Companies are rushing to serve up advertisements with online videos, but that doesn't mean anybody is paying attention to the promotions for cars, soap or sneakers.

Although increasingly widespread, the short commercial spots that run before videos -- everything from entertainment clips to news spots -- may do as much harm as good, media experts say. Studies show the commercials, known as pre-rolls, often irritate consumers, thus raising the risk they'll ignore the promotion or click to another Web site altogether.

It just comes down to very simple human behavior. When you want to see something, you don't want to see an advertisement before it, said Matt Freeman, chief executive of digital agency Tribal DDB Worldwide, a unit of Omnicom Group Inc.

I think there are much smarter contextual ways of sponsorship than being interrupted, added Freeman, speaking on a panel during this week's adtech conference, a gathering of interactive advertising and technology companies in New York.

Freeman added that as an advertising executive -- and a consumer -- he also disliked pre-roll spots. I find them annoying, he said.

Pre-roll forces users to watch a short ad before they see the selected video. While they let marketers use television ads online -- potentially saving production costs -- they sometimes seem out of place in digital media.

Pre-roll is just a clumsy way of getting the sponsorship money. It's not serving consumers and ultimately not serving our clients, said Freeman. There has to be a lot more thought and thoughtfulness.


A recent study by IBM, titled The End of Advertising as We Know It, found that 40 percent of the 2,400 consumers and 80 advertising executives it surveyed found ads during an online video segment more annoying than any other format.

You've got to make the pre-rolls shorter. You can't put a 30-second or 60-second pre-roll up there. I think you'll find users are more willing to tolerate a 10-second pre-roll, Saul Berman, IBM Media & Entertainment Strategy and Practice Leader and co-author of the report, told Reuters.

Consumers will increasingly have a choice. They will decide what advertisements they want to watch, and when they want to watch it, he said.

Another panelist at the adtech conference, Suzie Reider, head of advertising sales at YouTube, owned by Google Inc, predicted innovations in technology and marketing would eventually create better ways of advertising in videos, saying she herself has been frustrated as a consumer.

She recalled a recent attempt to watch a news clip about Oprah Winfrey's all-girl academy in South Africa. But first, she was required to watch an advertisement.

It's really frustrating to watch 15 or 30 second of advertising before you get to see the video, she said.

In one alternative, Google is offering an ad-supported video service known as video units, which runs relevant banners along the top of the video and text ads along the bottom. It's considered a less invasive way of showing the audience an advertisement.

Other alternatives could include anything from sponsorship to product placement. Yet another possibility would be to rely on subscriptions rather than advertising.

But few believe consumers are willing to pay subscriptions, after getting so much content for free until now.

Unless it's pornography, and unless it's weird porn, subscriptions won't work, said Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)