More auto sites turning to syndicated video content

The automotive purchase experience isn’t just about a list of features or squeezing out the best deal or even a convenient dealer location.  Buyers want to know how the vehicle truly looks and feels, as well as how it will make them feel.  There’s no substitute for test driving, but shoppers who aren’t ready to hit the dealer lot can rely on online video to address many of their research needs.

With video now an expected part of the online experience, no major automotive site can afford to NOT have it.  There’s certainly a lot of it available.  Every major automotive website gives its visitors the ability to video test drive the vehicles and perhaps take detailed video tours.  OEM sites, in particular, will sometimes produce video that highlights features, functionality, heritage, how-to instructions, etc.  Of course, OEMs have an inherent advantage in the video arms race, as they can repurpose video creative from other corporate sources.

One major player behind this trend is WheelsTV.  The site bills itself as “Automotive Internet Television” and offers a range of videos covering auto shows, motorsports, classics, test drives, etc.  It’s the latter category that has proven especially popular on other automotive sites, allowing WheelsTV to become a major syndicator of automotive videos.

Their most popular products are their Quick Vehicle Profiles and New Vehicle Test Drives.  These videos are incorporated into some of the most-visited third-party automotive sites, including:

  • AOL  Autos.  Profile and test drive videos.  Also offers DriverTV videos for many 2010 models and those prior to 2010 (when available), e.g. 2007 Toyota Camry.
  • Autotrader.  Profile and test drive videos.
  • MSN Autos. Test drive videos, including older models, e.g. 2008 Lexus SC 430 and 2009 Toyota Camry).  Shows ads before the videos, while the other portals do not.
  • NADA Guides.  Test drives videos delivered via Vehix.
  • Vehix.  Test drive and auto show videos.  Even though Vehix produces some of its own video content (175 total), WheelsTV dominates the video section (711 total).
  • Yahoo Autos: Profile and First Look Videos.  The latter is focused on new entries and redesigned vehicles.

The same content can also be found on general video sites such as YouTube and DailyMotion, which creates broader brand exposure and ancillary ad-based revenue. produces its own video reviews, featuring an individual reviewer doing the video walk around.  From a consumer point of view, the videos are less slick but clearly differentiated as coming from – it’s not the same thing you see everywhere else.  Cars supplements this content with [much longer] video reviews from MotorWeek.

I was also surprised to find an OEM among the WheelsTV licensees.  Kia utilizes the profile and test drive videos for multiple models, including the Borrego, Forte, Forte Koup, Rondo, Soul, and Sorento.  In the plus column, the independently-produced content is a unbiased assessment of Kia’s vehicles, which should evoke greater consumer trust.   On the downside, the videos contain zero branding, which is a critical function of the OEM brand site.  Additionally, by abdicating the responsibility of producing the content Kia leaves itself vulnerable to having none at all, as shown below with the Sedona.

Consumer research needs varies so greatly that it has become impractical for any single site to produce the full range of content.  Third party sites have to pick and choose what they create themselves and what they license from others.  It’s clear that video has fallen into the latter category.

Mobile Internet will be Bigger than Desktop Internet

Morgan Stanley recently released a report on the state of the Internet containing the most thought-provoking conclusion “Mobile will be bigger than desktop Internet in 5 years.”

The report defines mobile as including phones, PDAs, iPads, car electronics, entertainment devices, appliances, etc.  Morgan Stanley identifies five converging trends that are contributing to the mobile Internet explosion:

  • 3G
  • Social networking
  • Video
  • VoIP
  • Impressive mobile devices (thank you, Apple)

3G went globally mainstream in 2010 (finally!) when it crossed the 20% penetration threshold, creating a path for the delivery of even more advanced content.

Social networking has been increasing in importance, as evidenced by the recent news that Facebook surpassed Google as the most-visited U.S. web site for the week ending March 13 (source: Hitwise).  And these users often want to be able to connect from wherever they are, whenever they want, which spurs further mobile Internet usage.

Mobile video has grown slowly to this point but is projected to explode over the next five years, once again driven by the consumer desire to watch what they want, whenever they want.

Taken together, it is unsurprising that mobile Internet growth has far outpaced the earlier growth of the desktop Internet.  The slide below uses iPhone+iTouch sales as a proxy for mobile Internet and AOL/Netscape usage as proxies for desktop Internet.

The implications of this change are almost innumerable.  The future of desktop and laptop computing.  The relative positioning of the current technology giants and the possibility for new entrants.  Continued pressure on traditional telecom companies.   New services such as location-based tools and mobile commerce.  And so on.

