Streaming and media companies are not lacking in options when it comes to finding flexible vendor solutions that can optimise the delivery of ads for on-demand services. 

If the growth of on-demand revenues over the past five years has often seemed remarkable, then recent data issued by Digital TV Research suggests that the best is still yet to come. Among its headline figures was the forecast that global video-on-demand advertising income will increase by $39 billion to $66 billion between 2020 and 2026 – translating to 32% of total OTT revenues, up from 26% in 2020. 

Namita Dhallan BrightCove

Namita Dhallan, BrightCove

So it follows that, technologically speaking, the stakes are high. Timeliness and relevance are everything, and content services are continually on the lookout for technologies that can enhance – and streamline – their workflows in these areas. Vendor-wise, ad requirements continue to inspire an impressive level of innovation involving both new and existing platforms. 

Meanwhile, fresh buzzwords and concepts – such as ‘contextual advertising’ – continue to enter the lexicon. Namita Dhallan, Chief Product Officer at Brightcove, observes: “Contextual advertising is one trend that has become increasingly important because it helps to protect consumer privacy and provides a way to target ads without using web cookies – which is already shaping content management and ad operations for publishers. The brands we work with across the media industries are determining how to operationalise automated video intelligence in their content supply chain to better support their advertising workflows.” 

“Contextual advertising is one trend that has become increasingly important because it helps to protect consumer privacy and provides a way to target ads without using web cookies,” Namita Dhallan, Brightcove 

Consequently, the following conversations with technology providers indicate a sector that is emphatically focused on helping services optimise their revenue opportunities as viewing habits mature. 

Automation & audience targeting 

Pieter Liefooghe, Business Development Director at Broadpeak, puts the development of on-demand advertising in a broader context of “tremendous growth in advertising on the web and across mobile devices” – in no small part thanks to ads reaching more viewers at “very affordable price points”, the automation of transactions between ad inventory sellers and buyers, and the opportunity to target certain audiences with ad campaigns. 

Broadpeak_Pieter Liefooghe

Pieter Liefooghe, Broadpeak

“With the advent of OTT-based video delivery, which basically leverages web technology, it has become possible to utilise the digital advertising stack for targeted TV advertising on the main screen too. The Connected TV Advertising (CTV) ad medium was born,” says Liefooghe. 

Broadpeak itself offers an end-to-end solution for server-side ad insertion (SSAI) that not only supports ad insertion for VOD content, but also facilitates ad replacement for linear TV channels. The company’s BKYou manifest manipulator – which is pre-integrated with a large array of ad decision platforms – is the “elementary building block” of the solution and enables ad insertion and replacement in both HLS and DASH streams.  

In the near-future, this targeted ad solution will also be made available on the recently introduced SaaS video API platform, “as we know it’s important for pay-TV operators, content providers and OTT players to quickly start monetising their video services by offering contextualised ad delivery”. 

“Everybody in the ecosystem is actually quite open to all the different models for delivery at the moment,” Steve Russell, Red Bee Media 

As for AI, Liefooghe pinpoints a new role in the emerging privacy climate where “it is becoming increasingly illegal to use individual identifiable data. This makes mapping more challenging, and it is here that ML can help isolate relevant traits from all the data-points that can still be used to build targetable cohorts relevant for advertisers.” 

Simplified integration 

Alain Pellen, Senior Market Manager OTT & IPTV at Harmonic, observes that more and more VOD operators are “looking at migrating from their existing CSAI [client-side ad insertion] to SSAI, with the drivers often being the same – to provide a consistent video quality to the viewer for content and ads.”

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Alain Pellen, Harmonic

Also helping to fuel demand for SSAI is “the need to simplify integration and reduce test workloads for all end-user platforms. With SSAI, much of the integration is carried out server-side, so only once, as opposed to repeating integration for each end-user platform.” 

From a vendor perspective, adds Pellen, there continue to be “major differences of approach… The fact is that SSAI is at the crossroad of the video industry and the ad serving industry, so it is probably natural to see some ad serving companies propose manifest manipulation-based ad-stitching solutions because they believe they can provide innovation through proprietary integration. In very much the same way, you may see origin vendors provide SSAI ads on solutions to expand into the advertising workflow. In both cases, the solutions are highly focused on the advertising workflow. And then you have the Harmonic category providing an end-to-end video workflow including playout.” 

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Red Bee Media: Connected TV Advertising

Harmonic’s offer here is built around the VOS360 SaaS platform, which can run on any cloud and supports playout, transcoding, origin and SSAI capabilities for live streaming or VOD. Pellen cites a recent project with a “large sports content provider in the US” that exemplifies VOS360’s manifest manipulation capability, which is being used “to switch between live content sources depending on each subregion and distribution rights. Altogether, there are up to 250 variants of the channel generated automatically based on scheduling information from the content provider. On top of this, VOS360 is also used to insert targeted advertising for the million-plus users of the service.” 

While not anticipating “much change in the short-term” regarding ad delivery to end-devices, Pellen identifies a potential role for AI in VOD scene analysis and ad placement: “With AI-based algorithms it becomes possible to automatically select the best position to insert a mid-roll in a VOD asset without disrupting the user experience too much.” 

Open to different approaches 

Given the increasingly exacting requirements of ad-insertion technologies, it’s only logical that some service providers have established ongoing collaborations with solution providers. Take, for example, broadcast and media services company Red Bee Media, which works closely with digital video personalisation company Nowtilus, whose open platform enables seamless ad experiences using SSAI. Designed to help broadcasters and operators drive viewer engagement and content monetisation, can integrate with streaming ecosystems, ad-servers and supply side platforms to scale content businesses. 

Steve Russell, Chief Product Officer at Red Bee Media, agrees with the suggestion that the sector as a whole is in the midst of a sustained period of experimentation. “Everybody in the ecosystem is actually quite open to all the different models for delivery at the moment,” he says. “Five years ago you would attend events and [it would have been possible to conclude] that linear TV and traditional rights models were going to drift away, and there would be a massive trend towards direct-to-consumer and subscription-led models.” And, while there have been some notable D2C successes, there are brands that have re-embraced rights deals, while the fluctuating fortunes of some streamers indicate that there could now be an element of “subscription fatigue”. 

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Steve Russell, Red Bee Media

In short, it’s a very fluid market and one that – if previous industry shifts are indicative – will eventually witness a fair amount of consolidation after so much expansion. Therefore, “understanding the changing needs [of services] and evolving with them”, to quote Russell again, will remain fundamental to effective ad insertion. In that regard, the flexibility of the latest generation of ad delivery platforms should give everyone a great deal of confidence about the future. 

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