The Ad Man Cometh

November 30, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

The time has come for full disclosure. I feel as if I owe my readers an explanation about why ReelViews has, in less than one year, gone from being "The Largest Non-Commercial Movie-Related Site on the Net" to a site where it's tough to find a recent page that doesn't have some form of advertising. I don't like that circumstances have forced this change. If I was financially able, I would love to have been able to keep ReelViews clean, but that ignores economic realities. My "day job" is not as secure as it once was. The company I work for has been sold twice, and each sale has resulted in harsh cuts. Rumors have us being sold again next year. I have thus far managed to retain my job, but I don't know how long that will continue. And if/when the layoff happens, I will have to make some hard decisions. Right now, I don't need the extra income being provided by the ads. It's nice to have a little extra pocket change (and it will make the IRS happy since my secondary business will no longer show a loss), but the reality is that this is the begining of long-term planning.

If I lose my job, I have two options. The first, most obvious one is to go out and obtain similar employment. The problem is that my current job affords me incredible schedule flexibility. I can work five hours during the day and another three at night. I can work on weekends if I feel the need and lighten my workload during the week. I can work from home, eliminating the commute. And I rarely have to put in more than 45 hours per week. Most, if not all, of these perks would be gone with a new job. And, judging by the reports of colleagues who have moved elsewhere, 70-80 hours a week is more likely total. It's not hard to guess what that would do to my movie reviewing. The most likely scenario: ReelViews would be immediately diminished then would eventually cease to exist. I don't want that and I doubt anyone reading this wants that, but it's the likely byproduct of simply "getting another job."

The second option is the one I'm currently positioning myself for: to make a living from the website and other writing. I have crunched the numbers and, while I don't believe it will be easy, I do believe it will be possible, especially if I can stave off unemployment for a few years. Advertising contracts and contacts take a while to mature, but there's a slow ramp-up. I wish I could say there will be fewer ads on ReelViews in the future; the reality is there will be more. Even now, I'm struggling with placement. One of the reasons for the new look of the site is to minimize the intrusiveness of the ads.

For now, while I don't have limitations on standard banner/text/image ads, there are three types I am rejecting: pop-unders, moving images, and ads with sound. HOWEVER, this is only a ban that will be in force while I have my day job. I have looked at the revenue portraits of these kinds of ads and they will be needed if I transition to making ReelViews my primary income source. (The average pop-under ad pays four times as much as the average standard ad, for example.) For now, I don't need them, and as long as "need" doesn't come into it, they won't appear. I'll keep them away for as long as I can, but don't be surprised if sometime in the (hopefully distant) future, I begin using them.

Finally, a word on ethics. A while ago, I questioned the ethics of advertising for individual movies on a review site. In fact, I took a position against it. I was immediately flooded by e-mails arguing that merely advertising something did not connote an endorsement or even the appearance of an endorsement. So it is that I have allowed individual movies to advertise through Google ads (and soon through Burst Media), but I am still inclined to turn down direct ad requests from the studios. For some undefinable reason, I feel less ambiguous about doing this with a middle man involved.

Idealism is a wonderful thing, but economic reality kills it quickly. I managed to keep ReelViews commercial-free for ten years, and I consider that to be something of an accomplishment. Now, as ReelViews enters a new era with a new look (loved by some, hated by others), my hope is that the content will continue to be the driving force that will keep readers coming and that the presence of advertisers will be tolerated and, in some cases, taken advantage of. Believe it or not, there are interesting things at the other end of some of those links.