Within automotive, some OEMs and third-party sites have committed to mobile, but even these leaders are only scratching the surface by offering stripped down Web sites for small screens.  Eventually, we will see entirely new services that were unimaginable before the mobile Internet became a reality.  Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with baby steps.

Roundtable Recap: Online Video Web Sites, New Approaches to Reaching the Customer

Online Video Web sites: What’s New and What’s Next
Modertor: Kerri Wise, J.D. Power and Associates
Panelists: Mike Baker, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc.; JP Colaco, Hulu; Jamie Byrne, YouTube/Google; John Lisko, Saatchi & Saatchi LA

  • Overviews of Hulu and YouTube were presented (check out the video for the details). Each of these sites can be considered the gold standard, providing great opportunities for marketers, but in automotive, marketers are still working to figure out how to use video well.
  • Dealers are often using 30 second television spots and putting them up on sites, linked to YouTube. Some, more advanced dealers are using video search engine optimization (VSEO).
  • Dealer videos need to convey a sense of trust through a sincere message.
  • There are opportunities to allow consumers to choose their ad, for example let them choose an ad before watching a video on Hulu depending on which vehicle they are most interested in.
  • As consumers get more comfortable with video, it is possible it may displace banner ads in the automotive marketing space.
  • It is important to change up the creative so it is not the same vehicle ad that consumers must view at each break.
  • The clickthrough is misleading, especially with layover ads because many consumers click just to get it to close.
  • The message and the context is critical – marketers need to adjust they way they communicate with consumers.
  • In response to the question about where video will be two years from now, the panelists said:
  • JP: It’ll be more taregeted/personalized with custom content through more hyper level targeting.
  • Jamie: Content will be more fragmented, audiences will choose their platforms and advertising will need to be more interest-based.
  • John: Banner ads will probably drop and video ads will be more robust.
  • Mike: Ads on service and communicating a sincere message about why service is important will be available for those customers who opt in.

New Approaches to Reaching the Consumer
Modertor: Michael Yang, Comcast Ventures
Panelists: Jad Dunning,; Hesky Kutscher, High Gear Media; Scott Painter,; David Sturtz, RepairPal; Tom Taira,

  • Service is a great opportunity to reach out to consumers after purchase, especially because it is ongoing.
  • There are opportunities for conversions around innovations on cars by focusing on the research phase (the middle funnel). This provides opportunities for parts-makers and accessories to reach in-market-repair customers.
  • There are opportunities to reach the consumer through referenceable third party indexes for price to help close the deal. The dealer and the customer both know fair prices through sites like Kelley Blue Book. Sites like TrueCar offer transaction information so the dealer can price the vehicle fairly upfront.
  • Providing opinions to help consumers make decisions is also a way to reach them. Using facebook apps, myspace apps, etc. help stimulate conversations around cars.
  • Display ads may not be a good way to influence the consumer, but having OEs insert their brand into conversations on sites is an opportunity on sites that provide tools to consumers.

Viewing the German OEM TV Sites

I love online video. I get my TV programming from Hulu, sports highlights via, and memes and music videos on YouTube. Then there’s embedded video on all kinds of sites and blogs. Naturally, a lot of automotive video content can be found online that is thoroughly enjoyable and even (gasp!) useful.

Most automotive manufacturers offer videos on their brand Web sites, but it’s usually a supplement to the photo galleries. German premium brands, on the other hand, have made a bigger commitment to online video. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz in particular have online TV channels with video content that spans auto show footage, product releases, commercials, motorsports, corporate history, lifestyle, etc.

BMW recently launched a robust online TV site, first in English and then scheduled for twelve additional languages. As of late September, there were over 250 videos available. BMW has also loaded most (if not all) of this content to their BMWwebTV channel on YouTube, which will help them reach an even broader audience. Further, its U.S. brand site carries a completely different set of over 200 videos in a separate video section. This content is aimed at owners, especially the feature and program descriptions (e.g. Bluetooth, Full Maintenance Program).
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I like the fact that both sites look and feel like the most commonly visited video sites online with straightforward functionality, simple filters or search, and user ratings. Video sites should be user-friendly and BMW has succeeded in that regard.

On the flip side, Audi’s TV site is far more difficult to use. You can only scan a few videos at a time and the categories are not intuitive. It requires a lot of hunting to find what you want. The content itself seems more England-centric – for instance, the homepage recently lead off with an English soccer video.
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The Mercedes-Benz TV site is even more complicated, with a number of controls that have to be learned in order to access the content. Mercedes-Benz has also created a YouTube channel but for some reason has only uploaded a few videos.
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All three online TV sites seem to be aimed at international audiences, reflecting a broader marketing strategy to push this content online. In the U.S., I see the primary audience as automotive enthusiasts, since most American Internet users seem to avoid branded entertainment. Further, the complexity of the Audi and Mercedes-Benz sites will further limit the audience. We like our video, but please keep it simple, stupid.

