, thanks to its caching technology.

Until now, online video ads mostly have been relegated to specific video applications, like ESPN Motion. Elliott said Jupiter found the No. 1 hindrance to advertisers using online video was the small audience.

“This is potentially an answer to this objection,” he said.

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