NAB 2019: Server-Side Ad Insertion for VoD

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Day one, tick.  The show got off to a great start and we’ve had some really good discussions on scaling SSAI and maximising the potential of programmatic for live streams.  It’s a far cry from just a few years ago when most meetings would start with: “so what is server-side ad insertion??”

It’s pleasing now that most people we meet already know the answer to this question and are keen to get into the details of the technology.  We’re finding that discussions around consistency of viewer experience, measurement and data security are becoming more and more popular.

Harnessing the power of SSAI for VoD is our focus for day two at NAB.  Over the past year, we’ve seen a considerable increase in operators and MVPDs implementing SSAI for VoD to deliver viewing experience consistency throughout their device platforms.

Why is there a move towards Server-Side Ad Insertion for VoD?

In this article for TV Technology, Yospace’s Founder & CTO David Springall discusses why SSAI technology, which has been a staple of live monetisation for a number of years, is also proving to be a popular way of monetising VoD due to factors such as viewer experience, ease of maintenance and data security.

Data security is an especially important topic.  As operators and MVPDs increasingly rely on their first-party data to maximize ad revenues, having an effective middleware layer (SSAI) between the client and the ad server is crucial in protecting user data and preventing them from being re-targeted.

Total Video for TV4 pays dividends

Swedish innovator TV4 is an example of a broadcaster that’s making the most of a joined up live and VoD monetization strategy.  The broadcaster has recently agreed an extension with us to provide server-side ad insertion (SSAI) across its TV Everywhere service, TV4Play.

Mathias Berg, COO at TV4 Group said: “For the last couple of years TV4 has relentlessly been driving our business from a traditional linear ad model to a truly platform agnostic experience for both users and advertisers.  Part of this journey has been to enable us to capture and monetise on our digital inventory in all potential channels using all data available. As a result of a successful implementation of this strategy TV4 delivered its best financial result in terms of turnover and profitability in the history of the company in 2018.”

As a leader in the broadcast space that’s continued to reinvent itself, TV4 was one of the first broadcasters that recognised the value in using SSAI to monetize VoD.  Read this blog post to learn more about the company’s digital journey with SSAI.

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NAB 2019: Scaling programmatic for live events

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By Paul Davies, Marketing & Communications at Yospace

Welcome to Las Vegas.  Despite being home to a hundred resorts and 150,000 hotel rooms, it feels like I know everyone here during NAB week – whether it’s bumping into a customer in the cab queue or taking a table next to a tech partner – the broadcast engineering industry seems to take over the city during the event.

Our focus for the first day of NAB is scaling programmatic for major live events.  In order to maximise ad revenues, programmatic systems need adequate time to respond in a major live event set up, and this need is especially apparent in a low latency environment.

Programmatic vs. Low Latency

The ability to scale live SSAI and to plan for future scale, in an environment where all viewers see an ad break at the same time, is really important but is made more complex as there are two opposing forces at play:

  1. The need to allow programmatic platforms the time they need to respond to fully realise the value of the ad inventory
  2. Low latency support, which shortens the time available to the programmatic ecosystem

To maximise the revenue opportunity, it’s necessary to make ad decisioning calls in an orderly fashion way ahead of the actual break taking place.  Our prefetch system allows ad calls to be made early, allowing the time needed to return a full pod of ads for each viewer, and this is a crucial element of our offering that we’ve been sharing with visitors to our booth at the show.

You can read more in this blog post.

For a more in-depth explanation read our white paper.

Prebidding

Once you have prefetch in place you can plan for advanced programmatic; the next opportunity to explore is prebidding.  Prebidding replicates the benefits of web header bidding for video.  By calling all supply-side platforms simultaneously, we can inform the ad server of the responses to help it make an informed decision on which ads to place and ensure the highest available CPM can be secured.

Read more in this blog post.

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Partnering with a pioneer – a history of innovation with TV4

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By Paul Davies, Marketing & Communications at Yospace

Swedish broadcaster TV4 has long been a leader in the broadcast space, from going digital in the noughties and its early adoption of server-side ad insertion (SSAI) technology, to forming key partnerships with broadcasters and operators to grow its audience and boost ad revenue.

TV4’s innovative approach is paying off, too.  In the press release that announced the renewal of its contract with Yospace, the company’s COO Mathias Berg revealed that the company achieved its highest ever revenue in 2018.  He credited the ability to provide a platform-agnostic experience for advertisers across all video as a key factor, an experience that is enabled by SSAI.

