You’d almost think that ad networks have two site lists: one to show off their best-looking websites when they court advertisers, the other to actually deliver the campaigns once they’re booked.

Of course, it’s all in one list, but that list could be broken up into two. The first one includes the strongest brands, highest quality content and most pertinent audience, but is one in which they either have little access to inventory or where the site’s inventory lacks scale.  The second one includes lesser-known sites with shadier content and black-box traffic patterns; but on this second list, they have access to ample inventory and this is where they, in fact, deliver most of their ads.

Now, before my friends in ad networks — video or display — sweat over where I’m going with this article, calm down.  In fact, given that this is the Video Insider column, this article will focus on the advantages and disadvantages for mid-size video producers to work with ad networks to monetize their video inventory.  As a primer, it should be noted that:

–      SEO is nonexistent with video;

–      The percentage of producers who maintain an owned-and-operated property fell from 56% to 18% from 2007 to 2010;

–      Most publishers monetize their videos across third-party websites ranging from YouTube to smaller publishers where they syndicate their content;

–      Online video remains in its infancy.

Enough with the prelude, let’s roll.

The objective is to maximize revenues

Marketers who buy video ads benchmark their reach to television ads, so they require massive scale.  This handicaps the vast majority of publishers, especially when you consider that the largest video properties are aggregators such as YouTube and Hulu.  To their credit, video ad networks scrambled early on to amalgamate video views across thousands of websites, including large, medium and small ones.  In this context, large actually includes some top-tier ones, but on those, you can imagine, ad networks are deep in the daisy chain priority rank.  Even on mid-sized publishers, ad networks don’t necessarily see many ads, let alone serve the first ones.

But the reality is…

Unlike display inventory, video ads are usually restrained through frequency capping.  As such, most mid-sized or even large properties don’t have that much inventory to sell out.  In this case, it’s preferable to block out all ad networks and sell through your own sales force, who should be able to command higher ad rates anyway.

Here’s where things differ between articles and videos

The problem is, even if you have a sales force, they may not be selling video inventory, relying instead on display ads.

Furthermore, the delta between what your sales force can sell ads for and what an ad network will pay out to you has expanded considerably in the past 12 months.

The Pros and Cons of Listing on An Ad Network’s Roster

But as long as your site URL appears on an ad network’s roster, you give the ad agency or marketer no reason to go through you.  The only reason, in this case, why you should allow your site to appear on such a list is if your owned-and-operated property lacks the kind of unique users that would make you stand out on comScore and Nielsen.  Unless your direct audience is large enough, you’re technically not losing much by adding your site to an ad network’s roster, especially if you have good content, because there’s a high chance that the ad network’s sales force will evangelize you to marketers at a time when you lack the resources to do so yourself. This is the equivalent of great “earned media” in the trade press, so to speak.

Video is so embryonic that conditions on the ground change things over time.  When comScore and YouTube partnered to allow marketers to access partner-level audience demographics, this may have given publishers a disincentive to list on an ad network’s roster because they could now directly command a marketer’s attention  — and budget.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

As long as an ad agency can tap into your inventory via an ad network, they simply won’t ever bother reaching out directly, especially as they’re asked to do more with fewer resources. So even if your audience and reach is distributed on third-party properties, it might make sense to remove your site from the ad network’s site roster — unless they agree to eat into their margin and pay you what you think your audience is worth.