Reaching New Vehicle Buyers Online: Getting Your Message to the Right Audience (Webcast replay)

We recently presented (via Webcast) the latest results from the Online Media Behavior Study. This groundbreaking study combines two sources, clickstream data provided by Compete, Inc.’s online panel and actual new-vehicle buyers gathered by the Power Information Network, to create unique behavioral data. The results provide a measure of monthly Internet activity that can be used by media planners to find Web sites with the greatest reach among actual new-vehicle prospective buyers. During this Webcast, the following topics were discussed:

  • Visitation trends
  • Usage of specific sites
    • Portals
    • Social Networks
    • Blogs
    • Travel Sites
  • Reach and target composition of the top 400 sites (data available on 7000+ sites)

Replay the Webcast

Download the presentations (PDF format)

Video on Third-Party Sites

It took over a decade, but Internet video is finally mainstream. Data from eMarketer shows that 80% of Internet users viewed video in 2008, up from 74% in 2007. Video has long been part of the automotive Internet experience, since it’s a great mechanism to demonstrate vehicles in action: see them, hear them, and understand how they work. Manufacturers have used video for years and more recently, automotive third party sites have also beefed up their own offerings in the video arena.

Vehix has perhaps the most extensive library, having made a huge commitment by producing its own video (test drives and crash tests) in addition to offering content from both Car & Driver and Wheels TV. But almost every major third-party site now incorporates video in some way. For this analysis, I visited eleven sites: AOL Autos, Autotrader, Car & Driver,, Edmunds, kbb, MSN Autos, NADA Guides, Road & Track, Vehix, and Yahoo! Autos.

The most common videos are vehicle reviews / test drives (usually between one and three minutes) that are integrated into the vehicle research sections. This approach makes them quickly available to shoppers researching specific vehicles. But since not everyone shops in the same way, it’s also helpful to make videos available from one central location. I particularly liked’s video search functionality (shown below). Video galleries, offered by and MSN Autos, are also an effective and familiar method to serve up many videos at once.

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A few sites go beyond the baseline video functionality

  • offers auto show videos and interviews. Some of its videos also run up to 10 minutes, a great resource for people who want it .
  • Vehix offers buying guides, crash tests, and informational videos. Consumers can learn about topics such as “Saving Gas”, “Next Generation Shifting” and “Torque: It Pulls.  While many sites publish this kind of information via print, which can be digested quickly, videos can be more entertaining and easier to understand because of the visuals.

Vehix also encourages others to use its videos with embeddable links. In fact, both and use Vehix content in lieu of creating their own. Another example of sharing/licensing is found on Autotrader and Vehix, which use videos from Wheels TV.

One sometimes frustrating aspect of video reviews is incomplete availability. For instance, has video reviews for the 2008 Acura RDX and TSX, but not the MDX, RL, or TL. So it’s not always possible to cross-shop multiple vehicles using comparable information, especially when looking at 2009 models. It’s understandable that creating professional videos takes time and money, but the limitation is noticeable from the consumer perspective.

Another notable nuisance is the use of pre-roll ads. AOL Autos and MSN Autos, in particular, make heavy use of pre-rolls since this is how videos are served throughout the portals. And while consumers seem to generally accept ads as a precondition for video viewing, I wonder whether that tolerance extends to getting a Ford ad before watching a video for the 2009 BMW X6 on Edmunds. (Note: Vehix also uses pre-rolls.)

Despite these issues, automotive video is a great online resource, bringing the user one step closer to a virtual test drive. And user behavior would seem to demonstrate video’s increasing important: a mid-year study from Google showed that searches for vehicle names along with “video” had increased 237% over 2007. So far, only a few third-party sites have made a strong commitment to video (especially beyond reviews & test drives), but with its increasing importance in the online world we’ll probably see that shift in the near future.

Roundtable Recap: Online Video

In-Text and In-Banner Video Advertising
Panelists: Michael Hayes, Initiative Media; DeLu Jackson, Subaru; Chuck Sullivan, Chrysler

Online video advertising is currently a small portion of many online ad budgets but it is a rapidly growing area. New vehicle shoppers are online and advertisers need to engage these customers in the digital space.

Short and long form video content for in-text and in-banner video advertising (such as the Ram Challenge) can allow marketers to go beyond the traditional purchase funnel, moving from building awareness to entertaining and influencing opinion. Targeting can help these videos reach the appropriate audience with the goal of improving market share. There is an opportunity for in-text and in-banner video advertising to succeed, but these must be used selectively and in context in order to not be interruptive and to deliver a relevant message. And as with paid search, it is dynamic so constant optimization of placements and keywords is crucial.