TV4’s record earnings, at SEK 1,382 million (€112,537,903), were up 35.2% on 2017, making it one of the most successful broadcasters on the continent.

How did the broadcaster achieve these heights?  And how did it use SSAI to carve out its route to a profitable future – for TV4, for advertisers, and for its audience?

Digital ad stitching

TV4’s forward-thinking approach was apparent when it became the first broadcaster in Sweden to implement SSAI, notably adopting the technology for both live and on demand content to deliver a  consistent TV quality viewing experience, with one to one addressability and ad measurement.

SSAI has allowed TV4 to unlock new revenue opportunities by allowing for consistent monetisation of all its content across all connected devices, and for viewer data to be harnessed to inform and deliver addressable advertising.  This is a sector which shows no signs of slowing, with addressable TV ad spend forecast to exceed $3 billion by the close of this year.

Reinvention and investment

TV4’s CEO Casten Almqvist recognised back in 2012 that in order to outstrip the competition in Sweden’s TV market, the network must “continue to reinvent” itself, investing in its digital service TV4Play, while continuing to focus on “breadth, diversity and quality” and producing “engaging TV for the whole country”.

This prompted TV4 to turn to SSAI soon after, which in turn paved the way for another innovative move last year.  A first in Sweden, TV4 collaborated with Telia, Discovery Networks and Modern Times Group (MTG) in March 2018 to launch a targeted advertising initiative on Telia’s Play service.  This delivers tailored advertising based on an individual’s location, the channel they’re watching, the kind of screen and the type of device they’re using to stream content.

Later the same year, TV4’s adoption of SSAI allowed it to secure distribution deals with other major distributors including Com Hem.

TV4 is clearly a pioneer, with a data-driven, viewer-first approach to growing its business and monetising content for the long-term, an approach that has been enabled by SSAI.  In fact, TV4 has precisely pinpointed its adoption of SSAI for helping it achieve that aforementioned record 2018, with Mathias Berg, COO at TV4 Group commenting that, “as a result of a successful implementation of this strategy TV4 delivered its best financial result in terms of turnover and profitability in the history of the company.”

And with the broadcaster continuing to innovate, then long may this continue.

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Introduction to Prebidding for live streams

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By David Springall, Founder & CTO of Yospace.

In a previous post I discussed the concept of “prefetch” for live streams.  In this post I’m discussing “prebidding” which is an add-on to prefetch, so if you haven’t read the prefetch post yet I suggest you go through that first – you can find it here.

“Prebidding” is analogous to the concept of “h​eader bidding”, an approach to selecting advertising demand that has become very popular because of its ability to optimise advertising revenues on websites.  Header bidding allows advertisers to participate in an online auction for placement on the page while the page is being loaded.

In practical terms, individual advertisers do not participate in the auction, but instead bids are aggregated by systems called Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) which in turn solicit bids from Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs).  It is with the DSP, that the advertiser (or their buying agent) establishes the commercial contract for payment on placement.

Until the concept of header bidding came along, a webpage would get advertisements from a first-party ad server (for example, DoubleClick for Publishers) which would be set-up to define a ‘pecking order’ of SSPs or DSPs that would be given the opportunity to place an ad.  If an SSP or DSP couldn’t place an ad, the next SSP/DSP in line would be given the opportunity.

There were a number of problems with this approach.  The first was that this cascade could simply take a long time to execute.  The second was that it didn’t reflect the fact that the best price could come back from any of the SSPs in the chain – only the first price above the publisher’s bid floor was used, not the best price.  And finally, the further down the pecking order an SSP/DSP would be the less insight into how many placement opportunities a given publisher was able to supply.

Having an accurate idea of how many placement opportunities a given publisher is making available is critical to optimising the bid responses.  Header bidding allows all SSPs or DSPs to be treated equally by calling to them simultaneously, rather than in a cascade, meaning the best price across all SSPs can be seen and everyone gets to see the placement opportunities and, importantly for the user experience, it’s faster.

Prebidding takes this concept of header bidding to video advertising inserted into a live broadcast stream.  In live streaming multiple ad breaks can be viewed by the same user during a single streaming session. This new logic exists inside the Yospace system that is responsible for delivering the stream to the user rather than the header of a web page, hence why the feature is named “prebidding” and not “header bidding”.

The system also solves another issue for the broadcaste, which is the separation of advertising by industry type.  If, for example, the first ad in an ad pod (ad break) is a first-party sold automotive ad, prebidding allows the ad server to ensure that no other automotive ad is included in that pod.  In addition, if an automotive ad comes back from the SSPs at a higher CPM than the first-party sold ad then the ad server could swap out the first-party sold ad, if the broadcaster configured it to do so.  Obviously, there are many nuances to where a broadcaster would want to prioritise higher-priced third party advertising over their own sold ads, but the technology would let them do this.

