Are TV ads obsolete in the online world?

The topic that provoked the most heated argument at the Beet.TV’s online video roundtable in San Francisco today was the format of online advertising. Initially, everyone focused on the nitty grity of delivering “pre-roll” video ads that run before the content that you actually want to watch. Then Jim Louderback of Internet TV network Revision3 declared that approach is “cowpathing the old model” — it’s just trying to import TV ads into a new medium where they don’t make sense.

Instead, Louderback said Revision3‘s viewers respond most positively to endorsements from a show host. He said that model is so effective that half of his viewers have bought products from some a company sponsor. (Other panelists pointed out that star endorsements represent, if anything, an even more old-fashioned model than the 30-second video ad — as Louderback acknowledged, it’s “very Ed Sullivan.”)

Panel moderator Kara Swisher of AllThingsDigital said that not everyone is willing to make paid endorsements. When one panelists suggested that tech reviewer¬†Walt Mossberg, Swisher’s colleague at AllThingsD, might consider such endorsements, she responded, “You keep waitin’.”

Going beyond endorsements, Adobe’s Jen Taylor also spoke in favor of experimenting with different ad formats. She compared the current state of online video advertising with the early days of television. In the same way that early TV ads felt like radio ads with someone just reading a script in front of the camera, online advertisers are still figuring out what they can do with the new format.

“We haven’t yet embraced the power of what is possible with interactivity and customization online,” Taylor said.

But that experimentation could hurt standardization and scale. If you come up with a cool, wildly experimental ad for one video site, there’s a good chance that it might not work on others.

Everyone seems to be waiting for “a new ad unit that’s going to save interactive,” said CBS Interactive’s Anthony Soohoo, while he thinks there’s actually a lot of room for experimentation within a 15- or 30-second video ad.

“I don’t think that ad unit’s going away anytime soon,” he said.


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