Best practice for monetising VoD with server-side ad insertion

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By David Springall, Founder & CTO at Yospace

The amount of video accessed online, particularly by mobile devices, is expanding exponentially.  As a result, there is a need to maximise the monetisation opportunities by delivering ads across multiple devices and platforms in the most efficient way possible.  In this post I discuss why applying SSAI across all content is the most logical way forward.

Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI, or dynamic ad insertion) can deliver a consistent experience akin to TV while opening up addressable advertising opportunities. Consistency comes in part from the ‘ad copy normalisation’ which is the process of transcoding ad content with the same bitrates, frame rates and audio levels as the underlying stream, ensuring a smooth transition between programme and ad and vice versa (with the same CDN being loaded for both content and ads).

SSAI technology is already being used successfully by broadcasters for live streaming.  However, the principal monetisation technique for VoD remains Client-Side Ad Insertion (CSAI), where, at the start of every ad break, the primary player is stopped and an ad player put on top, with the primary player having to be resumed at the end of the break.

For a broadcaster with both Live and VoD, it makes sense for a single advertising workflow to be applied across all content.  

It is possible for broadcasters to deliver a near-seamless experience using the CSAI model for VoD, by pre-loading the ad player and buffer in the background and swapping the players over at the exact moments when an ad break starts and ends. However, there is always the risk of playback issues caused by inconsistent encoding of the ad copy.  Also, considerable effort is required in terms of implementation, with code having to be continuously duplicated from one device type to another, and from one environment to another, with the inevitable testing and maintenance overhead to achieve this result consistently across devices.

Many of those broadcasters of VoD streams who have a working CSAI solution in place are finding it increasingly hard to maintain, so we’re seeing a growing interest in the SSAI approach.  This is partly driven by positive experiences of SSAI for live (where CSAI is not an option owing to the strict requirements around ad break timings). But there are a number of other reasons why SSAI should appeal to broadcasters over CSAI:

  • Implementation. The code is decoupled from the ad server, with the work on stitching and interfacing to the ad server being performed by the backend SSAI platform, giving an overall flexibility in that the inventory and decisioning engine is abstracted from the actual delivery. SDKs have also been developed, which means that there is effectively a middleware layer, with the SDKs talking to the backend, and the backend talking to the ad server, making it possible to swap out the ad server without changes to the SDKs.
  • Control. There can be a single point for all ad insertion calls across Live and VoD, a single interface providing access to a single set of Broadcast Streams, Promotions and VoD assets, and a single API providing real-time analytics.
  • Interactivity.The aforementioned SDKs can support the use of clickable linear content and dynamic overlays, and also allow broadcasters to customise the instances when skipping, seeking and pausing are allowed.
  • Ad blockers. The stitching used by SSAI mean that ad blockers are unable to decipher where the call to the server is being made, and so cannot differentiate between an ad and the content itself, making SSAI highly resistant to ad blocking.

Besides being able to deliver SSAI at scale and to provide all of the existing benefits of configurable user interactivity, SSAI has enormous security benefits, which cannot be totally covered in this article. In brief:

  • With SSAI, the aforementioned middleware layer affords control over the systems with which viewers are interacting. By contrast, with CSAI, the viewer’s device is touching the ad server and presenting its IP address (and potentially other information). The first party ad server might, in turn, involve the use of multiple third party servers and expose the same viewers to being tracked by unknown companies, to the possible detriment of a broadcaster’s commercial model.

With the correct deployment, there is no logical reason why broadcasters should not consider SSAI when deploying VoD streams. As OTT audiences for Live and VoD continue to thrive, providers are increasingly likely to seek a joined-up SSAI strategy, and by so doing, not only safeguard their current ad revenues, but also enhance them.

Read more on server-side ad insertion for live and VoD streams here.

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NAB 2019: Viewer Experience

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Three days down and less than one to go.  The voice is hoarse and the legs are tired but it’s been great to catch up with so many customers, prospects, partners and friends.  There’s a real change in the depth of detail of our conversations compared to previous years and it’s reassuring to hear people talk so highly of Yospace for server-side ad insertion, especially in a field where there is increasing competition.

I was very pleased to hear someone say today: “yes they do SSAI but they’re no Yospace.”  

For the last day we’re focussing our attention on some of the customer projects that have helped us earn our strong reputation…

Reducing ad load

The rise of OTT has seen many broadcasters urgently need to monetise online, and the challenge of retaining an audience has meant that a number of broadcasters have moved to reduce advertising with longer term benefits in mind. This is exactly what our customer Medialaan did on its live streams. The innovative European broadcaster allowed viewers on its Stievie service were able to rewind a live stream then receive shorter ad breaks to allow them to catch up with the live programming sooner.

