**NOTE: Since this article was published, the IAB has released the Open Measurement SDK, a viewability and verification standard that aims at creating a common framework single software development kit (SDK) implementation that works for all vendors. The result: publishers will need only one SDK to measure viewability, even if they work with multiple vendors. Most importantly, the way vendors interact with mobile applications will impact the entire ecosystem — publishers, media agencies, technology companies, advertisers, and trade organizations.
The Open Measurement SDK concerns both display and video. Therefore, you’ll find it in the updated version of our Evolution of IAB Video Advertising Standards timeline.**
The Rise of Video Advertising
Selling and serving video advertisements has been considered complicated for publishers and advertisers for two key reasons — their lack of familiarity with video players’ technical capabilities and the move towards the consumption of video on multiple screens. Although the most common access point for digital video is still the computer, the growth of consumption via tablet, smartphone and smart TV is on the rise.
Video advertising engages the user and makes an impact, so it’s a popular format amongst advertisers; U.S. digital ad spend on video is poised to increase in the next three years, jumping from almost 10 billion in 2016 to over 15 billion in 2019. And as ad spend increases, it will remain split between screens. For example, in 2019 the U.S. will see $6.82 billion in digital video ad spend on mobile and $7.95 billion on desktop.
The result of this popularity has been the creation of technical specifications for all the players involved; the goal being to streamline the process of selling and serving video ads. The creation of such standards-based advertising requires publishers, advertisers and actors involved in the ad tech sector to adhere to certain criterion, fostering the delivery of video ads across platforms and devices with no alterations. The resulting improvement in efficiency has positively impacted revenues for all players. But we can’t delve into the impact of standardization on monetization without first discussing the evolution of the technical specifications.
The IAB and Video Advertising: VAST, VPAID and VMAP
The IAB digital video suite, which is comprised of the 2012 VAST, VPAID and VMAP protocols, has streamlined the process of video ad serving. The three specifications ensure that ads, ad servers, and video players can communicate seamlessly and effectively. VAST, which stands for Video Ad Serving Template and was the first of the three standards to be created, is considered the universal language of video ads. Most ad servers and video players have adopted the protocol, and it has played a key role in the development of the digital video marketplace.
VAST structures scripts that serve advertisements to video players, sending metadata about the manner in which to serve an ad. The information, which consists of creative files, click-through URLs and reporting trackers, among other data, is sent in the form of a VAST file (XML document) from the ad server—the deliveryman—to the video player, which plays back the content. The commands and instructions dictate how the video player should handle an ad. That includes how it’s displayed in the player, how long it should play and whether or not it’s skippable.
The standard also defines how the video is measured — that means in terms of impressions and clicks as well as tracking points such as completed views. VAST gives, for example, media agencies and publishers the opportunity to define the price of video inventory using cost-per-completed-view (CPCV).
In addition, VAST defines additional user interaction measurements such as play, pause, skip, mute / unmute and full-screen click rates, giving both buyers and sellers a more precise picture of the manner in which videos are viewed. With VAST standards, one can be sure that a video will play on any video player and that elementary user actions will be measured accordingly.
However, the protocol only supports non-executable video ad formats. In short, it doesn’t permit the user to interact heavily with the ad and supports only basic interaction, like the possibility to click on a video and be redirected to the advertiser’s website. On the other hand, the VPAID (Video Player-Ad Interface Definition) standard introduces an additional interactive layer enriching the ad experience inside of the player. When the video is marked interactive, VAST sends a VPAID executable file to the player that allows for the video to do things like expand when clicked on, display multiple windows showing additional contents or propose various interaction options (social media buttons, forms, etc.). VPAID also gives advertisers more information about campaign success and interactivity.
Both advertisers and publishers rely on VAST and VPAID to define a common framework for communication between ad servers, ad creatives and video players, but the two norms alone don’t define the structure for the ad inventory along the video content stream. To respond to this dilemma, VMAP (Video Multi-Ad Playlist), was created. This third video suite standard gives video owners the ability to control monetization of their content by defining the structure of ad inventory, such as ad break positioning, the number of ads allowed in each ad break or the allocation of ad breaks to advertisers of other parties, before the distribution of the advertisement. With VMAP, publishers know exactly when to insert ad tags to define the timing and number of ad breaks.
VAST is, without a doubt, the most widely adopted standard of the three. The first version was introduced to the market in 2008, and just two years later, 67% of publishers, 92% of advertisers and 75% of ad networks supported it. VPAID is supported by many, but it depends on the player and the device. VMAP, on the other hand, is for particularly specific needs.
Regardless of popularity, all the standards have gone through quite an evolution over the past eight years. It’s important to note, though, that there are large gaps of time between versions, which has fostered the widespread adoption of earlier standards. In addition, not all advertisers, publishers and video players have adopted the standards simultaneously upon their release, which explains why many are still using VAST 2.0 even though VAST 4.0 is now available. The most important improvements seen in this newest version of VAST, as well as its impact on the market, will be discussed in Part II of this article. In the meantime, take a look at the evolution below to get a good idea of how things have changed over the past eight years.
Be sure to click on the image to enlarge it!
Photo by Mitch Nielsen