Video Ad Operations Doesn’t Have to Hurt

Global warming is not the only thing raising the temperatures on Madison Avenue lately. Video advertising is hot and marketers can not get enough of it. Expected to grow 40 percent in each of the next two years, it’s one of the best tools for online marketers looking to reach engaged, active audiences and meet their top of the ad funnel goals. But that hockey stick growth probably has more than a few ad ops folks tugging at their hair.


The increased focus on video advertising means more ad revenue for publishers and a new distribution avenue for marketers, but it can also mean lots of work to follow through on these promises. As the process works right now, agencies produce in-stream video advertising content for clients and then manually send out the pieces to their publisher partners, including the video file and tracking pixels. Publishers can encode the video file to work on their site, and configure their various ad servers to be able to deliver these campaigns. That means more work for the operations teams and increased risk of human error.


Luckily, we’re seeing improvements in workflow and streamlining of video ad operations, thanks to industry standards. The IAB’s Video Ad Server Template (VAST) guidelines standardize an ad server’s response, increasing interoperability and simplifying the process for publishers looking to monetize their video inventory. VAST’s cousin, Video Player Ad Interface Definition (VPAID), defines the interface of advanced in-stream ads, which similarly ease the distribution and acceptance of advanced video ad formats.


Think of VAST as a shipping container that is used to deliver the ad response. Just as all shipping containers are a consistent size and shape and the tools used to open one can be used to open any shipping container, VAST is a common format that may contain various components, but packing that container is defined by the standard. Similar to how a shipping container might contain anything inside, the VAST document can reference any ad inside, but the format of that payload will be consistent.


A similar analogy can be used to describe VPAID. All mobile phones have an on/off button and a way to dial a number, but the details on what happens when the phone is turned on and the sounds made when a number is dialed are specific to the particular phone. But, as long as you know how to turn it on and make a call, you can use the phone. VPAID is an interface that defines how a video player can communicate with the ad to start it, react to interactions with the ad, and recognize when the ad has completed so that the player can resume the video content. This interface allows the ad to be like a black box with respect to the advanced functionality that is demanded by marketers, without requiring custom integrations by publishers wishing to have that ad served on their traffic.


The advent of common ad delivery methods has enabled the growth of video ad exchanges, a concept that didn’t exist until recently. Campaign delivery through VAST allows for the generic trafficking of campaigns within an exchange environment — without the buy- or sell-sides worrying about the hairy details.


Agencies recognize immediate workflow improvements when they adopt VAST to deliver creative and tracking URLs to traffic their in-stream ad campaigns. At the same time, publishers who support these standards appreciate a streamlined integration path and, most importantly, are maximizing their revenue streams because they’re able to accept ads from a deeper pool of ad sources.

No standard is ever complete and VAST and VPAID are no different. In the quickly changing world of online video, buy- and sell-side demands and technology advancements require standards to change and meet the needs of the ecosystem. Also, as with any spec, advertising standards suffer from being interpreted differently by different groups. The IAB has established educational and compliance committees, as well as technical standards working groups to help mitigate these issues and advance the interfaces that are part of the spec.


As marketers look for more efficient methods to reach their branding goals and move their TV spend to online video, the ability to quickly gain scale without needing to compromise on creative options or assume additional operational overhead is imperative. The evolving in-stream advertising industry standards are a crucial component in delivering on marketers’ need for results and publisher revenue goals.


Publishers will always strive to keep video traffic as a strong revenue source and advertising is the key component to that. Being able to seamlessly accept ads from any ad source is possible only when all parties in the conversation are speaking the same language. The IAB standards define that language, and must be a required part of the video curriculum.


As video delivery standards become more widespread, the challenges seen by publishers and marketers trying to maximize revenue and scale respectively will be a thing of the past and ad operations folks on both sides of the field will be thankful.