Even as consumers come to terms with the fact that some measure of advertising is required for free online content, there is still a negative perception of ads.  An awful lot of people just don’t like them.  Of course, some ad formats are easier to take than others.  As video sites continue experimenting with advertising, we’re beginning to see more innovation, like the skippable advertisement.  And while users have been able to customize their own advertising experience on Hulu for several months, YouTube has held back… until now.

As far back as a year ago, I wrote about YouTube testing skippable ads.  And now, after many more months of research, they’ve finally unveiled TrueView–a new ad format that allows users to skip ads after five seconds if they so desire.  (You may remember that Shishir Mehrotra mentioning TrueView in his recent “4 Ways Video Is Fundamentally Changing” article, which we wrote about here–you could tell he was excited about it and that its launch was imminent.)

And now it’s here.  TrueView will play an ad before a video with a five second countdown at the top of the video player.  It looks like this:

After the five seconds are up, the user is able to skip the video or continue watching it.  If they skip, they’re taken directly to the video they were looking for in the first place.  Within the TrueView system, these skippable ads are called InStream ads.

Now, it might be easy to assume that advertisers are going to hate this, but YouTube’s testing has shown very promising results.  The reason?  Well, they rolled a little AdWords in there as well–advertisers only pay whenever they’re ads are watched in their entirety.  If an ad is skipped, there’s no charge.  This means that the brand is only paying for viewers who have made a conscious choice to watch the ad, which means they get way more bang for their buck.

But there’s more going on with TrueView than just skippable ads.  There’s also something called InSlate.  InSlate allows viewers to select from a group of possible ads which one they’d like to view before getting to their destination content.  This means that consumers now have some measure of control over the ads they are served, which means they’re more likely to pay attention to them.  (It’s worth noting that Hulu has been doing this for some time now). InSlate looks like this:

It’s a win/win, really.  Users have more control over their advertising experience and advertisers get eyeballs that are more engaged.  Everybody wins–unless, of course, 99% of viewers skip the ads, in which case no one wins.  But I’m guessing YouTube’s testing showed that there were enough users willing to watch the ads to make it worth everyone’s while.

For now, TrueView is only available to advertisers with managed channels on YouTube, according to Search Engine Watch, but will soon be available to all advertisers.  Of course, they’ll also have the choice whether they want to participate in TrueView or stick with the more traditional ad formats like pre-roll.  But I have to believe a high number of advertisers will give this thing a look.  There’s too much money to save (by not paying when people skip the ad), and the engagement level of the user who chooses to watch the ad has to be tempting as well.

Could this be the future of video advertising online, as Mehrotra suggests?  I think so.  Users get to feel like the advertisements aren’t as intrusive–either by choosing or skipping their ads–and advertisers get to feel like they’re not throwing money away on disinterested eyeballs.