Until now a typical workflow for server-side ad insertion (SSAI) for live streams has looked like the first workflow here (1. Typical SSAI ad calls):

As you can see from the diagram, the ADS has not had visibility in advance of the SSP decisions.  It decides which ad in the pod are to be programmatic but without the foresight to know the CPM or content type of the programmatic ads that are to be stitched into the stream.

In the second diagram (2. Typical prebidding SSAI ad calls), prebidding allows the ADS to see the CPMs and ad types returned by SSPs in the ad call from the SSAI system (Yospace).  As a result the ADS is able to make a fully informed decision on which ads to place, resulting in realising the maximum value of the ad pod while ensuring an advertisers message is not diluted.

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Server-Side Ad Insertion for MPEG-DASH

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By Olivier Cortambert, Product Manager at Yospace.

There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about MPEG-DASH and we’re finding that a number of our customers are turning to this protocol, and of those a number are looking to it as a means of implementing multi-platform DRM.

Yospace was the first vendor to announce server-side ad insertion (SSAI) support for MPEG-DASH and are one of the only vendors today that can boast live services.

The ecosystem for supporting MPEG-DASH is still relatively immature in terms of players, encoders and packagers.  Behind this is the fact that the specification for MPEG-DASH doesn’t specify exactly how an MPD should be expressed to support SSAI, while the DASH-IF has only made a recommendation which is not universally followed.

Compared to HLS, which provides a simple list of segments in its manifest files, MPEG-DASH lists a much more complex set of information which includes the exact presentation time of each segment.  This complexity and precision makes replacing segments a much more involved task.

In a traditional linear television environment ad breaks are usually pretty precise, but in digital this is not always the case.  The SSAI system may receive four 30-second ads from the ad server to fill a two minute ad break but find they are not actually 30 seconds to frame, meaning there may be a slight under run over overrun at the end of the break.  HLS handles these discrepancies in a much simpler manner than MPEG-DASH through the use of a simple holding slate.

To avoid gaps between period in MPEG-DASH (which would lead to a break/buffer of the playback experience) it is necessary to adjust the timing of every period (content and ad breaks).  MPEG-DASH requires that all levels must be expressed on every manifest update, and the XML format of the MPD is quite wordy, so the CPU required to support a manifest update in MPEG-DASH is greater and more bandwidth is required.  HLS, by contrast, uses a more terse expression syntax and the player only grabs the levels it is actually playing, ultimately making server-side ad insertion more expensive for MPEG-DASH than it is for HLS.

It’s also harder to match audio and video when the programming is time-shifted in this way due to the fact that they are digitised in different ways: audio is usually divided in 44000 or 48000 samples per second whereas video is divided into 25 or 50 frames per second.

While MPEG-DASH throws up some complexities for applying SSAI, they are by no means insurmountable and Yospace has proved this over the last 12 months.  We were the first SSAI vendor to announce support for MPEG-DASH, in March 2018, and the first to implement it in a live customer environment later that year.  Today we have several customers using MPEG-DASH with SSAI.

There does remain more expertise in supporting SSAI for HLS though, and we are seeing broadcasters start to explore the alternative of using HLS with CMAF, the Common Media Access Format.  HLS with CMAF maintains the simplicity of HLS (especially for SSAI) while many of the advantages provided by MPEG-DASH. I would actively encourage broadcasters to consider harmonising to CMAF fragments as they are now supported on Apple devices, and use MPEG-DASH as and when it is required.

Where there are devices that can support both MPEG-DASH and HLS+CMAF, careful consideration should be given as to what format is most suited to their in-house expertise.

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Yospace at NAB: the latest developments in server-side ad insertion

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By Paul Davies, Marketing & Communications at Yospace

The 2019 NAB Show is fast approaching and we at Yospace are looking forward to exhibiting at the event for a seventh time.  Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be talking about and our activity in and around the show.

The focus of our show will be on two main topics: best practice for implementing server-side ad insertion (SSAI), and realising the ad revenue opportunities once SSAI is in place.

There will be four demo pods on the booth, two of which will be dedicated to best practice in implementing SSAI for live and VoD.

The other two will showcase some of the possibilities of what you can achieve once you have the right SSAI foundation in place.  

