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Starting next month, a number of large websites — including MSNBC, Hulu, Yahoo and AOL properties — are set to roll out video ads that allow users to choose which ad they'd like to see before the content they want to watch.

The new format could make users a lot happier with the ads they view online. But more importantly, it will give the sites publishing these ads important insight into which ads work and which don't. But will users enjoy serving as a focus group for internet publishers?

Consumers are already accustomed to the fact that advertising is the business that allows them to view content for free online. Giving them the option to choose what advertising they see could also increase their tolerance — if not their enojyment — of said ads.

According to BusinessWeek:

"Starting next month, websites that include MSNBC.com, Yahoo.com, and Hulu.com will begin letting consumers decide which ads show up in video clips they view online."

A year ago, YouTube introduced a feature that allowed viewers to choose what Promoted Video they saw before their chosen programming. The video giant has not released numbers on how that experiment has faired, but BusinessWeek reports that the company is contemplating working with ASq, the company that will deliver the new ad choices.

Online advertising is expected to rise 12 percent this year, to $61.8 billion worldwide, from $55.2 billion in 2009, according to New York-based researcher eMarketer. And according to a research study from Vivaki, users are twice as likely to click an ad when given a choice, as opposed to when one is selected for them.

Beth Uyenco Shatto, global research director at Microsoft's ads unit, tells BusinessWeek:

"When you give people a choice, they tend to love you because you're showing them respect. If it wasn't for advertising, they wouldn't be getting the content for free."

But a tool like this is also important for publishers that want to prove the efficacy of their advertising. Consumers will essentially be giving them feedback on which ads work and do not work on their site. They can also subsequently work with brands who advertise with them when their ads get voted down and try to figure what isn't working. And as the advertising improves, they can — most importantly — charge more.

According to IDC, global online video ad spend was $2.2 billion in 2009, and is expected to grow to $11.3 billion by 2014. To capture those earnings, publishers are spending a good deal of effort to figure out which video ads work on their sites. Asking users to choose their own ads is a more upfront way of making the ads more targeted. Other options include behavioral targeting, which has its own slew of problems.

Considering that consumers have to view these ads, offering a choice could be a win for all parties. Though users may tune out the ads they have chosen just as readily as ads that pop up automatically.

And unfortunately for consumers, one thing that won't be offered as a choice is the ad load, which is likely to grow as more professional content creators more their videos online in search of revenues that are being lost on traditional TV.

Meghan Keane

Published 9 August, 2010 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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