Whether awareness will take a back seat to more targeted marketing remains to be debated and to be proven in the marketplace, but it is certain that developing online video assets will continue to play a key role in online advertising. Looking ahead, improved measurability, behavior targeting and retargeting will help auto marketers reach the right shoppers at the right time.

Ad-Supported Video Entertainment: Internet’s Future?
Panelists: J.P. Colaco, Hulu; Mark Loughney, ABC Televison Network; Shiva Rajaraman, YouTube; Wendi Dunlap, Beyond Interaction

Video entertainment is one of the fastest growing aspects of the Internet. J.P. Colaco of Hulu opened this breakout session with the remark that “Online video is an undeniable trend.  Colaco encouraged auto marketers to take advantage of this unique online environment, to get creative with content and to be a part of strong consumer experiences.

There are different models of integrating advertising into the user experience. Some sites are finding that users prefer when they have a choice for when they see advertising—either watching the ad in full prior to the content to get a seamless viewing experience, or watching shorter ads placed throughout the content. Regardless of the ad format or the option of user choice, it is clear that online content cannot rely solely on repurposed :30 ad spots. Users are excited about entertaining and relevant ads, and truly online content plays an important role in ad-supported video entertainment. We are just beginning to try to understand how users interact with online content and advertising; the challenge is to experiment and innovate within the limitations of the cost of creative.

New vehicle buyers are watching videos online, and opportunities for properly identifying the desired audience continue to grow. The role of communities and micro-communities emerging around automotive brands provides additional opportunities for ad-targeting and geotargeting opportunities allow you to get ads to the local level. Ad-supported video is becoming a core part of the funnel to reach consumers online.

2008 Roundtable Presentations

We just wrapped up almost 3 days of speakers, panel discussions, meetings, networking, and parties at the J.D Power and Associates Automotive Internet Roundtable. If you were one of the 800 people who joined us, we hope that we met or exceeded your expectations and that you’ll join us again next year. If you weren’t, we hope to convince you to make it in 2009.

Either way, we wanted to make some of that great information available to everyone who’s interested in the automotive Internet. Please also consider passing this information along to colleagues who weren’t able to make it.

To see all the general session videos, please click here.

Day 1 – October 7

J.D. Power Automotive Online Marketing Review – Gene Cameron, Scott Kane
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Third Party Sites in the New Economy – Mark O’Neil, Chip Perry, Ian MacDonald, Mitch Glub, Grant Whitmore, Anna Zornosa, Rob Chesney
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OEM Marketers and Dealer Group Discussion – Eric Jillard, Scott Kelly, Erich Marx, Ed Vogt, Rachel Richards, Cassie Broemmer, Dave Metter, Brent Hillyer
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Internet Mystery Shopping Results – Chris Denove
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Catalyst Creative Awards Presentation – Dillon McDonald, Eve Maidenburg
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Day 2 – October 8

Keynote: Future of the Internet – Tom Leighton
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User Generated Content (UGC): Scope and Relevance – Chance Parker
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Survival in the US Auto Industry: One Launch at a Time – Gary Dilts
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Internet Insights: Engagement – Dennis Galbraith
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In-Text and In-Banner Advertising – Gabe Greenberg, Michael Hayes, DeLu Jackson, Chuck Sullivan
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Dealer Ratings and Reputation Management – Famous Rhodes, John Isaac, Lesley Kao, Langley Steinert
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OEM Case Study – Alex Hultgren, Cary Tilds
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Search: What You’re Doing Wrong – Lon Bollenbacher, Davang Shah, David Jakubowski, Joe Orr, Matt Muilenburg
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Social Media: It’s Here. It’s Huge. Will it Sell More Cars? – Tom Peyton, Jeff Berman, John Lisko
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The Green Internet: Alternative Fuels – Tim Hand, Janet Eden-Harris, Doug Frisbie, Rick Wainschel, Eric Bolstad
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Ad-Supported Video Entertainment: Internet’s Future? – Gene Cameron, J.P. Colaco, Mark Loughney, Shiva Rajaram, Wendi Dunlap
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Mobile Web: Starting to Show, Will it Grow? – Mathew Belk, Jason Gruber, Eric Larson, Sharon Knitter, Mike Sage, Chandra Hill
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Upper Funnel Metrics: Developing Accountability for Online Branding – Jon Schulz, Gunnar
d Johnson, Jarvis Mak, Brigette Lytle, Dough Frisbie, James Lamberti
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Roundtable Summary, Highlights and Review – Charlie Vogelheim, Cliff Banks, Chuck Parker, Jeff Kershner, David Kiley
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Day 3 – October 9

