Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A Brief History of Video Advertising 

By Gareth Holmes, Vice President Commercial Strategy & Media, SeenThis

Video advertising first arrived on the open web in the early 2000s, the first ads usually short, low-quality videos inserted into web pages and played automatically when the page loaded. 

These early video ads were considered by many of us to be intrusive and annoying to users, but importantly they paved the way for the more sophisticated and effective video advertising formats available today. Life was created and evolution began. 

The first instream video ads were typically short pre-roll ads that played before the main video content. Over time, the format evolved to include mid-roll and post-roll ads as well. Today, instream video advertising is a common and popular format for digital advertising, with various forms of targeting and customisation available to advertisers.

YouTube started carrying video advertising around August 2007, with the launch of “InVideo” ads. 

These were displayed as overlays on top of videos, and were clickable to take viewers to advertiser websites. In November 2008, YouTube introduced “TrueView” ads, which allowed viewers to choose whether or not to watch an ad before their chosen video – this marked an important shift towards more user-friendly and less intrusive advertising on the platform. 

JW Player was first released in 2008 by Jeroen “JW” Wijering, a Dutch software developer. The first version of the player was a simple JavaScript embed that allowed websites to easily add video to their properties. 

Outstream video advertising began to gain popularity in the mid-2010s. The format was developed as a response to the growing demand for video advertising, coupled with a shortage of available video ad inventory on publisher websites. 

Outstream video ads allowed publishers to monetise content with video ads without having to create or host their own video content. The format also allowed advertisers to reach audiences outside of traditional video platforms. The first outstream video ad formats were introduced by companies such as Teads, Unruly and Outbrain around 2014-2015 – these ads download a large proportion of their file and then start playing, like iTunes did. 

There have been many video advertising options available, each with their own strengths and specialities. Some of the most popular video advertising platforms include Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads, TikTok Ads and Snapchat Ads, with more joining near-yearly.

There are also specialised video advertising networks that focus on specific industries or types of content, such as gaming, sports or news. 

The exact number of video advertising networks available today is tricky to determine, as new networks and platforms are constantly emerging, given the value attached to video over static ads.

Adapt or die

Around 2017 SeenThis launched streamed advertising from Stockholm, Sweden.

SeenThis uses adaptive bitrate streaming to deliver advertising to devices, and has built technology which ensures instant-starting videos. The player is streamed with the first data packet so no embedding of a player on a site was needed, and the utility of video was changed for everyone. 

Requiring no integration and being tag-based ensures interoperability across all chosen buying methodologies – RTB, publisher direct, DCO, and every iteration in between – with shoppable, carousel, social ads replicating the user experience of the large social platforms, but with the transparency of performance always enjoyed on the open web.

The dark curtains of “video black boxes” have finally been opened.

The fact that these ads are tag-based swings the pendulum back to the buyer, giving them absolute control over every aspect of delivery: you target the audience, buy the media, and own the entire media process, as you do with static display ads today, while SeenThis streams the ads instantly when you call their tags. 

Meanwhile, these days, delivering ads isn’t enough. 

The ads need to perform, and deliver media metrics which sing. They have to drive important attention metrics, be super-light and instant-starting so as not to ruin consumer experiences. Equally importantly, they have to be demonstrably less impactful on the environment than their alternatives – including every video advertising option you’ve read about above. 

Reading the above you’ll see how, every so often, a transformative new type of technology arrives in the advertising industry. Changing what we do can seem daunting initially. But with information comes comfort, and with proof comes consideration, and with evidence comes conviction. In these somewhat tougher than normal times we must all deliver more, often with less, and the words of Mr Darwin still ring true:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change – Charles Darwin