In Part 1 of this series we looked at why ad blocking has become such a big topic and a cause of real concern for broadcasters and large publishers serving video. We then assessed the various options for confronting the problem. Now, Oscar Wall, director of professional services at Ooyala, examines in depth the technology options for confronting the ad blocking issue.
Why server-side ad stitching may not be the answer right now
Many tech vendors are encouraging their customers and prospects to solve the ad blocking problem with server-side ad-stitching. This is the technique of ‘stitching’ the video ads into the stream, such that ad blockers do not recognise them as separate content and cannot therefore block them. This approach may sound simple, but there are currently some drawbacks in practice and content owners should be aware of these.
Ad format limitations
Probably the most significant current drawback to this approach is that it will prevent the broadcaster or publisher from serving ad formats that are popular with ad inventory buyers. Server side stitching does not work for the VPAID format, a format that accounts a large and growing portion of the pre-rolls currently being served in Europe, and an even higher percentage in the US and some other regions. An inability to serve these types of ads will result in significant lost advertising revenue as buyers turn to other platforms that can serve VPAID. More specialised, interactive ad types, for instance those that allow for a high level of interactivity or include overlays, are also impossible to stitch in on the server side, and these are the ad types that usually command the highest possible CPMs, although they are still relatively rare.
Expense, time and disruption
A second current disadvantage of server-side ad stitching is that it can be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive, involving a comprehensive re-evaluation of a company’s approach to serving ads and the way the company works with tech vendors. Server-side solutions involve implementing a brand new workflow for ad and content serving, one that essentially dual-processes all content and ads delivered to the audience. If a company is already finding complex video ad serving to be an operational challenge, then this will add an additional burden. The company may have to begin running multiple concurrent ad serving technologies, with the associated cost and complexity. Advertising and content, two types of video that are typically handled as distinct formats, often processed by separate teams, will suddenly need to flow through the same vendor’s technology solution. Some of the features and functions of the existing ad serving technology, which the ad ops team may hold dear, will be lost. Although ad-stitching has been around for a couple of years it is still emerging and changing as an approach, likely to become much more sophisticated very quickly. Implementing a solution now could prove outdated fast and comes with all the risks associated with emerging and untested technology solutions. Companies considering this approach should look very carefully at total cost, timelines for implementation, implications for their overall ad business and how fast a proposed solution may become obsolete.
Analytics and reporting drawbacks
Finally, stitching ads into a stream may also compromise a broadcaster or publisher’s ability to analyse their advertising and video viewing. Some vendors are better than others at counteracting these issues, often because they work closely with sophisticated ad server partners to engineer complex workarounds. Some solutions will get you the granularity you need, but many cannot. Without transparency on how ads and content are being delivered publishers and broadcasters may feel like they are flying blind with a large percentage of their videos – a big compromise to make in order to deal with ad blocking.
Plug-in based solutions: Faster, easier, cheaper and less risky
There is however another technology option for confronting ad blocking: a video player plug-in based anti-ad-blocker. This type of plug-in solution recognises when an ad is being blocked and circumvents the ad blocking technology. Essentially, it blocks the blocker. A few years ago, Ooyala assessed various approaches for assisting our customers in confronting the ad blocking problem. We are convinced that currently, given requirements on the buy-side, most importantly the popularity of the VPAID format, a plug-in based approach is best for our customers. It took us more time and effort to develop Ooyala Pulse Unlock than a server-side ad stitching solution would have taken to develop, but we think that, for now at least, it is the best option available.
Speed to impact, lack of disruption
Plug-in based solutions are quicker to deploy, usually fully enabled in a couple of weeks or less. The impact can therefore be immediate – one major European broadcaster Ooyala worked with unlocked 25% additional inventory in the first month of using Ooyala Pulse Unlock. Because the solution is lightweight and sophisticated it also involves no significant changes to the way ads are trafficked and workflows are managed – the company can continue running video advertising operations in the way that works best for their business. They can also continue assessing possible server-side solutions, while still unlocking blocked inventory and recovering revenue from day one.
A model aligned to your revenue stream
The costs associated with using a plug-in solution are aligned with the additional revenue created. Unlike server-side ad-stitching, a company using a plug-in only pays when an ‘unlocked’ ad is served, with no additional cost associated when video inventory sell-out is low and there is no ad to serve. A server-side solution might identify that an ad blocker is in use, switch to server-side stitching, call an ad and then find there is no ad to serve, resulting in additional cost with no additional revenue. Fill rates and sell-out rates typically vary significantly throughout the year, meaning the server-side approach may be far less cost-effective for long periods. Implementing a server-side solution will always result in the cost and disruption mentioned above even if your business circumstances change. The plug-in based solution scales exactly to the amount of revenue you are losing to ad blocking.
Client-side plug-in has the advantage over server-side stitching – for now
Ad blocking is a significant threat to video revenues and it is still unclear what the ongoing impact will be as more viewing transitions to mobile, where the impact of ad blocking is only beginning to be felt. However, for now the desktop ad blocking issue remains and broadcasters and publishers will lose millions in video advertising revenue if they do not move fast to implement technology solutions to counteract the problem. At Ooyala we are convinced that the plug-in based approach gets to the real root of the issue with an elegant and technically sophisticated solution that does not involve a complete re-think of your existing technology. As the situation and technology options evolve we think it is the easiest, most cost-effective and least disruptive solution. Please do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Also, do download our White Paper on ad blocking, please go to: