Google’s Adsense For Video Forcing Out Small Publishers, Violates IAB Guidelines

While it's unknown how much traction Google is getting with their Video Adsense platform, multiple publishers have reached out to me over the past few months to talk about how Google is trying to force publishers into presentation requirements that they say conflicts with content versus advertising principles, not to mention, violates the IAB guidelines.

Today, many publishers and internet broadcasters are trying to capture revenue in this economic climate with ad network supplementing inside sales. With video, we see numerous implementations of ads including overlays, prerolls, mid, post, post slate, etc. What's interesting, and disturbing to some publishers, is Google's Video Adsense platform and the encounters these publishers have had with Google who they say is being very hypocritical in that they claim to want to serve the advertiser while taking a stance to "protect the user experience."  One instance these publishers describe is this.

In the Google AFV (Adsense for Video) implementation guide, the overlays state that they cannot cover user controls, which makes sense. However, many publishers, including for example Hulu, have bottom video controls that appear on MouseOver state.  So the scrubber, mute, etc., appear when the user hovers over the Flash screen therefore displaying the player controls. Google's AFV states that the overlays will take over the bottom 20 percent of the player. Now as far as I can tell, that is in compliance with IAB guidelines and so is the non-covering of controls even if the user has an option to disable the Ad overlay.

However, in the same document, Google states that text overlays will appear for 1 minute of video starting at 00:00 and rich media overlays will display for 20 seconds of the first minute. Neither pops back into play after the first minute. This is in violation of the IAB guidelines as it states overlays can display for 25 percent of every minute of video or: 15 seconds as a maximum. It also minimizes the ad impressions publishers can expect as oppose to other ad networks. One of the publishers who reached out to me recently spoke to an AFV Product Manager in regards to this issue as they are trying to determine if it is financially worth their investment (development time and resource) to rebuild their players based on expected impressions just for AFVS. He's what he was told by the AFV product manager:

"Unfortunately, we are not able to relax our polices in order to test out the overlays. We feel very strongly about making the user experience the best it can be and we need to do our best to prevent invalid clicks for the advertisers."

Publishers say that's what troublesome about this is that Google is masking most likely a promise to advertisers for decent display with their hypocritical socially concerned consumer experience efforts. It is also disturbing that Google is trying to force publishers into presentation requirements that may conflict with content versus advertising principles. And as Google signs up advertisers, some premium, because they are the 8000lb gorilla, some are saying they will force small publishers such as video bloggers, and other small video content operations, to comply with layout standards that publishers may not have the resources to comply with and therefore cannot sustain operations. Most simply rely on IAB standards for their builds and even with decent resources, redesigning the player means redesigning the layout and site which is not a small task for many.

To some publishers, it seems that the Google AFV product team looked at YouTube as the gold standard and decided that all video advertising would have to be compliant with the display of that environment.  They feel that Google cannot play both roles. Ad Network vendor and social user experience governance cannot co-exist like that as it's a conflict of church and state. This has existed since publishers have relied on display advertising as well as subscription models for revenue. Publishers also stated that most of the other ad networks they have worked with do not force display policies such as this as the publishers would never display client advertisements in a poor setting as the advertiser would never come back. The market works just fine this way.

While I am not a publisher of video and don't use any ad network/platform, I think publishers have a real case here. Especially the smaller publishers who could be pushed out of the market if Google's Adsense becomes the dominant platform and content publishers are forced to have to use the system.

Are you a content publisher? I'd love to hear what you think about this in the comments section below.