The future of television lies in TV streaming, writes Stefan Kaiser, Video Engineer at Zattoo. It is now time to take TV advertising to the next level.
As Europe’s biggest TV streaming provider, Zattoo is laying the foundations for this and has developed a technical solution to enable dynamic ad insertion.
This dynamic ad insertion technology (DAI) operates with frame accuracy and independent of the user’s device. Zattoo is the first OTT TV streaming provider in Europe to offer a technical solution that exists not only as “proof of concept” but has already been deployed as a product.
Playout during a commercial break can be adjusted to various target groups and device-specific information. In an initial test project, Zattoo and the ProSiebenSat.1 group successfully replaced an ad from the linear signal during live operation of the app according to gender, meaning that female users saw an ad from Myday’s and male users saw a promo for Maxdome.
Dynamic ad insertion can generally be done in two technical ways. Either the ads are added directly on the client, i.e. within the app, or on server-side already being served within the stream. The client-side approach is currently the standard for web and app-based streaming services and at present is considered to be the trivial solution for pre-, mid- and post-roll advertising, however there are important disadvantages.
Ad blockers have become common practice both in the web and on mobile devices, hence advertising feeds are blocked and a significant source of revenue is lost. In addition, there is also a problem with mid-roll ads to the effect that when using a client-side approach they cannot be played frame accurate. Yet in order to exchange TV ad breaks, frame accuracy is an essential pre-condition. A server-side approach first enables this important frame accurate exchange and prevents even ad blockers from having a chance.
Moreover, a very basic advantage lies in the fact that integrating ad frameworks in all the clients that are to be supported will no longer be necessary, which saves a lot of valuable development work. A server-side solution also allows platforms that got left out previously due to technical reasons to be served with all kinds of ads. All good reasons why Zattoo decided to implement the server-side approach and integrated it in its existing streaming architecture.
Now a deeper dive into what’s being done: As part of a server-side approach, Zattoo processes and analyses the incoming TV signal from a satellite or IP-Ingest and searches for ad markers that correspond to the SCTE-35 standard. This SCTE-35 standard specifies the exact start and end of an ad and thus enables the frame accurate exchange – either of the whole commercial block or of a single ad.
If a user is watching a live TV stream when an ad is signalled, the streaming backend processes the incoming SCTE-35 marker and sends a request to the ad server using the client’s target data. Any common ad server, e.g. DFP, can be used. The IAB VAST specification is used as a protocol for the information exchange between the backend and ad server. More especially, the future version of the VAST 4.0 video standard is already specifically meeting the requirements of server-side ad requests.
The ad server’s response contains a playlist of ad files, which are subsequently processed in the streaming backend and prepared for playback to the user. The stream delivered to the user will be replaced at defined points with spots that the ad server has delivered. This process is also known as ad stitching.
The live and on-demand streams are served to the clients as a unicast stream via one of the common HTTP streaming protocols such as MPEG-DASH, HLS, Smooth Streaming or HDS. DRM systems such as Widevine, PlayReady and FairPlay can also be used which enables playback on nearly every device available on the market.
The streams received by the user act like a normal live stream without dynamic ad insertion. For the user there is no noticeable difference and thus there is no opportunity for ad blockers to prevent the ad from playing.
For the first time the advantages of the digital advertising world will be linked to the audience reach of classic television and to a new opportunity to monetize the commercial break. Measurements for ad impression tracking, visibility, viewing rates and frequency capping are a matter of course and click URLs can also be incorporated.
This technical process offers an opportunity to play ads on platforms such as smart TVs, Apple TV and HbbTV, where ad frameworks like Google’s IMA have so far not been available.