DAI technology is becoming more powerful and flexible as content creators seek to serve more platforms and devices effectively with relevant high-quality advertising.
Getting closer to the audience to understand its likes – and dislikes – has been one of the hallmarks of the streaming age. Hence it’s not hard to see why a technology such as dynamic ad insertion (DAI) – whereby the interests and habits of the viewer can be matched with the most relevant advertising content – has resonated so strongly throughout M&E recently.
The general view is that server-side video ad technology such as DAI has grown steadily in linear and OTT/VOD markets – but that from operator to operator, the speed of the rollout varies considerably.
“I think we are at an interesting stage,” says Broadpeak business development director Pieter Liefooghe, “where a lot of the newer service providers [for both linear and non-linear] are immediately adopting the advertisement playbook for the digital side of advertising and are jumping completely or partially into the DAI world.
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“It’s also apparent that there are two distinct streams here: the premium customers who are already quite far along the journey, and those working from a more traditional base who might still be in the initial stages.”
“It really does depend on where the broadcaster is at the moment,” agrees BTS technical director Craig Buckland.
“For example, if you have a linear broadcaster who is prepared to set up a FAST [free ad-supported TV] channel then it may be that they are some way down that road. But if they are looking to drop DAI into their existing linear stream, then it may be that they will face a few more challenges; some linear channels can be quite fixed in what they do. So ultimately, how dynamic the broadcaster is willing to be is an important factor.”
In light of different regulatory environments and potential new moves affecting the gathering of consumer data, it could be that an element of uncertainty will continue to affect this area of development for some time yet.
“It is more relevant to the biggest broadcasters on account of them being the ones with the biggest reach,” Alan Young, LTN Global
Nonetheless, broadcasters and content services now have an unprecedented range of choice when it comes to both standalone DAI products – or those marketed as server side ad insertion (SSAI) – and those that appear as part of larger content production and management solutions.
Making “server-side ad insertion technology easy to integrate with other ecosystem equipment” remains a key priority for Broadpeak, whose own SSAI solution enables users to personalise ads according to end-user, profile, location and user device via a highly scalable manifest manipulator.
The user can also select their preferred provider as the manifest manipulator is ad decision server agnostic, while there is access to a myriad of efficient analytics through gathering data from both client and server sides. Other features include rapid transcoding of ads in order to maximise the number of impressions, and the ability to counteract the ad blockers that allow ad skipping.
Noting the desirability of brands and agencies that “really grasp what this technology is about”, Liefooghe also pinpoints the importance of close collaboration between the different stakeholders: “SSAI is providing a lot of new business opportunities, but it’s very important that TV service providers establish strong partnerships with broadcasters – including so they can avoid any potential legal issues over content rights [in different territories].”
Harmonic also takes a highly integrated approach to ad insertion, with its VOS360 Channel Origination & Distribution Platform geared towards the delivery of “premium linear channels free to subscribers, supported by DAI. Services can be launched and streamed to affiliates or direct-to-consumer, via the user’s own personalised experience or popular streaming platforms such as Pluto, Xumo or SamsungTV.
Alain Pellen, Harmonic’s senior market manager pay TV, also pinpoints “the ability that we offer to build your own schedule into your timeline and create ad breaks within that which are most conducive [to different services]. That ability to do all of the channel assembly and DAI [easily and efficiently is definitely] in growing demand.”
Underpinning Imagine Communications’ efforts in this area is the observation that in today’s “heavily fragmented media ecosystem”, content creators are continually seeking ways “to efficiently – and profitably – reach consumers across multiple platforms and multiple devices,” says Rob Malcolm, chief product officer at Imagine Communications. “And increasingly, there are a lot of broadcasters who want cross-platform solutions that mean they can do linear or non-linear, addressable or not, and DAI where it is required.”
Hence an emphasis by Imagine Communications on multi-platform capabilities that includes DAI solutions such as Ad Insertion for Multiscreen (AIM), whereby advanced adaptive bitrate streaming is utilised to deliver hyper-targeted ads to smartphones, PCs, tablets, connected TVs and other devices that receive live or on-demand video programming.
With cable, satellite and telco providers in mind, Imagine also offers ADS (Ad Decision Service), whereby services can increase monetisation by providing targeted opportunities to advertisers and enhancing customer engagement.
Looking ahead, Malcolm anticipates dynamic advertising remaining “a huge area of opportunity for innovation”, especially with regard to advertisers wanting to coordinate across platforms and effectively have “one unified campaign in which they can optimise frequency across multiple platforms. In some senses that is the holy grail that no one has fully solved yet.”
Switch Media is another company to have a well-established DAI solution integrated into a broader video solution – in its case a technology called AdEase that is part of its MediaHQ online video platform.
As CTO Luke Durham explains: “AdEase includes a client-side SDK that enables addressable personalised advertising for live and on-demand content across individual and household connected devices. It also offers API support to deliver interoperability with identity management systems, data management platforms and other systems to support more data-driven ad opportunities for advertisers.”
Invited to consider which factors determine a good DAI implementation, Durham responds that “having a good understanding of what it is – and isn’t – is vital. You also need a decent pool of ad inventory – having a seamless ad experience is one thing, but showing the same advert back to back ruins any benefits gained from the investment.”
He also indicates that the industry tackling some ongoing compatibility issues will allow DAI to reach its greatest potential. “There are still compability problems with some devices which mean that discontinuities in the stream – where the player switches to the ad and back – can trip up the player. This has been getting better progressively, with the stragglers now being primarily smart TVs. Resolving compatibility issues has also meant that there is a need to closely match the encoding profiles of the content and adverts; with the adoption of per title encoding there is a further increase in the number of encodings you need to generate for an advert.”
LTN Global’s new ad solution is one of the most recent to hit the market, with the company announcing full details of LTN Target in April 2021.
Described as a “market-first universal signalling solution”, LTN Target takes account of the “fragmentation in distribution platforms and ad decisioning systems, as well as manual workflows,” remarks Alan Young, CTO and head of strategy at LTN Global. Geared in particular towards linear channels wanting to run addressable ads at scale, LTN Target integrates with all parts of the advertising ecosystem “to enable linear addressable advertising on any network, platform and workflow.”
Of the solution’s likely user base, Young says “it is more relevant to the biggest broadcasters on account of them being the ones with the biggest reach.” More generally, LTN Target can also be perceived as part of a broader trend towards “content creators seeking solutions that allow delivery for almost all types of inventory, whether it entails national TV over the air, OTT streaming, and so on.”
The expansion of OTT and VOD has been so rapid in recent years that it’s not surprising that it’s taking a while for advertisers to develop truly multi-platform campaigns. But it will happen and it can only be good news for them that content creators and technology providers have already taken such significant strikes in making addressable advertising more seamless and consistent.