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Television networks have learned a few lessons from online advertising, but a new effort by Disney ignores the distinctions between the two media. According to AdAge today, ESPN and ABC are now testing advertising that will run above or below network shows during programming. 

The latest in the networks' efforts to combat commercial fast forwarding, this plan confuses intrusion for engagement.

A study by MTV found that lower third advertising is the most effective ad product across all advertiser categories online. And this effectivity online is now being brought into the television space. Previously, IAC's Ask.com saw positive results from running crawls across the bottom of television screens on a few networks.

According to AdAge:

In the past decade, consumers have developed a "capacity to accept multiple messaging all at once," said Adam Stotsky, president-marketing, NBC Entertainment. As a result, these types of promos have become "a given of the current TV landscape -- cable and network," said George Schweitzer, president, CBS Marketing Group.

The loss of television audiences watching ads is a big problem. About 30% of homes currently use ad-skipping technology. But 99% of video viewing still happens on television. Why is that? Partly it is out of habit, but also it has to do with the viewing experience. Most people prefer to watch premium content on their wide screen televisions.

But making TV video more like the online experience offers the option of making video viewing less enjoyable on the whole. Online, sites like Hulu, YouTube and Vimeo are trying to make their video more seemless. Full screen viewing options and partnerships with premium content providers are a part of this process.

Obviously, ads are a big part of video online. And on the Internet there is more control from the publisher's standpoint (viewers can't fast forward through pre-rolls for example). But video networks are trying to emulate television viewing for a reason: people enjoy it more. 

Online viewers have accepted more clutter, but they also tune out much of what is on their screens. And part of the reason that online advertising has trouble bringing network dollars online is because it is considered less effective than TV ads. Adding online formats to the television experience holds the possibility of degrading the effectiveness of those ads as well.

Amy Sheil, director of analytics at Crispin Porter & Bogusky tells AdAge:

"As long as people find them valuable, they'll tolerate them. And if they don't find the value, they'll reject them with technology. We'll figure out a way to block them like they have online with pop-up blockers."

With networks increasingly putting their content online, the decision to watch on a given format is more about user experience than availability, which had been the hurdle before. Making television viewing more like online could be a quick way to get viewers to go all in on Internet video.

And the worst part is that overlay ads may get even more intrusive as the networks test out formats. From AdAge:

ESPN recently tested an online ad format known as a "full-screen transparency," in which a translucent ad was placed over video of a sports match. A viewer could still see the action but couldn't avoid the commercial message. In a recent presentation, Disney executives said they found that the "transparency format was particularly prone to risking adverse effects among viewers."

Meghan Keane

Published 10 August, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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