In OTT advertising, you get what you pay for. Or do you?

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVThere's a bit of contradictory news this week about what people want when they dash off to watch video on a second screen—also known as over-the-top content or OTT. The contradiction is not surprising, since most people don't know most of the time what they want anyway, but it does offer some insight into how pay TV providers—MVPDs as it were—have an opportunity to cement their customer relationships and fend off outside competition.

A survey pushed by digital brand advertising software and services vendor YuMe suggested that people are willing to sit through pre-roll advertisements (as if they have a choice) to get free short-form content on connected devices.

"Most consumers are OK with ads," Travis Hockersmith, senior director of client strategy at YuMe told me. After I chuckled, he did add the qualifier that "no one will say that they love ads, but most will say they're OK with ads because they understand the value exchange that's going on; they get good content and in return they watch ads."

Makes sense, especially the part about no one loving ads—and don't you just love that fast forward button? Results from a second screen study performed by Deloitte, though, came up with some less heartening news for advertisers.

According to that study, "68 percent (of viewers) would not want the websites for products, personalities or adverts that have just been shown on television to automatically appear on their computer, tablet or smartphone."

Admittedly, there's a bit of apples and oranges here. YuMe is talking about non-skippable pre-roll advertising that a viewer must sit through before getting to watch the content; Deloitte is talking about a further advertising intrusion on the consumer's second screen. Pre-roll is like a movie trailer—annoying, but there's a movie coming up eventually. Automatic ads are like those cold sales pitch calls that led to the birth of the somewhat ineffective "no call list." If you can avoid them, you do.

Whichever survey results appeal to you—or perhaps a combination of the two make the most sense—both show that advertising is on the minds of consumers even as they search for "free" content on their second, third, mobile and stationary screens. They might not want to pay, and they certainly don't want the intrusion, but they are willing to concede that there is no longer any such thing as a free lunch when it comes to OTT video.

That, at least from my perspective, is good news for MVPDs. One of the big attractions to over-the-top content has always been that it's free—or at least some semblance of free/cheap; and free makes it worthwhile to fight a little harder to find it and be a little more patient until it turns up. If you tack on ads, you make it the same as what's already available most of the time via pay-TV service video-on-demand. So why bother with OTT? The content's sometimes tougher to find, slower to access, the quality is often less than what the pay TV provider offers and now it's free—with an asterisk.

"Consumers are not focused on screens," Hockersmith told me. "They're focused on content and they just reach to whatever screen can deliver that content to them."

There might be an opportunity for advertisers if that content is unavailable via the traditional pay-TV route. It's certainly an opportunity for the smart MVPD that makes its content—free or otherwise—easier to find and better to look at.--Jim