YouTube’s CTV ad changes: “unskippable” opportunity or potential pitfall for advertisers?

YouTube has announced two changes to its CTV ads format. While many experts believe they present a good opportunity for brands to increase their visibility, some warn of the dangers of becoming a “visual tax” for viewers.

YouTube has unveiled a duo significant changes to its connected TV (CTV) ads experience, announced earlier this week at YouTube Brandcast.

The first change impacts advertisers looking to expand their CTV investment, with YouTube adding 30 second non-skippable ads to its YouTube Select content on CTVs. YouTube Select is made up of what the company deems to be its top videos.

The video sharing company claims this change better aligns with advertisers’ objectives to run longer-form creatives on the big screen, by way of facilitating richer storytelling. It stated in a press release: “YouTube Select is now landing over 70% of impressions on the TV screen, so we’re making it easier for you to use existing assets in front of the most-streamed content.

“This format also seamlessly fits into what viewers already expect and experience on the big screen. Instead of seeing two 15-second ads consecutively, they'll see one 30-second ad.”

The second adjustment will reconfigure how ads appear when a video is paused. When a CTV viewer pauses a video, to drive ”awareness or action by owning that unique interactive moment when people pause a video”, it will shrink and an ad will appear in a window beside it.

A YouTube spokesperson said: “This is seamless for viewers and allows them to learn more about your brand.”

An opportunity not free from risk

Many experts agree that these changes present an opportunity for brands to increase the visibility of their commercials, but are aware of the potential pitfalls of viewers aligning their brand with the idea of a “visual tax”.

James Cannell, Chief Brand Officer at Team ITG, said: “This poses a real challenge for marketers. Appearing as a ‘visual tax’ before users can view their chosen content is not necessarily the way you want your brand to be perceived, but if you can properly target customers with engaging ads that are relevant and interesting to them as individuals, then it could be a fantastic opportunity to get more eyes on your content.”

Ed Blakeway, Head of Programmatic at performance brand agency Journey Further, added: "The introduction of a 30-second unskippable ad may raise concerns, but it mirrors the broader TV experience where such ads are common. While not suitable for every advert, it adds to the existing range of formats, providing greater options for marketers. Additionally, the new paused video ad is a clever and cost-efficient strategy, ensuring 100% viewability and effectively building frequency with users."

“Unskippable doesn’t mean unavoidable”

On the contrary, Mike Follett, CEO of Lumen, believes marketers need to be aware that there is no way to guarantee 100% viewability and raised serious concerns over the efficacy of unbalancing the “attention value exchange”.

He said: “It’s important to bear in mind that unskippable doesn’t mean unavoidable. People can still look away from the screen even if you interrupt what they want to watch. Linear TV ads are, in that sense, ‘unskippable’ and they don’t get 100% attention.

“What’s more, marketers must beware of violation of the ‘attention value exchange’. Ad-supported media has an implicit contract: the viewer gets free content in exchange for viewing some ads. If there are too many, or these ads interrupt the experience too abruptly, then the balancing act between cost and value is likely to swing too far and people will stop using the ad-supported service.

“Perhaps this is YouTube’s idea: ruin the ad supported experience for enough people so that they will upgrade to the paid-for subscription service without ads. In which case, this is a further kick in the teeth for the poorest members of society, who will be the only people who have to ‘endure’ advertising. This formulation of the problem is bad for equality but it’s also bad for how we think about the industry. Who wants to work for a business that makes ‘attentional pollution’?

“It’s much better to embrace the idea of ‘voluntary attention’. By this, I mean to assume that people don’t always have to look at ads and that as an advertiser you have to earn people’s attention with entertaining or useful messages and be respectful of the ‘attention exchange’ inherent in advertising.”