Internet Optimization: A Non-Automotive Case Study – Michael Yang
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Getting Reach on the Internet – Bethany Mach, Michael Yang, Justin Yaros, Chris Vanderhook, Bryce Emo, Jamie Fellows
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The Global Internet: Lessons From Abroad – Stephen Henson, Gabe Greenberg, Colin Petrie-Norris, Jonathan Ord, Alvaro Montero
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Content Targeting: Akamai – Brian Apley, David Harris, Chuck Hoover, Bob Doppel
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Optimal OEM Site Video Length

One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received when presenting the J.D. Power and Associates’ Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study (MWES) is related to the optimal length of video on OEM sites. What’s the magical amount of time where shoppers feel they’ve received enough information to feel satisfied, but not overwhelmed because of too much information? Should sites provide all of the information in one long video or should they offer smaller bites of video, allowing shoppers to go directly to the information that they desire, but forcing shoppers to make more clicks to get through it all?

My usual response is similar to my responses to other difficult client questions – it depends. So I set out to find out the length of video that most satisfied shoppers. Videos on OEM sites are mostly used to demonstrate two things: vehicle features and vehicle images/driving capabilities. I assumed that if a site scores significantly above the industry average in both the Options/Features/Specifications and Vehicle Images attributes, then that site would qualify for a starting point of pulling in best practice video demonstrations. Similarly, if a site scored significantly below the industry for both attributes, then the site would provide lessons learned in video.

Audi and GMC scored significantly below the industry average in both attributes, while Lexus, Porsche, HUMMER and Honda scored significantly above the industry. I excluded HUMMER, as the site relies on comprehensive feature demonstrations and image-rich photo galleries to overcome its relative lack of videos.

The primary lesson taken from the bottom-performing sites is that videos are almost mandatory. Audi’s A4 does not offer any videos in its gallery or features section. GMC’s Sierra HD provides no videos in the model’s features section and one video in its photo gallery. That video lasts for 2:49 and covers Exterior, Interior, Performance, Specs and Accessories topics.

Top performing sites, on the other hand, treat videos differently depending on where the video is located and what it is demonstrating. For example, the Lexus RX and Porsche 911 photo galleries tend to have much longer video demonstrations than their features videos. The RX gallery provides one video lasting 3:13 and covering multiple topics, similar to GMC’s video. Porsche, trying to connect with its shoppers’ emotions and passion, provides three videos in the 911 gallery ranging from 4:30 to a whopping 9:30 and covering topics such as precision, performance and heritage. The Honda Accord’s photo gallery video content is limited, offering only a 0:30 commercial and a 0:30 driving footage video.

The one common strategy among the top three performing sites was their use of integrated video throughout each site’s features content. Honda, Porsche and Lexus all use short videos to demonstrate the available model features. Honda had the longest average video demonstration length at 1:25, Porsche followed with 0:57 and Lexus relied on short videos averaging 0:17 in length.

Key Takeaways

So what can be taken from this analysis beyond it depends?

  • Shoppers are more accepting of longer videos in the photo gallery. They’ve come to your gallery and want to see the vehicle in action.
  • When shoppers are looking through features information the most appropriate video length seems to fall between 0:20 and 1:30.
  • Adjust the video length depending on the type of shopper you’re serving and the complexity of the feature you’re demonstrating.
  • Ensure that videos are integrated throughout the OEM site and easily accessible while shoppers are looking at features. The old strategy of sending shoppers to a video section to learn about some features and then have them go to different features sections to read about additional features is far surpassed by a synthesized shopping experience.

Automotive Marketing and Media Annual Review

Yesterday, we held our 2008 Automotive Marketing and Annual Media Review at the McGraw-Hill building in Manhattan. The event is geared toward helping publishers understand current automotive trends, especially as related to consumer media and Internet behavior, but the information is broadly applicable to anyone involved in the automotive industry.

Topics covered include:

  • Keeping Score in the Industry: Sales Highpoints
  • Power Auto Offline Media Report, Spring Update
  • The Online Shopping Process
  • Word of Mouth (Buzz)
  • Auto and Media Patterns by Generation
  • Auto and Media Patterns by Ethnicity & Heritage
  • Hybrid Vehicles and the Green Consumer
  • Shared Platforms, Less is More
  • New Models, A Look Forward

For those who missed the live presentation or webcast, you can:

Download the presentation

Please feel free to comment below with any suggestions on how we might improve the event (live or online) in the future.