I disagree with Fred's assertion that YouTube could be making a ton of money on pre-rolls.
Pre-rolls, in their current form, suck.
No, really suck.
The other day I was watching some great wiffleball footage. Anyone who ever grew up playing would be really jealous of these guys who seemed to record every single pitch on video over eight seasons. Man, I pitched this one game where I gave up one hit and whiffed 25... of course I walked 11, but still... Anyway, repurposed TV car commercials and mortgage ads would have completely ruined the experience for me.... and that's all YouTube really is... its an entertainment experience.
We put up with TV commercials because, they're more than just entertainment. There's social capital being built. We're watching the same shows as our friends... the price for knowing what happens on Nip Tuck is that you have to watch some commercials... but socially, being in the Nip Tuck "know" is very valuable. Plus, we're planted in front of the TV... not much on... the value of switching is pretty low.
But when I watch these wiffleball clips, I may send them to a couple of friends, but its mostly a solitary experience... just pure entertainment value. I don't need to watch them, and there are a million other distracting entertaining things on the web to choose from. If I had to watch a 10 second preroll in front of each one, I'd quickly lose interest, because the entertainment value would suffer.
So how else can YouTube monetize these videos? Rather than a full pre-roll... how about just a "Sponsored by, around the player.... re-skin the player." Maybe not the same CPM, but that wouldn't really ruin my viewing experience.
More interesting would be the idea of a user selected theme of some sort... How about breaking down the elements of a brand and allowing the user to mix them in. So, with the wiffleball videos, the user could be given a little editor that allows him to stick a logo and some text right on the corner of the screen... they select from a menu of choices... they might pick Nike or Adidas or Gatorade or something. Or, let ESPN sponsor the sports videos, pull them onto their site, throw in the SportsCenter theme song, etc. In that scenario, the owner of the video knows something about the content and the audience that allows them to select an ad that fits, in a way that's not obtrusive. Plus, knowing that the owner selected it also makes it part of the content, versus something YouTube tacked on at the beginning.
Plus, the breadth and quality of video advertising has to get a lot better... maybe companies should be putting live offers out on YouTube for people to create advertising for them and make the videos themselves the advertising.
Pre-rolls are non-contextual. They degrade the user experience. They degrade the quality of the content. They are not expressive the way the content itself is.
I know its hard to be creative with your advertising and scale at the same time, but I don't think you'll ever see anyone put up with 10 second prerolls on half the videos they see on YouTube.