How to beat ad-blockers: it’s not a one size fits all solution

In this guest post, Vicki Lyon explains the difference between server side and client side ad insertion, the pros and cons of both, and how to determine which one is best for your business.

Vicki Lyon-3_BW

According to Adobe Pagefair’s 2015 report, 18% of Australians have ad-blockers installed, and that’s estimated to have cost publishers around $4 billion in revenue lost during 2015, with projections even higher in 2016.

Media companies in Australia, such as Network Ten, are fighting back with the help of anti-ad-blocking solutions, but not all solutions are created equal.

There’s a misguidance in the industry that server-side ad insertion (SSAI) is the end-all-be-all solution to ad-blockers. That’s simply not true.

Sure, SSAI is one solution, and for some publishers it could be the best route to take but there’s more to the equation.

Publishers need to take very careful examination when considering what option is right for them, whether that be server-side or client-side ad insertion (CSAI), based on the devices they’re delivering content, what kind of content, live or VOD for example, and the ad formats their ad buyers are paying to place.

To state it plainly, unless you, the content provider, are delivering mostly live content, where server-side ad stitching works great to minimise latency between content and the ads, or you’re serving content to older devices, like the first generation of Apple TV that doesn’t support client-side, you’ll find SSAI to be more costly and burdensome.

Let me explain why.

Ad format limitations

A significant drawback to SSAI is it prevents a broadcaster or publisher from serving ad formats that are popular with ad inventory buyers. Server-side stitching is not compatible with  VPAID formats, which accounts for a large and growing portion ads, namely pre-rolls, currently being bought and served globally.

Marketing concept: hand holding smartphone with word Advertising on display. Mobile smart phone on White background, 3d render

An inability to serve these types of ads will result in significant lost advertising revenue as buyers turn to other platforms that can serve VPAID. Further, ad types that allow for a high level of interactivity or include overlays, are also impossible to stitch into the server-side, and these are the ad types that usually command the highest possible CPMs. And the reasoning is simple.

Build once. Not twice.

Here’s where the rubber hits the road when deciding between CSAI vs. SSAI. In the nascent days of video advertising much of the devices on the market didn’t support client-side ad insertion, as such SSAI was the only means to circumnavigate that issue. However, those issues have long been resolved.

It’s no longer a hurdle for content providers to deliver ads to the devices their audiences are consuming content, and as a result the rest of the industry – by and large – has built towards and developed a client-side ecosystem due to its inherent format advantages over SSAI.

In choosing SSAI today, companies may have to begin running multiple, concurrent ad serving technologies, with the associated cost and complexity in order to support their server-side player in addition to client-side ad formats and advertisers.

Businessman Checking Data - thinkstockAdvertising and content, two types of video that are typically handled as distinct formats, often processed by separate teams, will suddenly need to flow through the same vendor’s technology solution.

Implementing a SSAI solution could prove outdated fast and comes with the risk of not being on par with the broader ad ecosystem. Companies considering this approach should look very carefully at total cost, timelines for implementation, implications for their overall ad business and how fast a proposed solution may become obsolete.

Analytics and reporting drawbacks

Arguably, one of the biggest pros in TV’s migration online is the ability to accurately track and measure your audience understand how they want to engage with content as well as the ability to personalise the experience. That’s extremely difficult with SSAI.

Stitching ads into a stream, like with SSAI, compromises much of the ability to understand audience engagement, clicks, drop off rates, views on specific devices, time of day, etc.

Server-side solutions lose the granularity publishers, and more importantly their advertisers, expect or require today. Without full transparency into how ads and content are performing, publishers and broadcasters are flying blind with a large percentage of their videos – a big compromise to make in order to deal with ad-blocking.

adblockplus_promoIs there a downside to client-side?

Certainly. As mentioned before, there’s so single-fit solution. Each has their drawbacks and opportunities.

Particularly, client-side ad insertion is not the best means for live streaming. As server-sider literally ‘stitches’ the ad into the content, the playback is seamless as play-out sees it as a single piece of content rather than divided into multiple sections.

Client-side ad insertion relies on dynamic ad-insertion, where an ad is called upon and delivered in the milliseconds between frames. The upside is it allows for a more personalised experience, tailoring the ad to the user, device, location, etc., rather than being beholden to serving the same ad to the same viewer irrespective of the contextual details.

A word cloud of advertising related items

And client-side solutions have seen results. For example, between December 2014 and June 2015, five major European premium publishers using CSAI-based anti-ad blocking functionality consistently unlocked more than 90 million previously blocked ad impressions per month. As a result, these publishers realised more than $1 million of additional – or previously lost – revenue monthly.

The vast majority of advertising technology today is built and designed on the client side. Support for measurement, audience tracking and many popular ad formats are lost with ad stitching, eliminating the means to provide a more personalised experience for the user and more targeted buying for the advertiser.

Publishers and advertisers that want those capabilities, and all desktop devices, are best off using client-side ad insertion as the default.

Vicki Lyon is the director of adtech at APJ for Ooyala


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