Marketers are finding it hard to buy enough space on traditional TV networks' Web sites, which stream some network prime-time programs.
Ad space is available alongside the user-generated videos that draw millions of visitors to video-sharing sites like YouTube, but advertisers are wary about sponsoring videos that might be embarrassing or risqué. YouTube's new ad format, unveiled last week to intense advertiser interest, limits ads to videos from selected partners. While their audiences are tiny -- Geek Entertainment TV says it averages 10,000 to 20,000 viewers a show, though its most popular shows attract as many as 100,000 viewers -- their viewers are loyal.
Such programs also provide content of a consistent quality, in advertisers' eyes. "Marketers are very careful about their brands, and some of those user-created videos can be pretty raunchy...but brands are willing to experiment more with higher-quality videos," says Martin Reidy, chief executive of Publicis Modem and Publicis Dialog, digital-marketing units of ad holding company Publicis Groupe.
New York-based Next New Networks is planning to launch as many as 101 Web TV networks with shows that advertisers can sponsor, similar to the way ads work on traditional TV networks. The company now has 12 networks and recently sold its first major sponsorship, to Lionsgate for the Jet Li movie "War." In addition to banner ads that appear on the different networks' Web sites, promotions can be woven into plot lines or included as short commercial spots. During a show on the Jet Set network about Internet pop culture, the host mentions "War," a trailer for the movie plays and viewers are encouraged to upload videos showing their martial-arts skills. On the Indy Mogul network, which focuses on independent filmmaking, the host shows how to recreate special effects from a scene in the movie when a hand is stabbed.
These shows are an easier sell to advertisers when a single video site hosts several and can negotiate deals for all of them. The "Geek" ad deal with GoDaddy, for instance, was negotiated by blip.tv, a closely held New York video site that also hosts several other series, including "Alive in Baghdad," about Iraq, and "Break a Leg," about show business. Blip.tv splits the ad revenue with the program producers.
Traditional media companies are getting in on the action: In recent months, CBS acquired Wallstrip.com, a daily show about Wall Street culture and pop culture, and Discovery Communications bought Treehugger.com, an eco-lifestyle Web site that produces video segments.
Further adding to these niche programs' appeal for advertisers is that many of them offer customized sponsorships. Some are willing to produce a segment on an advertiser's product or have the program's host mention the sponsor. To promote its fall denim collection, clothing chain Express created a campaign with "Ford Models TV," a Web series produced by modeling agency Ford Models that features models talking about fashion and other subjects.
During two different videos, a male model and a female model talk about how they wear their jeans, each mentioning Express jeans during the segment. "We sent the models a few bags of clothes before the shoot, but we didn't send them a script with lines. We really wanted them telling the story," says Pam Seidman, director of communications for Express. Ms. Seidman says she is pleased so far with the campaign.
To be sure, advertising on niche Web TV shows isn't for every marketer. Not only are audiences relatively small, but pricing models and measurement systems aren't yet established. Most advertisers view the outlets as a testing ground or as one piece of a bigger ad campaign. "I don't know that video sites like this are attractive across the board. They have to fit contextually," says Babs Rangaiah, director of media and entertainment at Unilever, which recently ran a campaign on a Web show hosted by blip.tv to promote a consumer-generated contest in which people were invited to submit ads for a new body wash, Dove Cream Oil.