DYNAMIC AD INSERTION AT STV
In April 2014 STV became the first UK broadcaster to launch live simulcast with Dynamic Ad Insertion. In this case study we’ll explore the driving factors behind the deployment and report on the long-term impact of DAI.
STV is the leading commercial free-to-air broadcaster in Scotland. As part of the ITV network it broadcasts some of the most popular programming in the UK, from Coronation Street and The X Factor to I’m a Celebrity and live coverage of the major international football and rugby tournaments. As well as national broadcasting across most of Scotland, it also operates a network of local television channels.
STV Player has been providing a 30-day catch-up service since 2008 and currently operates across the full spectrum of platforms and devices, including web, iOS, Android, Smart TV, set-top boxes and consoles. Back in 2014 the company was keen to add a live streaming service, but in order to do so needed to develop a clear and identifiable revenue stream from it.
“Screen fragmentation is inevitable when you deliver to multiple platforms,” said Rémi Brunier, Business Owner for the STV Player. “The major broadcasters are all now delivering live streams online: the challenges have always been to monetise them, and to deliver an experience that mirrors television.”
“A live stream containing non-replaced ads has no meaningful trading model to work with,” he explained. “Removing the broadcast ads and replacing them dynamically with ones served from our ad server allows us to trade in a traditional VoD manner, leveraging the CPM pricing model and various web targeting technologies.”
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup approaching, STV recognised the potential for huge simulcast audiences. It needed to develop a solution that would provide distinct online advertising revenues, within a scalable workflow that would support a potentially very large number of simultaneous users.
It needed a system to seamlessly and dynamically insert advertisements into each of the live streams, replacing the broadcast ad spots as required. The system needed to be flexible enough to manage breaks in each format intelligently, using in-house marketing material to make up break durations if required. It also needed to be capable of blacking out content for which STV did not have the online rights for any given category of device.
To minimise operational costs, all this needed to be done in a fully automated package integrated with the necessary parts of STV’s broadcast and online streaming infrastructure, in particular the Grass Valley Colossus playout automation system, Videoplaza (now Ooyala Pulse) online advertising system, and Brightcove video management system.
Most important of all, the solution needed to be based on open standards. “We needed integration with Brightcove, but we also wanted compatibility with other online platforms,” said Alistair Brown, CTO of STV. “We did not want to get locked in to any particular solution or vendor. The system had to be future-proof.”
Following an extensive technical evaluation of the available vendors it became clear that the solution from Yospace stood out. There were a number of reasons for this.
Yospace’s solution is unique in its ability to offer tight integration with the broadcast playout automation. Its server knows precisely which frame an ad break begins and ends on, and conditions the live stream to allow its distributed delivery system to swap to alternative content on a per-user basis.
Because Yospace manages the content before encoding, ensuring it matches the encoding profile of the source stream, transitions to and from ad breaks are completely seamless. The playback experience is not interrupted, so there is no visual or audible disturbance, and viewers have no idea that their content is being replaced.
In other words, Yospace delivers a true broadcast viewing experience.
“When we first demonstrated the Yospace solution to our senior executives, they did not believe that ads were being replaced,” said Rémi Brunier, Business Owner for the STV Player. “We had to set up a side-by-side demonstration with the broadcast feed to convince them that it was really happening.”
This seamless switching also means that different outputs can be created for each stream, meaning that audiences can be targeted by platform and, ultimately, by individual demographics. The ability to target down to the individual is already available in the Yospace technology, and depends only on market requirements.
At STV, the broadcast contribution feed did not contain SCTE-35 markers. To address this issue Yospace installed a single 1U server for each of the STV regions, plus one for STV Glasgow (five in total) in the main machine room which provides the encoding. Each server talks directly to the Grass Valley Colossus playout automation for timing of ad breaks and programmes. The replacement video encoded with respect to these breaks is then pushed into Yospace’s cloud distribution service. The servers, while operating within STV’s facilities, also push their own operating telemetry into Yospace’s operations centre, thus making them, logically speaking, part of Yospace’s cloud service.
When the STV player delivers the live stream through the Yospace distribution system, the signalled ad breaks prompt Yospace to call out to Ooyala Pulse for the replacement content for each user’s stream. If there are not enough replacement ads to complete the break, Yospace automatically fills the time with branding messages, ensuring a seamless experience for viewers.
Yospace also provides cover when non-advertising content needs to be replaced. The online service provides local news for Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example, which are switched to online live streams as required. Some content cannot be streamed live – such as some of the US-studios produced movies – and this is replaced on the service with marketing and branding content.
