Today, video-content owners have more opportunities to reach viewers than ever, thanks to the popularity of online video viewing, which accounts for one-half of all mobile traffic, according to Digiday. But meeting viewer demand is more complex now due to the proliferation of devices and fragmentation of video-playback technologies.
Before the launch of the iPad in 2010, most devices used Flash to deliver a consistent video experience typically focused on the desktop. Not only did the iPad standardize on and consequently popularize two new technologies — HTML5 and HLS — but the iPad changed when, where and how we consumed video. The enormous popularity of the device resulted in a major shift in the way video was transcoded, delivered, consumed and monetized.
Content owners who want to deliver a seamless, TV-like viewing experience across all screens (smartphones, tablets, Roku, gaming consoles, etc.) must now meet the challenge of technical fragmentation and device proliferation. The good news is that advances in video-playback and ad-insertion technology have made it possible to optimally format and deliver both ads and content across multiple platforms and screens.
Most content owners use client-side ad-insertion technology to monetize content, enabling enhanced client-side monetization models — interactive ad units and pay-per-click — and client-side beaconing for targeting and reporting. But there is a significant downside to this strategy: Some 28 percent of U.S. viewers use Adblock Plus.
And that’s not all: Content owners using a client-side strategy must also rely on complex client-side processes to manage requests, rendering, control and beaconing, and they must resign themselves to variations in connectivity quality. The client assumes that the requested ad creative is optimized by quality and format for the platform and screen size. In the best case, the user has a small delay in buffering; in the worst case, the ad isn’t playable due to incompatible format, or the ad request process takes too long and no ad is returned.
When added together, all of these factors can result in inconsistent ad delivery and a viewing experience that doesn’t meet TV-like standards — including the display of buffering icons. And with the expanding set of platforms with varying capabilities, content owners often have to rely on ad vendors to provide SDKs (software-development kits) for each platform.
Server-side ad-insertion technology is a second-generation approach content owners utilize to address these problems. With server-side ad insertion, content and ads are transcoded and combined in a single stream. Viewers get a consistent video experience across all platforms and screen types, while content owners can deliver dynamic user-targeted ads, whether a single pre-roll for a short clip or a full broadcast ad load — pre-roll pods, mid-roll pods and post-roll pods — for a full primetime television episode.
However, server-side ad-insertion technology has its drawbacks. In a fully server-side approach, server-side ad-insertion technology works the same way across both “smart” and “dumb” devices; it doesn’t allow content owners to take full advantage of specific device functions that could optimize the ad experience: controlling the UI during ads, rendering click-throughs or interactive ad units or client-side beaconing.
The third generation of ad-insertion technology combines the best of both worlds. A hybrid ad-insertion approach delivers the comprehensive dynamic ad-insertion capabilities that make server-side technology a good choice with the rich interactivity that client-side technology offers. And more important, a hybrid approach handles most of the complexity involved in ad insertion using server-side functionality, which means reduced requirements for client-side logic, also known as a “thin” client. This enables delivery of a broad spectrum of ads to a wide variety of devices while optimizing consumption and measurement capabilities.
The hybrid ad-insertion strategy can offer an additional benefit, as well: Content owners can insert ad video content, as well as ad signaling, within the stream, enabling optimization of the client-side video experience for live streaming content. This turns the traditional view-only ad into interactive ad units — either within the player or as part of the application or page.
Segmented streaming technologies such as Apple’s HTTP live-streaming protocol are the ideal way to enable hybrid ad insertion and are widely used for many non-iOS devices. This approach, combined with a flexible, high-performance video-player-management system, provides content owners with a way to streamline work flows and deliver a TV-like experience while maximizing viewer engagement and monetization across platforms and devices.
According to a Cisco Systems forecast, video-on-demand traffic will double between 2013 and 2018, and live broadcasts will increasingly drive second-screen traffic. For content owners looking to capitalize on the rapid growth of online video viewership, hybrid ad-insertion and advanced player-management technology are providing new opportunities.
Albert Lai is the chief technology officer of cloud-based video solution Brightcove.
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