Improve Video Quality Experience and Increase Revenue with Verizon’s Server-Side Ad Insertion

Having ads can be a messy business. Although viewers may complain about them and use ad blockers to avoid them, ads are a primary means for publishers to deliver revenue around their content. But the ad insertion process itself is complicated, and it can create unnecessary risks. Publishers would greatly benefit from a more efficient way of delivering ads without complexity and risk, but the question is, does such a method actually exist?

Traditionally, inserting ads into the playback experience involves the app or browser on the user’s device. It requires performing a complex dance, coordinating playback of the original video with the insertion of ads into the required ad breaks. Unfortunately, this has placed a huge burden on publishers to implement this in a multi-screen environment.

Online video service providers are faced with the daunting task of delivering apps for a wide array of popular connected devices. For example, to reach 70 percent of smart TVs requires a minimum of 20 different apps. (1) Now add in all the game consoles, streaming media players and connected mobile devices, and the scale of the challenge becomes clearer. Simply put, service providers are faced with creating and maintaining up to 50 or more apps to get good coverage of all the app platforms that matter.

Having the client app manage the ad insertion process complicates things further. When ad insertion is handled on the client, the process typically includes a complex array of software development kits (SDKs), which must be implemented and updated for every streaming device. And with little standardization of operating systems among device manufacturers, publishers must employ a costly menagerie of developers and contractors to keep their ads displaying correctly.

If the dizzying array of video encoding formats, digital rights management systems and analytics providers are also factored in, the streaming system becomes exponentially complex, and leads to fragility and breakdowns when a publisher starts to scale to larger audiences. All of this leads to a poor user experience and, ultimately, a loss of revenue.

However, there is a less complicated solution. It’s called server-side ad insertion (SSAI), and it involves inserting ads into the video, in the cloud, rather than on the device.

In a server-side model, the Verizon platform makes a targeted request to the ad server when an ad break is triggered. When the ad server delivers its decision, the ad is “stitched” into the primary video stream in the cloud, prior to being sent to the app. To the player on the client device, there is no difference between the ad content and the primary content. It is one video stream, containing both the original content and ads that have been personalized for each unique viewer session. The complex dance between players and SDKs on the client device is removed, eliminating multiple points of failure.

In addition, the Verizon platform utilizes a single-video format across all devices, which greatly simplifies the insertion, delivery, tracking and reporting of both content and ads. Verizon bears the burden of ensuring playback on new devices, not the publisher. Which means that reaching additional device platforms does not require hiring another team of developers.

As a video service provider, expanding the number of client devices your service can run on also has a direct impact on your bottom line. More compatible devices means more eyeballs seeing the ads!

The SSAI approach can also help improve the quality of experience for viewers. Having the ads inserted at the client is a breeding ground for playback delays that result in viewers impatiently watching the dreaded spinning wheel and possibly exiting the video. This delay can be caused by any number of problems, but the most prevalent is a poor or interrupted connection between ad server and client.

SSAI helps eliminate delays due to poor connections because it is no longer necessary for the client to talk to the ad server, wait for the ad to arrive, and insert it into the playing video. Instead, the device just keeps playing the same video stream. This simple task removes many of the sources of video playback disruption.

For example, with most streaming video formats, playback usually starts with low quality and then improves. In a client side model, starting an ad is like starting a new video, which causes a noticeable downshift in video quality, from a high-quality stream in the original content down to a fuzzy low-quality picture for the ad. Inserting the ads on the server side eliminates this problem and ensures that ads are delivered in the same high quality as the content. This is consistent with how ads are experienced on television, and can lead to higher ad completion rates.

In our previous blog, we discussed why server-side ad insertion could help beat the threat posed by ad blockers to streaming video services. Verizon’s server-side ad insertion (SSAI) technology stitches the ad in the intended spot in both on-demand or live video, before it is delivered to the requesting device. The ad blocker on the client device watches for the calls to the ad server. With no playback client call to the ad server, the ad blocker has no chance to block the ad.

By leveraging the power of SSAI in your ad-supported video service, you can improve your viewer experience with smooth, flawless video playback and enjoy a consistent revenue stream today.

(1) Colin Dixon, Television as an App: Taming the Device Fragmentation Problem, nScreenMedia, Q3 2013

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