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CNN.com and Their Pre-Roll Scam

Posted on 9.26.2007
Most online video advertisements have taken the form of pre-roll - usually a 15 or 30-second ad before your selected video plays. One of the advertisers' fears is that users won't watch these ads. And that's not an irrational fear. Tabbed browsing makes it easy to start the video in one tab, click over to another tab for about 30 seconds while the ad runs (check your email perhaps), then click back over to see your video. And if you get distracted for more than 30 seconds it's okay - you can always drag the progress bar back an inch and still see the entire video.

So the question many ask is, how long is too long? When I look down at the progress bar while a pre-roll ad is loading, I can tell if it's going to be 10, 15 or 30 seconds. Depending on the length of the ad, I make my decision whether I will navigate somewhere else for a bit or suffer through the ad. It's a pertinent question for advertisers. Would they rather 10 or 15 seconds of exposure or a possible full 30 seconds of zero exposure?

CNN.com and their advertisers have found a slick, if not sneaky solution. Check out this pre-roll ad to a video of a safari close encounter. When the pre-roll ad loads, the progress bar clearly indicates that you're about to see a 15-second ad. But are you? Watch closely. The 15-second progress bar stops at 15 seconds, but the ad rolls for another 15 seconds. It's a 30-second ad wrapped up in 15-second packaging. And it worked. I sat through the 15 seconds, then realized I had been duped. But, at that point I was already locked in so I sat through another 15 seconds before watching a lion try to eat some safari vacationers.

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