REDUCING AD LOAD WITH MEDIALAAN
In an era when viewers are rapidly moving online and growing used to ad-free video, Medialaan took the bold step to prioritise the OTT user experience over short-term advertising revenue potential.
Viewers watching live channels on Medialaan’s Stievie TV Everywhere service are able to rewind the live stream. Then, in “startover” mode, ad breaks are made shorter and ad breaks that have already been seen are made skippable so the viewer can catch up with the live action.
In a groundbreaking project, Medialaan worked with Yospace to extend principles of server-side dynamic ad insertion to fully personalised end-to-end stream management.
In August 2017 Medialaan, the leading commercial broadcaster in Belgium, announced it was using Yospace’s Dynamic Ad Insertion platform to monetise live channels on its Stievie and Stievie Premium OTT services. The detail of the press release revealed a far more complex monetization system than had ever been seen before.
The announcement was the latest in a string of launches for Yospace’s DAI technology, which allows broadcasters to replace ad breaks in live channels when viewed online. New advertising is injected so smoothly that the user experience is unaffected, with none of the buffering or clunkiness that has long been associated with digital video advertising. In other words, it’s just like TV.
Pieter Coucke, Solution Architect at Medialaan: “The user experience was our priority and Medialaan really wanted to be frame accurate. It was not enough to replace the ads, they had to start at the exact same frame as on television. Also, ads had to be personalised and completely tracked, something that was not possible with linear TV.”
Yospace’s platform enables true one-to-one addressability and this technology has been proved at scale against some of the world’s biggest sporting events (Premier League and Champions League football, T20 cricket). The cutting-edge system was applied to channels on the Stievie service but Medialaan wanted to go further and push the boundaries of what a personalised user experience could look like.
In an era when viewers are rapidly moving online, Medialaan took the bold step to prioritise the OTT user experience even if it was at the expense of short-term advertising revenue potential. This attitude was based on a long-term vision to improve the quality of the ad experience, helping them appeal to new generations of viewers, many of whom had grown used to enjoying ad-free video platforms.
What made this project different to any other was the high level of sophistication applied, at scale, to achieve a new 21stcentury user experience. Using Yospace’s new Non-Linear Startover functionality, viewers were able to rewind a live stream if, for example, they’d missed the start of their favourite programme. Viewers are seamlessly transferred to a catch-up, or “startover”, stream in which new rules apply to the advertising.
Medialaan's Pieter Coucke and Yospace's Tim Sewell explain the business case behind the project
In a forward-thinking decision that is unusual for a commercial broadcaster, Medialaan chose to make ad breaks shorter when a viewer is in startover mode, thereby sacrificing potential ad spots in order to allow the viewer to catch up with the live channel. Moreover they are able to skip a block of ads if they’ve already seen it.
The project succeeded in delivering a world-first in terms of complexity and the dynamism with which advertising is handled and provided a wonderful example of how a personalised streaming experience can be created in a way that suits all interested parties.
First and foremost, the viewer is able to play an active role in a streaming session that can be catered to their requirements, with fewer ads than they would otherwise expect to see. The broadcaster is able to provide a modern, considered service for its entire audience, and the advertiser is able to apply one-to-one addressability to ads.
Startover Ad Break
APPROACH AND EXECUTION
The complexity of this project meant that Medalaan required far more than a Dynamic Ad Insertion system. They needed a full end-to-end stream management system. Yospace’s reputation as the leader in this field marked them out from the start.
Throughout the process there was a priority on the quality of the user experience, and in this way Yospace’s attitude mirrored Medialaan’s.
Pieter Coucke, Solution Architect at Medialaan: “We stipulated that every ad should be viewed in the best possible quality, with the streaming experience for the viewer being more important than filling 100% of the grid. Ad insertions had to be frame accurate and this required deep integrations with linear playout systems that were not necessarily designed with OTT in mind.”
Yospace’s solution touches on many points of an OTT broadcast workflow, from stream capture and conditioning to the player of the viewer’s device. Here are some of the key technical elements of the project:
Medialaan's promotional video describing the viewer experience
Key technical elements
Medialaan’s Event Signalling and Management (ESAM) server receives event markers from their playout system. This data is used to inject SCTE-35 markers into the stream in Medialaan’s Elemental Live encoders to mark the start and end points of ad breaks and programmes.
After that the Elemental Live server splits the stream components, sending the video data to Medialaan’s CDN and the manifest, or playlist files, to Yospace’s CSM system.
Ad server integration
Further along the chain Yospace’s CSM looks for ad markers in the manifest file. When it detects an ad break a call is made to Medialaan’s chosen third-party ad server (in this case FreeWheel) specifying the length of the break (in startover mode, of course, the ad breaks are shorter).
