Protecting Online Video Services Against the Threat of Ad Blockers

Video publishers that generate significant revenue from ads are most likely aware of the growing use of ad blockers. Data shows that they are already impacting many businesses’ bottom lines. So, the questions we should be asking are: What are they, how do they work, and more importantly, how do we fix the problem?

Ad blockers are used extensively by U.S. internet users. According to eMarketer, 41 percent have already installed ad-blocking software in their browser. And if your core market revolves around millennials, you could be particularly vulnerable. 63 percent of U.S. 18 to 34 year olds use an ad blocker. The behavior is not restricted to the U.S., with a third of internet users worldwide also blocking ads.

The technology can be extremely effective. For example,when AdBlock Plus (one of the most popular ad blockers) is installed on Chrome, video playback on YouTube is completely ad free and so smooth, the user may not even be aware that there were originally supposed to be ads. This is particularly alarming for YouTube, which recently introduced a $9.99 a month subscription service called Red whose principle feature is to allow a subscriber to watch ad free!

How do ad blockers seamlessly remove an ad from a video? They take advantage of the fact that many publishers insert the ads on the client device (aka client-side ad insertion.) In a client-side scenario, a user requests a video from a service like YouTube or Hulu, it starts streaming to the client. At some point, the player receives a signal that it’s time for an ad break, and it calls out to a third-party to find which ad to play. This is typically from an ad-serving company like or DoubleClick. At the end of the ad, the playback client resumes playing the original video.

Simply put, ad blockers work by intercepting the calls from the client to the ad server. Ad blockers maintain a list of known ad-serving locations and check each video request made by the playback client against this list. If the request is to a known ad-serving location, it simply blocks the request. With no ad to play, the playback client immediately resumes playing the original video. In many cases, the viewer is completely unaware that an ad should have been played.

Streaming websites like YouTube are determined to beat ad blockers and have employed work arounds to try and stop them. This cat-and-mouse game, between publisher and ad blocker, does not seem to have a ready conclusion where the publishers definitively win.

But, there are some decidedly non-technical ways for the publisher to defeat the ad blockers. For example, sponsoring the content rather than playing a traditional ad is guaranteed to bypass any adblocker. Unfortunately, this technique requires additional business terms and creative development and reduces the publisher’s ability to monetize a single piece of content with multiple brands and advertisers.

Perhaps the best way to beat ad blockers is to not do the ad insertion on the client device at all. Verizon’s server-side ad insertion (SSAI) technology dynamically stitches the ad into the content as it is streamed to the requesting device. For the playback client, it appears that there is only one video stream, which just happens to contain both the original content and the ads. This results in a better experience for the viewer, as there are no delays or video rebuffering as the player switches from content to ad and back.

In addition, all of the calls to the ad server take place in the cloud, away from the client device. Because of this abstraction, the ad blocker has no chance to listen for the request and intercept the call.

Defeating ad blockers is only one of the many advantages to Verizon’s SSAI. With our SSAI technology, we can:

  • Guarantee a bulletproof experience that ensures ads are consistently encoded and delivered without all the problems associated with client-side
  • Encode ads on-the-fly from third-party ad networks
  • Get your ads up and running without any new client-side development or updates to your app
  • Ensure your viewers enjoy consistent playback quality, including volume; how loud an ad is has become a significant issue for broadcasters (spawning the CALM act)
  • Promise you lightning-fast, reliable delivery via Verizon’s global network — the same content delivery network (CDN) that powers many leading customers’ content into instantly gratifying experiences.

Stay tuned for more on these topics in future posts in our Server-Side Ad Insertion blog series.

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