How VAST 4.0 Responds to Emerging Challenges in Digital Video Advertising: Part I

Why should you read this article ?
Because VAST will help us solve some big problems in the ad tech industry.

The first piece in our series on video advertising standards, The Evolution of IAB Video Standards, traces the history of VAST, VPAID and VMAP. This second article explores VAST 4.0.’s response to market challenges through the creation of advertiser and publisher controls.

In January, the IAB published the fourth version of VAST specifications. The standard improves upon both advertiser and publisher controls, focusing on viewability, verification and ad categorization while taking into account the industry trend towards new screens and connected devices.

As with all other video standards, VAST grew out of the publisher’s need to improve the monetization of inventory while remaining in control of both ad revenue and user experience. But what does a smoother operation mean in business terms?

Advertiser controls

Viewability and verification have become more important on both the sell side and the buy side. Both players are looking to maximize yield and verify investments; everyone wants to ensure they’re paying (or getting paid for) the product at hand — a video that’s actually viewed. For advertisers, it’s also about having the option of comparing viewability measures between publishers. In other words, they want the ability to weigh their options when it comes to ad placement.

In 2015, disagreements over viewability and verification measurements resulted in sanctions by advertisers: Kellog stopped buying ads on Google-owned YouTube because the company wouldn’t allow third-party vendors to verify whether or not ads had been seen and Kraft followed suit by reducing ad spend with certain publishers.

Mounting tensions as well as studies proving the discrepancy between counted video views and significant views forced the industry to re-think viewability measurements.

Ad verification and viewability execution

In the past, some were using VPAID as a way to measure viewability even though the standard was firstly created for ad interaction. This worked, but there were limits, such as the inability to display or measure ads on certain devices and certain players. VAST 4.0 brings something new — a designated space to insert measurement APIs, which streamlines the process for executing files that are dedicated to ad verification.

It’s a plus for publishers too, as the new element in the VAST xml schema gives them the ability to track viewability on their inventory. Publishers are looking for a way to provide advertisers with a fair deal, too, and this new element will help them to do that. The result is a shared manner of measurement that eliminates the need for marketers and publishers to go through third parties.

VAST 4.0 publisher controls

VAST 4.0 viewability and verification measurements may benefit both advertisers and publishers, but there are certain controls built into the standard that are specifically geared toward the latter.

Separate video file and interactive file

With the objective of improving the quality of ad delivery, the VAST 4.0 tag provides the video file separately from any creative interactive API files, which means a more successful display of the video across platforms and devices.

Ad categories

VAST 4.0 has also added support for ad categories, which helps to separate competing ad creative on the same page or in the same ad pod. This is a big help for those publishers who wish to — for business or legal reasons — have a say in the types of advertisements that appear on their site. For example, a site geared towards child users might want to decline the delivery of violent or inappropriate videos, while an e-commerce site might want to improve brand safety by ensuring that ads from competing companies are not viewed. It’s important to note that these ad categories are the same as those used by OpenRTB, which means VAST 4.0 provides publishers with better control of ad categories in both programmatic and direct sales.

Earlier versions of VAST were highly flexible, permitting 3rd parties such as ad networks to claim ad space with conditional insertions, but without guaranteeing the space would be actually filled (and monetized). Unfortunately for publishers, they didn’t have any control over this buying method. Recognizing the problems this posed for the sell side, the IAB ensured VAST 4.0 could identify conditional ads, and allow the publisher to decide if they wanted to accept them or not, giving them better control over the monetization of video inventory.

What else?

This enhancement of control on both the advertiser and publisher side was driven by and will result in the continuation of the monetization of video inventory. However, when we look closely at what VAST 4.0 brings, we also see that standards are leaning towards greater support for new screens.

Stay tuned! The last article in this series will be on how VAST 4.0 addresses new screens and devices.


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