The Web is Not Television

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One of the traps that many people fall into when creating online video content is that they treat the online medium as though it was television 2.0. They expect their audience to behave and react just like they do to television except without the limitations that television imposes – high barrier to entry, locally based, specific time limits. However there are some fundamental differences between television and the online environment and these need to be addressed when creating online video. It may seem obvious but quite simply the web is not television.


Let’s start by showing this commercial. It’s currently running as a pre-roll on online BBC videos to viewers who are watching outside the UK:

This is actually quite a beautiful commercial. It has wonderful imagery and sublime cinematography. However it completely fails as an online commercial. It has no structure and there is no engagement with the audience. It fails to provide its viewers with a reason to watch it.

Captive Audience

It is actually a television commercial that is doing double duty on the web. And this type of content is standard fair on TV. Beautiful arthouse works that don’t really say anything and are for the most part souless vanity pieces. But they look great and so we as television viewers just let them passively wash over us so we can get to the good stuff: the actual TV programme. The reason for this is that – for the most part – television has a captive audience. Sure, we might go to the toilet or hop up to grab a cup of tea but most of the time we passively sit through the entire show including the ad breaks. Even those of us who are doing other activities (knitting, web surfing, etc) while ‘watching’ are still listening, trying to keep tabs on the story. That’s why many TV commercials use psyops measures: repetition, catchy jingles, repetition, louder volume, repetition. To catch the attention of those that aren’t paying attention. But even those measures may fail to work online simply because the situational factors are vastly different.

Web users have a lot of distractions. In fact to an outsider it may appear as though they have ADHD, as they flit from one thing to another – seemingly at random. There’s very little of that passivity that is associated with TV viewing. As web users, if it bores us we click away. This is one of the issues facing pre-roll video commercials in general. They can lose almost a quarter of their audience simply because viewers have to wait for the non-ad content to play. There is also a lot of direct competition for the attention of web users. And while there maybe a few hundred TV channels to choose from, there are billions of online videos waiting to snatch your audience away. It’s not just with other online videos either. There’s also gaming, websites, and social networking as well. This means that if you want your video to be watched – let alone remembered and a response generated – you need to stand out. You need to rise above this noise and give the audience a reason to watch and a chance to engage. That’s something that TV doesn’t need to deal with and why most television commercials don’t usually work terribly well online: they’re catering to different audience. An analogy might be displaying a print ad on TV. No narration. No music. Just the print ad – in 12 point font no doubt – in silence. Imagine how effective would that be on TV.

Size Matters

Another factor to consider is that while TV is called the small screen, most online videos are watched on even smaller screens – and smaller again for the mobile market. This means that those sweeping landscape shots and other cinematic staples aren’t as compelling online as they are on television. Therefore if you’re relying on those features to capture and keep your audience you’re going to be struggling. Especially if that’s all you’re relying on. For online content to be truly effectual it needs to work on both full screen 30in monitors and 300x240pixel cellphones.

Creating effective online video advertising is not hard, but it does require a different strategy from that used on television. Otherwise you risk wasting your effort and failing to not only grab the attention of your audience but also, more importantly, generate a response.

Attribution: Slider image by Oddsock.

About the Author: skribe

Based in Perth, Australia, Antonio Barimen (aka skribe) is a writer, digital media consultant and social media producer.


He is available to help you develop social marketing and digital media strategies, improving communication between staff, partners and suppliers or just increasing the number of fans on Facebook. He has developed successful digital and social media projects for clients including CBS, Evian, Procter & Gamble, Discovery Networks, Pernod Ricard and American Express.


Connect with him on Twitter or Google Plus.


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Post Under Advice, Video April 14, 2010