These will consist of a shared demo with programmatic specialist SpotX that looks at the concept of prebidding to achieve maximum ad value, and another, with Capella Systems, that will focus on how to scale up and monetise multiple channels during major live events.

Here’s what else will be happening during the show:

  • Yospace Founder and CTO David Springall will be speaking live to Akamai TV: Tuesday, 10.00am
  • David will also be speaking on the Bitmovin booth, discussing our joint support for HLS+fMP4 and integration with the Bitmovin player: Wednesday, 3.30pm
  • Unified Streaming Platform will be showcasing Yospace’s SSAI for MPEG-DASH on their booth

I’ll be sharing insights on all of these topics throughout the show on our LinkedIn and Twitter feeds.  And you can check back here for a daily update post at the end of each day.

See you at NAB!

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Handling the opposing forces of programmatic and low latency

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By David Springall, Founder & CTO of Yospace.


In this post I’d like to talk about the challenges faced by broadcasters in efficiently monetising live sports at scale using server-side ad insertion.

We have broadcasters in five continents monetising live sports using our platform.  During the World Cup last year, we saw a peak audience of 1.6 million concurrent users and only a few weeks ago, in January this year, we saw that record double to 3.2 million – a significant jump in the space of just six months.

So the ability to scale SSAI, and to plan for future scale, is really important but this topic is made complex because there are two opposing forces at play.

On one hand you have the desire for the broadcaster to improve the viewer experience by reducing latency.   

On the other hand, the way in which online advertising is being bought and sold is trending towards automated, or ‘programmatic’, fulfilment.  This makes the user-level ad decisioning much more complex.

Underlying all of this is the fact that the industry as a whole is finding online audiences, especially where major sports events are concerned, are growing at an ever faster rate, and it’s important that solutions deployed can continue to keep ahead of this growth.  

So why is it that these forces are opposing?

The reason for this is that in live streaming everyone watches the ad break at more or less the same time.  In order for us to know which ads to stitch in to each individual stream, we need to make a call to the ad decisioning ecosystem on behalf of each individual streaming session.

Naturally, these calls all take place in a very short space of time.  The lower latency the stream, the shorter the time frame under which this bevy of calls will be made.  As this time window is made even smaller, you need each individual ad decision request to also take less time.  

Ok, so let’s hold that thought.

On the other hand, because the ad decisioning ecosystem is getting more complex, it actually needs more time to resolve ad decisions.  Real-time bidding is required in the process of getting decisions for ad placement, so you’re not making calls to a single ad server, you’re making calls to multiple partners in the ecosystem.  Furthermore, you’re depending on all of those partners to be able to scale to handle these bursts of requests.

Therefore, to deliver the low latency experience at scale for live sports, and to plan for future scale, with a complex ad decisioning ecosystem to maximise the revenue opportunity, it’s necessary to the make ad decisioning calls in an orderly fashion way ahead of the actual break taking place.  By doing this you are no longer hostage to stream latency and how long you can spend, or how many calls you can make to get a decision for each user.

So this is what we do with the Yospace SSAI platform.  We call it prefetch and it allows us to scale to support the world’s biggest live events.  We co-authored a white paper on the topic with Akamai and SpotX.  It’s called “Go Live” and you can download it here.

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Why Yospace’s acquisition by RTL Group is a huge endorsement of its SSAI

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On 8th January RTL Group announced it was acquiring 100% of Yospace Technologies Ltd. The announcement represents a huge endorsement of Yospace, our people and the server-side ad insertion technology we have developed.

Having launched VoD server-side ad insertion in 2011, Yospace was first to market with server-side ad insertion (SSAI) for live streaming at the start of 2012, showcasing it in partnership with ITV at the 2012 IBC Innovation Awards.  Since that time the team has focused exclusively on development and innovation in the SSAI space. This has been with a focus on solving broadcaster challenges while maintaining a TV-like viewer experience. Today we are the world’s leading provider of one-to-one addressable SSAI and stream management.

This is an achievement we are hugely proud of.  We are also immensely proud of building a profitable market-leading business organically, while maintaining the independence required to have such a laser-sharp focus on the long-term development of our product.  As such we were fortunate to be in a position where we could carefully consider an acquisition that best suited the future ambitions of the team, primary of which is to continue to innovate with our loyal existing broadcast customer base while accelerating global adoption of our capabilities.

The key principles of our technology road map since 2011 have been based on understanding the close integrations with broadcast playout systems and the end-to-end streaming workflows needed to deliver a true broadcast experience, and a willingness to adapt to the evolving and often complex needs of broadcasters.  Challenges such as achieving one-to-one addressability at true broadcast scale, while delivering real-time metrics reliably and supporting enhanced viewer experiences have all been addressed.