The result was more engaged viewers, longer viewing sessions, and ultimately more ad breaks viewed.  Read about this more in our Medialaan case study.

Enhanced player support

The challenge of scaling live sports and their unpredictability demands any advertising system employed by a broadcaster to be both robust and versatile. Typically up to 90% of viewers tune into a football game within five minutes of kick-off, and it’s in situations like this that our pre-fetch system is crucial (read more about this in our Day One blog).

In addition to this, our SSAI enabled the broadcaster to monetise streams within an enhanced player and deliver on its ambitions to put the viewer front and centre of the action. Read more here.

Seven case study

Australian broadcaster Seven live streamed all 16 courts of the Australian Open.  Thanks to Yospace’s ability to feed back live telemetry data, Seven was able to prioritise the advertising based on the state of play of each court at any one time.

Find out more about this project in our Seven case study.

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NAB 2019: MPEG-DASH and CMAF

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Two days down and my colleague tells me we’re now exactly 54.8% of the way through the show.  Being at an event full of engineers I shouldn’t be surprised that someone’s actually developed an app for that.  Despite tired legs and croaking voice, there’s a buzz about NAB that makes me look forward to day three.  The speed with which conversations on concepts turn into new technologies means a show like NAB is always interesting.

Our main theme for tomorrow is SSAI support for MPEG-DASH and CMAF – two areas that have developed significantly in the last twelve months.

SSAI for MPEG-DASH

There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about MPEG-DASH.  Yospace was the first vendor to announce server-side ad insertion (SSAI) support for MPEG-DASH and isone of the only vendors today that has live customer services using it, so we’re in a strong position to talk from a point of experience.

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.  Read the thoughts of our Founder & CTO in this blog post.

CMAF

At 3.30pm our Founder & CTO David Springall will be presenting on the Bitmovin booth.  He’ll be discussing our integration points as well as server-side ad insertion for CMAF.  There’ll be an accompanying blog post – so check our Twitter and LinkedIn profiles to access it.

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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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Yospace to showcase premium server-side ad insertion at NAB 2019

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The leading SSAI provider will showcase the latest developments in monetizing live and VoD content, with new features to optimise yield from programmatic demand, low latency live streaming, MPEG-DASH, CMAF and data security.

Staines-upon-Thames, UK, 19th March 2019 – Yospace will be demonstrating its premium server-side ad insertion (SSAI) capabilities at this year’s NAB show.

At the show, Yospace will be showcasing how to scale programmatic with low latency for major live events; implement a joined-up monetization strategy across live and VoD; monetize DRM-protected content using MPEG-DASH or HLS with CMAF; protect first-party viewer data from exposure to third parties.

  • Scaling programmatic for major live events
    Programmatic systems need adequate time to respond in a major live event scenario.  This need is especially apparent in a low latency environment.  Yospace’s innovative prefetch system allows ad calls to be made early, allowing the time needed to return a full pod of ads for each viewer.
  • Prebidding
    Yospace’s latest feature is prebidding which replicates the benefits of web header bidding for video.  By calling all supply-side platforms (SSPs) simultaneously, the highest available CPM can be secured for each ad spot.  Prebidding is built upon Yospace’s prefetching capabilities which means its revenue maximisation benefits can be realised at broadcast scale.
  • Server-Side Ad Insertion for VoD
    Yospace has seen a considerable increase over the past year in operators and MVPDs implementing SSAI for VoD ito deliver viewing experience consistency throughout their device platforms.  Yospace will be explaining how these customers have realised the advantage provided by the decoupling of the ad decisioning ecoystem from the device platforms.
  • MPEG-DASH and HLS with CMAF
    Effective digital rights management (DRM) is crucial to any rights-holders of sought-after sports content and this has driven interest in SSAI for MPEG-DASH.  Yospace was the first SSAI provider to announce support for MPEG-DASH and now boasts several live examples.  Yospace also supports HLS delivery with CMAF which is becoming a preferred option for broadcasters who value the simplicity of the HLS protocol.
  • Data Security
    SSAI provides a middleware layer between the broadcaster’s app and the advertising ecosystem.  The effect of this is significant because it prevents an ad server from having direct access to the app and its user, preventing the risk of user information being exposed and re-targeted by a third party at a lower price.

 
Yospace will be exhibiting on booth SU3414.  To make an appointment with the team, please visit: www.yospace.com/nab

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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