Advances in Video Playback and Ad Insertion Technology Open New Doors

/ Jan 2, 2015

which platform is best for your online video?

By Albert Lai

Video content owners have more opportunities than ever before to get their content in front of viewers. Video viewership has exploded online, with online video content now accounting for half of all mobile traffic, according to a Digiday report. As viewership has increased, so has the number of devices viewers use, continuing the fragmentation of video playback technologies. Prior to 2010, most devices used Flash technology for consistent and reliable playback across desktop video experiences. With the release of the iPad in 2010, its use of HTML5 technology and HLS – and most importantly the device’s adoption by consumers – opened the floodgates for new technology adoption and a major increase in fragmentation of how video was transcoded, delivered, consumed, and monetized.

This technical fragmentation – along with the proliferation of devices – presents challenges for content owners who want to fulfill user expectations for a seamless TV-like viewing experience across all screens, including phones, tablets, and over-the-top (OTT) devices like Roku. While content owners now have unprecedented opportunities, they also face the complex task of formatting and delivering both ads and content to work across multiple platforms and screens for a seamless video experience.

To meet the monetization challenge, most content owners utilize client-side ad insertion technology. This strategy provides monetization opportunities via interactive ad units and pay-per-click models as well as beaconing for targeting and reporting. But there are drawbacks to the client-side approach: susceptibility to ad blockers (~28% of the US using AdBlock Plus), operational challenges to ensure ad creatives are optimally formatted and compatible with multiple platforms and screen sizes, dependence on vendors to provide client-side advertising SDKs across multiple platforms, and reliance on a complex client-side process (request, render, control, and beaconing) on varying quality of connectivity. The combination of all of these factors can result in inconsistent ad delivery and a less than TV-like viewing experience – have you ever seen a buffering icon during your broadcast television experience?

As an alternative, some content owners use server-side ad insertion technology, which combines content and advertising into a single stream of content and delivers a consistent video experience across all devices. This server-side delivery approach solves the challenging problem of delivering content and dynamic user-targeted advertising across multiple platforms and screens, but it falls short in other areas. Since the approach is fully server-side, it’s doesn’t rely on the client-side capabilities of the device, whether “smart” or “dumb.” Consequently, the playback experience may not take advantage of specific functionality that could optimize the advertising experience on more advanced devices, from controlling the UI during ads, rendering click-through or interactive ad units, or client-side beaconing.

Today, content owners have a third choice that delivers the best of both worlds: hybrid ad insertion. This approach combines the comprehensive dynamic ad insertion approach enabled by server-side technology with the rich interactivity of client-side technology. Most importantly, this approach handles much of the complexity via server-side functionality, requiring a substantially reduced set of client-side logic – a “thin” client – to provide both breadth and consistently of delivering ads and content to the widest range of devices and to ensure that the advertising experience provides enhanced capabilities to optimize consumption and measurement.

Hybrid ad insertion can even be taken a step further. By inserting ad video content as well as ad signaling within the stream, the client-side video experience can be optimized for live streaming content, turning the traditional view-only advertisement into interactive ad units, within the player or as part of the application or page.

Hybrid ad insertion is best enabled via segmented streaming technologies such as Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming protocol, which has become a de facto standard for many non-iOS devices. Combining hybrid ad insertion technology with a widely supported streaming protocol and a flexible, high performance video player management system gives content owners a powerful set of tools that translates into streamlined workflows and the ability to reach every device and platform for maximum monetization. For users, it means faster load times, a more seamless TV-like experience, and increased engagement.

Online video viewership is expected to continue its astonishing growth trajectory; a Cisco forecast estimates that consumer video on demand traffic will double between 2013 and 2018, with live broadcasts driving the second-screen phenomenon. Fortunately for content owners, hybrid ad insertion and advanced player management technology now allows content owners to capture the opportunity this rapid growth presents.

AlbertLai-headshot-square (3)[1]Albert Lai is CTO, Media, at Brightcove. In this role, Albert provides technical leadership for Brightcove’s Media Group, working with customers worldwide to address their multi-platform content delivery, workflow, monetization, and distribution requirements, with a focus on mobile, second screen, and TV Everywhere solutions. Albert holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University.

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