As the market continues to mature and advertiser expectations increase, the ability to deliver a truly optimised standards-based programmatic SSAI solution will become increasingly critical.  To this end, the opportunity to work more closely with SpotX, who we’ve been a partner with for a number of years, will be of huge benefit to Yospace and to the wider industry, as the learnings we will gain will optimise integration with the entire programmatic and SSAI ecosystem.

As SpotX remains committed to all its existing SSAI partnerships, Yospace remains ad server and ad-tech agnostic.  Our independent stance and freedom to work with providers across the broadcast and advertising ecosystems are crucial, and this is recognised by SpotX and the RTL Group.

Our aim, as it has always been, is to provide the world’s leading server-side ad insertion platform and establish our technology as the de facto standard for the industry.  We will continue to serve all of our existing customers, without whom we would not have achieved the market position we are so proud of today, and to whom we remain fully committed.  This focus will in turn allow us to accelerate further the expansion of our global customer base.

Ultimately our decision to join RTL Group was an easy one.  The Group has bought into our strategy and is fully committed to supporting both our product roadmap and our expansion plans.  Whether you are an existing customer or a customer-to-be, we’re looking forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

Tim Sewell
CEO, Yospace

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The unique value of live streaming

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By Paul Davies, Marketing & Communications

Live event streaming offers tremendous value for viewers – thus, tremendous value for advertisers. Events like the World Cup present golden opportunities for broadcasters to supercharge ad breaks and golden moments for brands to be seen at scale.

Live simulcast gaining pace

The number of viewers who live stream content is growing; even in the early group stages of the World Cup, live streaming figures exceeded those of Super Bowl by 40%, with Conviva recording a peak 7.7 million concurrent viewers. In the UK alone, a record 3.3 million requests were made to stream England’s dramatic penalties win against Colombia via ITV Hub.

This trend isn’t confined to live sports. Events like the Royal Wedding and Trump’s presidential inauguration all drew significant online audiences, illustrating a diversity in event-based live viewing.

And why not? Live simulcast is now a valued part of the fan experience, and one which can be enhanced with added extras, like watching and syncing content on multiple devices, scrub control and interactive features.

Commanding hearts, minds, and eyeballs

Live events and, in particular, sports, command the hearts and minds (and eyeballs) of viewers, and huge rights sums from major broadcasters. Viewers expect to see premium quality content with advertising that is delivered seamlessly, frame-accurately and without interrupting or disrupting the live stream, regardless of the type of device they are watching on.

And when broadcasters deliver on expectations? You get vast audience numbers who are engaged for a specific reason, at a specific time, creating a hugely valuable opportunity for advertisers to achieve mass reach at a single point in time, with the accuracy that digital measurement can bring.  This is something that brands simply can’t achieve anywhere else, whether it’s a leading social media service or AVOD platform.

BT Sport recognised this opportunity and has been using Yospace’s DAI technology since 2016 to monetise live sports. Jeremy Rosenberg, Head Of Advertising Partnerships TV at BT perfectly sums this up: “Audience and reach is paramount to any advertiser.  It is about appointment to view and I would say that reaching that at such a high level where people are engaged is paramount compared to other platforms out there that give you a very short attention span from a content perspective.”

A golden opportunity

Audience reach is great for advertisers, but how can broadcasters manage this scale? In live OTT all viewers go to an ad break at the same time, putting huge strain on an ad server which will have to manage a bombardment of ad requests: during a football match an ad server could be stone-cold for 45 minutes, until a half-time break unleashes millions of simultaneous ad requests.

BT Sport is just one name to have scored with scale-management: the broadcaster recently completed its second full season of Premier League and Champions League football with addressable DAI. Yospace’s pre-fetch system – a core component of scaling addressable DAI – ensures calls to the ad server are paced over a longer period so the ad server isn’t overloaded and the broadcaster can ensure maximum fill-rates. All of this must be achieved without affecting the viewer experience, of course.

Read more about the BT Sport project in our case study.

Other broadcasters are in a strong position to do the same. Live events continue to command huge numbers of engaged viewers who expect a high quality viewer experience. Investing in advanced ad tech translates this engagement into valuable opportunities for broadcasters, who’ll be able to open up new ad inventory, and to advertisers who are keen to capitalise on the unique appointment-to-view experience: “You can’t get that anywhere else,” concludes Rosenberg.

Jeremy Rosenberg was speaking at the Future TV Advertising event in London in December 2017.

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