Video On Demand – The Power of Pre-Roll

On Wednesday, March 20th, I gave a talk at ARF Re:think 2013 on video on demand. The following is an excerpt from my talk. Contact me at if you would like the full presentation.

Television as medium has moved beyond fragmentation into granularity as programs are being carried on new platforms such as mobile, the Internet, and video on demand. Video on demand viewership has been growing at double-digit rates, with the largest portion of growth coming from “traditional” TV programs being placed by TV networks. However, there has been little understanding of how commercials perform in video on demand.

The value of advertising time in video on demand is immense, given that viewers have to be actively engaged to select the programs. Video on demand advertising is often structured with the first position, “the pre-roll,” starting before the program content. Rentrak, through its analysis, demonstrates that the “pre-roll” has a very high value. Rentrak’s original research shows much higher indices for ad viewership in the pre-roll position. The metric employed was the Ad Retention Index (ARI), which is the average audience during commercial minutes on video on demand divided by the entire program’s average audience (including ad minutes). The ARI is a concept similar to “C3” on linear TV. The pre-roll ARI for regular duration programs was a 122, and the average pre-roll short duration program was a 129. This high value of audience for pre-roll gives advertisers a unique opportunity to connect with engaged viewers. Rentrak is now also producing a monthly video on demand transparency report on ratings networks have on video on demand. (Details upon request!)


Currently, there are more than 53 million video on demand-enabled households with an average of two set-top boxes per household. More than 43 million set-top boxes access video on demand content each month.

Consumers who use this medium spend around 8.5 hours per month with video on demand content.

Free video on demand content represented 78 percent of all transactions in 2012. Free video on demand (which includes ad-supported content) is the fastest growing part of video on demand. From 2009 to 2012, free video on demand’s growth rate outpaced that of all video on demand by increasingly wider margins.

Growth Rates in Video On Demand Playtime 2009-2012
We are pleased to see free content coming to video on demand soon after live airings. Content owners are increasingly including linear ad loads in the first three days. Additionally, our research shows the majority of video on demand viewership of TV shows occurs 4+ days after air, presenting additional valuable advertising opportunities. Free on demand offers advertisers an opportunity since much of this content is now (or could be) advertising-supported. However, advertising results are not traditionally broken out. A group of networks approached Rentrak in the fall of 2011 asking for a study of advertising levels using set-top boxes where second-by-second ad detail could be identified.

We used a mathematical technique to identify where ads were located — essentially when there was a huge drop and return in audience. This is shown in the chart below.

Index of HH Audience at :30 Second IntervalsAll the video on demand long form programs had a downward-trending slope of viewership. This can be explained in large part by the fact that there is no subsequent program that follows, so there can be no audience flow “in” once the program starts. Also, therefore, the maximum size of the audience is at the start of program. That large “starting point” means that commercials in the pre-roll position will have the advantage of exposure to all of the program’s viewers. So even with trick play, the ARI for the pre-roll is a 103, while for entire program, the ARI was a 55.

For short-form programs (less than six minutes), we looked at the first 60 seconds to estimate ad position.

The bottom line for the analysis is below.

ARI Video On Demand ResultsWhen one considers that normal DVR playback ratings for commercials are in the 60 percent range, not only is the average video on demand ARI of 71 quite strong, but the pre-roll first position playback of more than 120 is fantastic. Video on demand is a medium that can and will work well for advertisers.

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.


2 thoughts on “Video On Demand – The Power of Pre-Roll

  1. Hey Bruce – Great article. I do have some small concern with your usage of the term “Pre-Roll”.

    “Pre-Roll” is a term that’s been used for decades in linear, legacy Ad Insertion systems. It typically defines the amount of time between the receipt of a “cueing trigger” and the actual start of commercial playback. Back in the days of tape-based insertion, the term “Pre-Roll” was loosely tied to the concept of taking a VTR and getting it started for playback (stretching the tape across the video drum, getting the drum spinning, powering up the motors, and beginning the process of playing video).

    In regards to AdVOD (ad supported video on demand), some of the terms I’ve recently heard include:

    Pre-Bumper: Ad Content that plays before the VOD content starts (could be multiple breaks).

    Post-Bumper: Ad Content that plays after the VOD content completes playback.

    Interstitial Ads: Ad Content that is inserted in various points during the playback of VOD content.

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