IBC2019: Viewer Experience

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By Paul Davies, Communications & Marketing, Yospace

In preparing for IBC next week, we’re exploring key issues that we anticipate will be popular topics related to server-side ad insertion (SSAI).

Viewer experience is always paramount for broadcasters.  The success of any ad tech approach that a broadcaster implements lives and dies by its capability, the viewer’s enjoyment and the audience’s overall impression of the broadcaster. 

The rise of OTT streaming has opened up both opportunities and challenges for broadcasters. 

Reducing ad load 

The growing popularity of OTT streaming has seen many broadcasters need to monetise their TV Everywhere services.  SSAI is still a relatively new tech and many broadcasters have seized the opportunity to innovate and look at improving the viewer experience.

This is exactly the approach our customer Medialaan did when it sought to reduce ad load in live streams. The leading Belgian broadcaster enabled viewers on its Stievie service 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.

Delivering a TV experience – at scale

The challenge of scaling live sports and their unpredictable nature demands any advertising system employed by a broadcaster to be both robust and versatile.  You could have millions of viewers reaching the half-time ad break of the Champions League Final at exactly the same time.  

That’s not an issue in traditional TV where the same ad goes out to all, but in OTT, where addressability and per-viewer measurement is in play, a separate ad call is required for each streaming session and that’s a lot of work to cram into a very short space of time.  In situations like this our prefetch system is crucial.

Enhanced viewing

Another thing to consider, especially in sports, is the use of enhanced players.  BT Sport put the viewer front and centre of the action by allowing viewers to skip back from the live stream to whenever there had been a major event in the match.  It was crucial for the SSAI system to work within this environment and our system worked within the specific demands of this format so that BT Sport could provide its customers with a front row seat of Tier 1 sporting events. Read more about the project here.

If you’d like to learn more about improving viewer experience, please click here to book a meeting on our booth 14.G14 in the Content Everywhere Hall at IBC.

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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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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TV4 extends its relationship with Yospace for server-side ad insertion into live and VoD

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Sweden’s largest commercial broadcaster continues to lead the way in OTT monetisation

Staines-upon-Thames, UK, February 27th 2019 – TV4 has agreed an extension with Yospace to provide server-side ad insertion (SSAI) across its TV Everywhere service, TV4Play.  TV4 was the first company to launch the technology in Sweden in 2014, initially using it to monetise VoD content before applying it to live channels, too.

The technology is a crucial cog in TV4’s forward-thinking data strategy as it allows advertising to be one-to-one addressable and opens the door to a mix of ad sales methods, including first and third-party sold and programmatic.  This is achieved while maintaining a true TV-quality viewing experience, which helps TV4 to achieve its goal of removing the distinction between traditional linear TV and digital and present itself as platform agnostic to advertisers.

Yospace’s SSAI solution (also referred to as dynamic ad insertion) allows advertising to be stitched into live and VoD content watched via OTT in a way that is completely seamless to the viewer.  Ads are prepared in advance to match the encoding profile of the source stream and are stitched before the video reaches the user’s device, thus removing the prospect of buffering and inconsistencies of older technologies as programming switches to and from an ad break.

Each viewer session is handled individually, meaning that an ad call is made on behalf of each viewer.  This helps TV4 future-proof its advertising: the broadcaster is free to continue developing its data strategy knowing it already has the necessary ad-tech in place.

Mathias Berg, COO at TV4 Group: “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.  Having successfully launched both dynamic ad insertion with operators and log in on TV4Play, TV4 is now in a unique position to offer the combination of reach, inventory and data to Swedish advertisers. 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.”

Edward New, Commercial Director at Yospace: “TV4 was in the first wave of broadcasters to embrace server-side ad insertion and I’m delighted that our long-term relationship is continuing.  The broadcaster has used the technology to re-define television and data-driven advertising for a modern audience.  TV4 was also among the first to recognise the advantages of a joined up live and VoD SSAI strategy.”

TV4Play for web can be accessed at https://www.tv4play.seand the app is available on all the major connected devices.

– ENDS –

 

 About Yospace

Yospace is the foremost provider of server-side ad insertion (SSAI) technology in the world today.  Its solution allows live streams and on demand (VoD) content to be monetised for OTT in a way that is true to the seamless viewer experience of linear television, while opening up benefits of digital advertising such as one-to-one addressability and real-time measurement.

Yospace was the first to publicly demonstrate SSAI in a live stream, with ITV in 2012, and today services major broadcasters and network operators across the globe, including AT&T in the USA; Sky Media, ITV, BT Sport, Channel 4 and STV in the UK; Telia and TV4 in Sweden; SonyLIV in India (in partnership with Akamai Technologies); Seven West Media and Network Ten in Australia.

In early 2019 Yospace was 100% acquired by RTL Group.

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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