Overlay aims to be the video ad platform for the web and the world. (February 27th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Overlay.TV
- Anyone can advertise on their videos: no deals needed.
- Users pick how and who they advertise, and have an easy time doing it.
- Viewers have as much control as they want over ads.
- Doesn't need a custom app.
- Optionally ties into a FaceBook web app for sign-ins.
- Likely to expand to cellphones, media hubs, and non-Flash platforms.
- No automatic ad creation for heavy-duty users.
- Auto ad creation technology may favor big advertisers over independents.
- Revenue cut isn't as large as for a direct deal.
- Still in a Flash-only public beta (for now).
stepping inside and the inspiration for Overlay.TV
On visiting Overlay.TV's office in downtown Ottawa, Canada, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd somehow visited San Francisco by mistake: If it weren't for the view of snow drifts outside the massive main window, the open, modern loft space would be perfect for a northern California startup instead of the cubicle-dominated Canadian government town. It's certainly a refreshing break from the monolithic technology firms that dominate the city, such as Adobe (which sits virtually next door) or Corel. The first things that greet most visitors to the office are a flat-panel HDTV and a couch, not the more conventional lobby seats and receptionists that fence the workers away from the guests.
Overlay.TV's Chief Architect, Tyler Cope
The main workspace (visible immediately on setting foot inside the office)
That relaxed, people-first attitude seems to extend through the company's philosophy and its reason for being. Born roughly a year ago in early 2007, the company was the fruit of co-founder and Chief Architect Tyler Cope's experience with his wife's TV viewing habits with a PVR (personal video recorder). He noted that Mrs. Cope, like most PVR owners, was determined to skip the commercials that break up most shows but would still be interested in products she saw in the actual programming. She was open to investigating a product, but only when it was something she saw in the show -- and only on her terms.
To Cope and company chief Rob Lane, that was a sign that advertisers don't really know what works, especially in the world of Internet video. After all, says Lane, no one wants to be pushed a toothpaste commercial while watching a review for a digital camera, but it happens all the time in TV or on many web video services. These company heads believe the only surefire method to solve this dilemma was simply to open the gates. Let content hosts choose how obvious or subtle their advertising may be; give as much control to users as possible, as only they know best what they're interested in.
President and chief executive Rob Lane
This resulted in Overlay's main product: a free video ad service where most any site owner can make money from videos without the usual need for a large (and expensive) viewer base to maintain ad deals, or even the need to sign those deals in the first place. Users can, in theory, simply start up a video blog and begin making money. Hessie Jones, the firm's marketing director, notes that the inherently user-controlled format can create a sense of relevant advertising among even relatively small peer groups, who are more likely to click if they know the advertising was chosen with care. And in some cases, that may involve no advertising at all: unlike Google's AdSense for video, the Overlay.TV system allows users to switch off ads entirely if they don't want to be pressured into a sale while watching the latest Lily Allen music video.
Watching a Lily Allen music video with overlay ads for iTunes, MySpace
There's an upside for advertisers as well, the company claims. While a casual observer might think that sponsors would turn pale at the thought of viewers shutting down their ad spots, many of the more than 600 affiliates already part of Overlay's aggregation service (including Amazon, Apple, and Wal-Mart) are said to be tired of resorting to banner ads and other of web commerce. They want users who click because they're interested in buying, according to Lane, and not just casual clicks or impressions.
The appeal to both camps would quickly become apparent in the company's demo.