A unique user ID is passed to the ad server for each streaming session and it responds with instructions on which set of ads to stitch into each stream, taking into account capping rules that dictate that viewers should not see the same ad more than once an hour to avoid ad fatigue.
When a viewer watches an ad Yospace fire back a tracking pixel from the client, or player, on the user’s device to FreeWheel for real-time management.
Handling of ad copy
Ad copy is transcoded by the yospaceCDS system to match the adaptive bit-rate video and audio profiles of the underlying HLS stream, ensuring that the transition is completely smooth when switching to or from a replacement ad break. Audio levels are normalised to match the live stream.
Yospace embed an SDK in Medialaan’s player which manages the viewer’s ability to navigate within the stream. It blocks the ability to scrub past an ad block in startover mode that hasn’t been seen yet and allows ad blocks that have already been seen to be skipped.
Calogero Macaluso, Marketing Director Stievie, Medialaan: “Our long-term view was that if more customers enjoy a good viewing experience then it will ultimately generate a better return in advertising. Providing a seamless viewing experience was more important than creating as many ad positions as possible and Yospace understood that. Ultimately, we want to encourage the transformation from linear to digital by delivering a better customer experience.”
Olivier van Zeebroeck, Head of Sales Digital, Medialaan: "We’ve unlocked hundreds of hours of advertising inventory since working with Yospace. The introduction of server-side DAI resulted in a 10% capacity increase for long-form views. In 2018 we expect that live will account for 25% of all long-form views, but will generate 33% of total long-form ad inventory."
Edward New, Commercial Director, Yospace: “We succeeded in creating an online viewing experience on Steivie Premium that is as seamless as that of TV, but with many extra features. Users of all ages can now enjoy TV in a way that is richer, more interactive and relevant than ever before.”
David Springall, CTO, Yospace: “This project set a benchmark for the industry in what a modern viewing experience can look like. It also speaks volumes of the forward-thinking determination of Medialaan to put the viewer first throughout.”
Pieter Coucke, Solution Architect, Medialaan: “This project proves Medialaan's role as an innovator. Together with Yospace this is the first DAI project in the world with this level of complexity. By doing server-side DAI we are able to deliver a better viewer experience, plus they can now cast OTT streams to their TV.”
Tim Sewell, CEO, Yospace: “I’m delighted that Medialaan’s viewer-first attitude is paying off in viewing figures. This project beats a path for the industry as a whole and will ultimately drive advertising revenues for the long term.”
On 16th September 2018 Medialaan took the highly coveted IBC2018 Innovation Award for Content Distribution for its breakthrough project to reduce ad loads. Yospace joined them onstage as their key technical partner.
Peter Coucke, solution architect at Medialaan, said: “Medialaan is absolutely delighted to win an IBC Innovation Award, surely the most prestigious prize in broadcast engineering. I would like to thank Yospace for developing a truly ground-breaking, viewer-first solution for live monetisation, and IBC recognising what is a very forward-thinking project.”
Yospace CEO Tim Sewell said: “Today’s viewers are rapidly moving online and growing used to video with lighter ad load. Medialaan took the bold step to prioritise the OTT user experience over short-term advertising revenue potential. Long-term, its advertising will command a premium because it is targeted to the individual.”
Medialaan is presented with an IBC Innovation Award
Michael Lumley, chair of the international panel of judges which selected Medialaan as one of just nine finalists across three categories, added: “This year’s IBC Innovation Awards shortlist is a real global snapshot of the cutting edge of our industry, with all the hot topics of the moment represented, and entries from practically every corner of the globe. To make it to the final – and to win at IBC – is a tremendous achievement. Congratulations!”
On 8thMay 2018 the work of Yospace and Medialaan on the Non-Linear Startover project was recognised with an award win at The Connies, which celebrate the latest and best practice in the connected consumer marketplace and are highly respected by media agencies, media owners and technology partners across the globe.
Earning the Silver Award in the Contribution to User Experience – TV & Video category, the win completed a unique hat-trick for Yospace who had also won in 2017, with Sky, and 2016, with Channel 4.
Commenting on the project, judge and Editor-in-Chief at Videonet John Moulding said: “Fully monetising online video is one of the great challenges of our age for commercial broadcasters. This solution demonstrates how it can be done while also boosting the viewing experience. Shortening ad breaks in replay mode, so that viewers can catch up with live, is bold as well as innovative.”
Yospace and Medialaan's achievement in reducing ad load was recognised at the 2018 CSI Awards, which were awarded during the IBC show. The project earned a Highly Commended award in the Best TV user experience - Operator deployment category.
Established in 2003 the CSI awards are among the most prestigious and competitive technology awards in the industry, designed to recognise and reward innovation and excellence in the cable, satellite, broadcast, IPTV, telco, broadband/OTT video, mobile TV and associated sectors.
The awards are organised by CSI Magazine (Cable and Satellite International Magazine).