OTT Advertising to Come of Age with Targeting and Workflow Standards

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Adstream and Yospace are keenly interested in targeted advertising, aware that the growing availability of online TV programming is creating opportunities for digital advertising with impressive reach and targeting options. Adstream manages ad workflow, content and cross-media distribution, while Yospace is a content distribution developer specialising in server-side dynamic ad insertion in live and on-demand streaming.

Together they presented an OTT-specific targeting standard at NAB 2017, part of their ongoing collaboration, and support DVB’s plans to improve on the proprietary nature of addressable TV advertising systems today by developing industry standards. Both companies believe that this is the first time advertisers have been able to deliver targeted ads against TV programming, and that if this ability is to reach the same level of sophistication as other forms of online advertising, then media, advertisers and technology providers must work toward standardisation. 

Addressable or targeted advertising can be a way for advertisers to break away from the broad demographic targeting originally intended to link to linear TV, finding that traditional content in a digital ad-serving environment loses effectiveness. Or it may be more ambitious. Online video distribution can, for example, aim to target ads against individuals rather than channels and potentially present different advertising to every user watching the same channel.

Standardising OTT ads helps address several major challenges. Adstream’s CTO Andy Jones and David Springall, CTO from Yospace, consider aspects of three of them here - preventing lost advertising space, managing clearance and rights, and making ad results visible.

Matching the Content Stream

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Ad management services are responsible for inserting ads into an OTT stream, and in the case of Yospace’s platform, will automatically transcode the ad to precisely match the content stream specification. But such services cannot insert ads that have not been previously prepared, and any incompatible ad must be skipped with a proportionate loss of revenue for the broadcaster until the ad is available.

Online video is usually delivered, via content delivery networks, directly to end user devices. How much this fact affects advertising content may vary depending on the ad insertion model used. David Springall said, “The industry is moving to a server-side model for ad insertion, an architecture that stitches ads into the stream on an individual user basis on the server-side, such that the receiving device is effectively unaware that content has been switched. In this model, it is essential that ad copy matches the technical specifications of the content, to make sure that the user device receiving the stream is able to play the inserted ad without interruption.”

To address this demand, each element of a targeting system needs to be considered during the advertiser’s campaign brief, making effective capture of media targeting parameters a key part of the production of targeted content. Without standards and a system for managing the transfer of targeting information, it becomes more difficult to predict how effective a campaign will be.

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Among workflows for ad copy preparation, there is no standard way of indicating what ad copy should be used, nor is there a standard way for digital ad trafficking teams to make ad copy available for digital use. Yospace has found that most advertisers use a fairly simple just-in-time workflow in which newly launched ads are transcoded on-the-fly, and meanwhile factor in the possible loss of revenue occurring when new ads are trafficked for the first time and might not be available for stream insertion. But some ad companies build more detailed workflows with their ad trafficking teams to ensure that new ad copy is pre-transcoded when it goes live so that every response from the ad server can be honoured.

Controlling Digital Rights Online

“Tracking and managing usage rights is a well-established process in TV advertising, where rights are the responsibility of the media agency and brand," said Andy Jones. "But the contracts for this content are often negotiated up front. The media channels may be clearly defined and have limited geographical specifications. As a result, media agencies tend to be cautious about distributing TV content through online platforms, where playout across media channels that were not part of the original contract is hard to control.”

Campaign management services like Adstream advocate storing content and rights in a single platform with contract information directly associated with each ad, allowing programmatic ad serving to be moderated. This would not only allow advertisers to safely push their existing TV content onto OTT platforms, but also open the route for more sophisticated OTT-specific campaigns in future.

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By defining the usage rights and contract restrictions against the media at the point of creation, and essentially publishing this media with not only regional, but also presentation and clearance data such as watershed, time of day, mature audiences and so on, the ad serving system can make decisions about the relevance of the content alongside the targeting decisions. Once the data is cleared throughout the supply chain, media agencies and brands can feel more confident about exposing media to the right audience while minimizing the risk of rights related penalties.

Standardising Metadata for Ad Metrics

Adstream and Yospace both see ad content creation that is in most cases still based on broad demographic targeting, driven purely by traditional, linear TV. However, David said, “Yospace finds campaigns based on a collaborative approach between the media owner and the advertiser are much more effective. In many cases, we find that a single traditional TV ad would be better represented by many different variants served across a targeted environment. All variants have the same overall theme or message, but the nuances are augmented for each variation in demographic data such as gender, age range and geo-location, plus customer intelligence gained from broadcaster metrics.”

As is true of other kinds of digital advertising, accurate measurement is a large part of improving ad creative and reducing waste. It requires that ad metrics, in the form of standardised metadata, are stored against the ad itself to allow monitoring and reporting across platforms. This metadata would ideally be applied by the creative and media agencies, and carried with the ad throughout its entire lifecycle, creating a documented chain of custody.

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Traceable chains of custody are necessary in connected supply chains to independently verify action and amendments, and serve as a source of truth for data and the integrity of media. Content chain of custody becomes important when tagging rights management and payment events against media, and particularly for content availability. Unless the lineage of the content a programmatic ad system is serving can be verified, attributions – that is, tracking and crediting the techniques that lead to viewer conversion – may not be accurate. If it has been subject to media substitution through 3rd party ad servers for unknown purposes, for example, it can skew the effectiveness of the data that analytics platforms are reporting.    

Defining a Model

In these three areas, lack of standardization in ad copy management leads to various issues ranging from quality assurance to ad availability, which in turn lead to loss of revenue. In live streaming especially, specific events that are capable of attracting very large audiences may have a very limited number of ad spots. Therefore incompatible or unavailable ad files can lead to significant loss of revenue. In the meantime, the fact that each broadcaster still needs to invent its own workflow to take broadcast ad copy into the digital domain needs to be addressed. It brings an opportunity not only to reduce costs, but to improve quality and limit loss of revenue caused by workflow failures.

Yospace and Adstream aim to develop a model in which ads, rights and metadata are formatted correctly and stored in a single location accessible to programmatic platforms and third parties is required to remove the barriers to true programmatic OTT advertising. In such an environment, high quality media can be scheduled and served through dynamic ad insertion with greater ad volume, immediacy and scope for measurement.