How it works: Server-Side Ad Replacement

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In what promises to be a groundbreaking year for live streaming, server-side advertisement replacement holds the key to monetisation for major broadcasters and rights-holders.

Major events such as the RBS 6 Nations, Copa América Centenario, UEFA EURO 2016 and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games will drive online viewing figures to record highs. Needless to say, it is imperative that effective advertisement strategies are applied in a way that puts the viewing experience first.

Dynamic, server-side ad replacement is the overwhelming preference of broadcasters, especially for live broadcasting, and in this article I’ll explain why.

User Experience

Steve Jobs once said: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” So, bearing that well-informed mantra in mind, what does the viewer expect in live simulcast?

Primarily, they want to see the game, uninterrupted (hence the unpopularity of pre-rolls). When play stops at half-time, an advertisement break is widely accepted – indeed expected – from a commercial broadcaster. The challenge in replacing these advertisements is to ensure frame-accurate, seamless transitions to maintain the viewer’s trust.

A big strength of server-side is that transitions are seamless by nature, especially when you are able to encode advertisement assets ahead of time to exactly match the source profile of the underlying stream. Frame-accuracy is achieved by integrating with the broadcaster’s automation system and conditioning the stream at source, resulting in an experience where the viewer does not even notice the replacement take place.

Engagement

Online streaming benefits from the level of personalisation that can be achieved, which is a potent tool when applied to advertising. By investing in building user profiles and developing knowledge of their audience, broadcasters enable ad breaks to be catered to the interests of the individual viewer.

User engagement is driven further by implementing clickthrough and overlay functionality that corresponds to the advertisement that is being viewed at the time.   Player-side interactivity is triggered by server-side ad calls, meaning the advertiser experiences the best of both worlds – seamless, server-side ad insertions with player-side functionality.

With such a seamless and engaging proposition for the viewer, combined with reliability at the scale required for major audiences, and the fact the business case proves itself time and time again, it’s easy to see why broadcasters were keen to implement server-side advertisement replacement for live sporting events.

Analytics

The principle of combining server-side insertions with player-based benefits can be applied to analytics too – an area that has traditionally been considered a weakness of server-side.

By deploying an analytics SDK in the player, ad views are tracked to the same level of intricacy that has previously been seen solely in client-side solutions. The result is the most compelling approach to monetising live simulcast yet seen.

Most compelling of all to the viewer, who experiences a true broadcast-quality stream without any of the buffering or disruptions that have become so disruptive in online video. Such reliability, combined with personally engaging advertising, resulted in view-through rates of up to 98.7% during last year’s Copa América – an incredible figure, and a genuinely new source of digital revenue for the broadcaster.

I almost forgot to mention ad blockers. So much debate is raging at the moment that I feel I should mention it, if nothing else just to improve the searchability of this post. Let me finish then with another statistic: we know view-through rates during the Copa América reached 98.7%, but do you know how many ads were blocked?

0%.

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