“It is a very simple set-up which did not require us to adapt anything in our existing workflow,” said Brunier. Alistair Brown added that “Yospace was virtually plug and play. The boxes arrived, we plugged them in and it worked.” He also stated that as this was very much a trail-blazing solution, and certainly the first of its kind in the UK, there was a long period of careful and extensive trials before the service went live.
“We wanted to build a closer relationship with our customers, through the introduction of a sign-in process, but we needed an appropriate moment and added-value service for it, one where we could demonstrate real value for our audiences,” said Brown. “The World Cup seemed like a good target for the launch of the new service, including registration, simulcast – the new STV Watch Live service – and dynamic ad replacement.”
Given that this happened at the same time as a rebranding exercise and the launch of STV Glasgow, this was an ambitious decision. However, the trials had proved the concept and the technology.
“The World Cup was of course a massive test,” said Rémi Brunier. “At times we had triple our forecast number of viewers, but the system scaled up without problems.”
STV Watch Live is available in web browsers, and in Android, Kindle Fire and iOS apps.
“The proposition that Yospace offers is a new way of monetising content and delivering a new and innovative product for advertisers,” continued Brunier. “This solution supports our content ambitions, because it brings in new revenues.”
“From a commercial point of view, this brings broadcast transmission and digital targeting together. It’s very gratifying to offer a new and innovative service to our existing and new advertising partners”
VoD advertising is measured and sold as a cost per thousand impressions. With the Yospace solution, you know precisely how many viewers, on which platforms, have watched a specific spot. This means that Ooyala Pulse can apply intelligence to the selection of commercials to viewers, ensuring that contractual terms are met.
The business analytics from Ooyala Pulse and Yospace mean that STV can report precise numbers to the advertiser. The result is that STV can monetise live streams in a language and business model that makes sense to the advertiser, and in turn the advertiser can trust the reported viewing numbers.
“The World Cup was a massive test for the system,” according to Brunier. “We achieved a very high sell-through rate. The system delivered excellent yield and additional revenue for the business.”
Dynamic advertising insertion is now proven at STV. “The cost of deployment and integration was affordable, and operationally the Yospace system operates largely automatically, with a simple user interface for set-up,” concluded CTO Alistair Brown.
“We have a platform which we know we can continue to develop, for instance to use more advertising intelligence to better serve our customers. STV is proud to be leading the way in realising real revenues from live streaming of broadcast content, meeting the expectations of both our viewers and our advertisers.”
TWO YEARS ON
Since launching in April 2014, STV has extended its Dynamic Ad Insertion service with Yospace to include a localised channel for Edinburgh, which compliments the Glasgow one that was already in place. The broadcaster has also developed its ability to collect and utilise user data to target ads to relevant demographics, incorporating factors such as location, age, gender and viewing habits. 98% of STV’s online inventory, across live and VoD can be targeted, a figure that would not have been achieved without live DAI.
It’s no secret that major sports events are a key factor in the popularity of live simulcast. A driving influence on the timing of this project was the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the decision to launch before the tournament was soon justified.
“We served over 2,000,000 simulcast ad impressions in June 2014,” said Will Jones, Product Manager of STV Player. “A significant amount, especially considering there was no simulcast inventory available at all just a few months before, except a few pre-rolls.”
In the last 18 months, STV also broadcasted for the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and the UEFA Euro 2016 in June and July 2016. Jones added that, “from 2,000,000 ads served in June 2014, we saw a leap up to nearly 5,000,000 for the corresponding month two years later. Combined with our ability to achieve higher yield through targeting, this represents a huge revenue increase.”
“Significantly, Euro2016 drove live streams’ volumes to outstrip VoD for the first time ever during the tournament.”
It’s not just major sports that are driving revenues either, as Rémi Brunier explained. “We simulcast 24/7 and Saturday nights are live events in themselves. Viewers tuning into reality shows like The X Factor and I’m A Celebrity want to see the action as it happens, and their popularity is delivering strong digital ad revenues each and every week, as the introduction of simulcast has not had a detrimental effect on VoD consumption, effectively bringing in a third source of revenues alongside broadcast and catch-up. On an average month, DAI on simulcast brings STV a c. 20% upside in digital revenues”
“The reliability and flexibility of Yospace’s platform has enabled STV to not only launch a TV-like service, but also to develop its advertising strategies to a point where all views are sellable on a targeted basis, and STV is ready for a fully programmatic future. The combination of excellent user experience and targeted advertising is great news for viewers and advertisers alike, and we are delighted with how successful this project has been and continues to be.”