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Channel 4 Study Challenges Social Video Ads' Value

Research finds YouTube, Facebook more expensive and less effective than TV broadcaster’s VOD platform

In a defensive move against digital, UK broadcaster Channel 4 commissioned a study that found advertisers pay more for completed video ad views on YouTube and Facebook than they do on commercial TV broadcasters’ video-on-demand (VOD) platforms—and they seem to get less in return.

The research, which was conducted for Channel 4 by Cog Research and Durham University neuroscientist Amanda Ellison, concluded that the “true cost” for completed video ads on commercial broadcaster VOD platforms was 20% cheaper than YouTube and a third of the cost of Facebook—when tested against Channel 4’s VOD headline costs and using analytics from Channel 4 marketing data. Video ads on broadcaster VOD platforms were cheaper, even when considering organic views.

Cog and Ellison’s research examined over 100 hours of eye tracking and skin conductance data (to aid in determining attentiveness) from 48 in-home VOD users ages 16 to 44 from across the UK. The users were monitored between June and September 2016. A subset of these homes were also tracked across their laptop or PC using screen-capture software to passively record participants’ screen activity for a week of usage. Software was also used to capture participants’ mobile screen activity.

The research found that broadcaster VOD delivered higher engagement levels, completion rates and watch time for advertisers than did VOD ads on YouTube or Facebook. Some key metrics behind those observations include:

  • Ads on broadcaster VOD platforms commanded 3.5 times greater attention levels than advertising on YouTube.
  • Completed video ad views were 62% lower for YouTube and over five times lower for Facebook vs. those seen on Channel 4’s All 4 VOD service.
  • Little more than half (53%) of YouTube advertising was viewed in an attentive state, compared with over 85% of viewing time of broadcaster VOD ads.
  • In over 30 hours of Facebook passive usage, only three commercial video ads were viewed for longer than 3 seconds (Facebook’s definition of a view), of which the longest was for 3.5 seconds.

While the Channel 4 study makes a compelling case for broadcaster VOD, other studies have seen positive sentiment for social video more generally among UK internet users.

One was an October 2016 survey, by digital video cloud platform Brightcove, of brand-related social media activities conducted by 5,500 adult social video viewers in five countries. Brightcove found that 47% of UK respondents—a higher-than-average response rate—said they watched branded videos in the social media sphere, and 43% went on to make a purchase after doing so.

Brand-Related Social Media Activities Conducted by Social Video Viewers in Select Countries, Oct 2016 (% of respondents)

The conclusion at minimum is that digital video will leave viewers with some impression.

What’s more certain is that digital video viewing is a key feature of UK residents’ digital activities.

eMarketer predicts nearly two-thirds of the UK population will watch digital video in 2017, which would make it the country’s most popular digital activity. By comparison, only around 55% of the population will be social network users.

Moreover, digital video ad spending is on the rise, with an expected 22.2% increase in UK investment this year to £1.38 billion ($1.87 billion), according to eMarketer’s latest forecast.

Cliff Annicelli

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