Video advertising was a subject that Randy Petersen dreaded raising with his network of 70-plus travel bloggers, due to disastrous experiences in the past.
Petersen is known for having travelled millions of miles and has been described as the ‘Frequent Flyer Miles Guru’.
He has founded multiple companies, including BoardingArea, a blog network for business travellers which focuses on frequent flyer miles and points.
Petersen says that he had bad experiences with video advertising networks, which caused videos to auto-play (a big problem when many of your readers are accessing pages from planes with slow internet connections).
He had avoided video advertising for several years before deciding to switch to EX.CO, a publisher-first solution which allowed him to get his bloggers on board.
BoardingArea: From magazine to website to blogging network
BoardingArea has been online for more than 25 years, and Petersen describes himself as an ‘early adopter’ of new technology. The site began life as a magazine in the late 80s, and Petersen launched his first website in 1995, FlyerTalk.
BoardingArea is now a network of more than 70 bloggers, which publishes 120 pieces of content per day, Petersen explains. In total, Petersen’s sites serve up around two billion adverts per year.
Petersen says: “We host the blogger’s adverts, we build their sites and we run the exclusive network for their display advertising. Over the years, we’ve gone from people telling us to get real jobs to people now wanting our jobs.”
Petersen attributes the success of BoardingArea to sticking to a successful formula and not branching out into other areas.
“We have a narrow niche – we’re all about the business traveller and the frequent flyer,” he says. “Mostly about miles and points around the globe. We stayed within our niche and it’s grown very, very well. We average just under a million sessions a day across our network.”
First BoardingArea video advertising was a disaster
Petersen said he has always been experimental in adopting new technology and tested out video advertising a few years ago. It was an unmitigated disaster and was highly unpopular with the bloggers in the BoardingArea network.
He says: “In the early days, video was very demanding for bandwidth. It came with audio switched on as a default to begin with. It soured the reading experience for a lot of readers.”
The reaction from the bloggers on Petersen’s network was furious.
“We shut down after about three months,” he says. “The feedback from each blogger was that our readers are complaining about the video.”
The nature of the content published by BoardingArea made it essential that blogs load quickly. Petersen explains: “For us, it’s very important not to damage that because sometimes our readers are trying to access on a flight, where there’s no bandwidth, or in hotel lobbies that don’t have a great deal of bandwidth either. The reading experience really matters.”
After pulling the video adverts, Petersen focused on building the rest of his advertising stack, and said “Video had become a distant memory – a bad one.”
Needed a video ads solution ‘that wouldn’t embarrass me’
When Peterson finally returned to video advertising, he investigated pitches from various companies in his inbox before settling on EX.CO. Petersen noticed that most video advertising companies seemed to promise vast increases in revenue, but that wasn’t what he was initially looking for.
He said: “I was still looking for a solution that wouldn’t embarrass me with the bloggers. They were like elephants, they never forgot. They always remembered the video experience. They still said, ‘You have to promise that it won’t be audio-on.’”
He spoke to a representative at EX.CO and liked the company’s approach, in part because the adoption of EX.CO wasn’t viewed as an ad unit by Google, it was viewed as content, which meant it didn’t interfere with existing advertising.
Petersen said: “We did a demo. I liked what I saw because it really was about content and that’s a big thing for me.”
Content-first video advertising
The EX.CO ad units showed content first, based on an RSS feed from each blog, and only then segued into showing video.
“I thought that was a novel approach,” Petersen says. “The bloggers loved me. They like the idea that content was showing because somebody could click on the video of content and stay within the blog. In fact, they were going deeper into the blog.”
Petersen says he has stayed loyal to EX.CO in part because “the customer service has been extraordinary”. With one blogger, EX.CO created a custom video player specifically for his blog which appears embedded within the content itself.
Video ads have become top revenue channel
EX.CO suggested a small change to the way Petersen interacted with demand partners, which ended up boosting his revenues, by running demand through EX.CO players. The move was an instant success, and within a couple of months of adopting the process, EX.CO was the number one revenue channel for the whole company.
The average revenue lift per site has been 27%, with more than 12 million player loads per month. The adoption of EX.CO’s player also tripled dwell time across BoardingArea’s network of sites.
“They run about 30% of our revenue,” Petersen says. “Two years ago, that was nothing. So this is all a plus to bloggers and it doesn’t take away an ad unit from our regular ad stack from Google.”
The problem of auto-playing videos with audio on has never resurfaced since the move to EX.CO.
“We have never had a video that came on with audio, in the millions we have put out to display,’ Petersen says. “So I have been able to solve that issue with the bloggers. In this case, video is not video. It’s content first, and that has solved our problems.”
Being able to customise content was highly important to Petersen, who needed a player that could read news in multiple local languages from Korean to German to Brazilian Portuguese.
“The player has been able to make exceptions for those languages,” he says.
Peterson said that as well as being a technology company, he sees EX.CO as a customer service company: “In today’s world that’s not a bad thing!”
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