The latest updates to OpenRTB represent a significant step forward towards improving the transparency and accuracy of web video inventory
IAB Tech Lab brings together passionate industry professionals across business and technical functions who volunteer their time to help make the entire ecosystem healthier and more transparent. So, when there’s a business problem that can be solved by a signal in the OpenRTB spec, it’s up to the Programmatic Supply Chain Working Group, brought together by IAB Tech Lab, to figure out the solution. One amazing thing about Tech Lab is that people must set their revenue considerations aside in the interest of the “greater good” of transparency in the auction; and the latest video placement improvements in OpenRTB is a great example of how companies with competing interests engage in passionate debate, compromise, and problem-solving to aim to achieve greater transparency and accuracy in programmatic advertising.
We have all become accustomed to video ad experiences, more often than not, we know them to be the price of admission for free content on the web; however unless the user has navigated to the page explicitly to watch the video player, like in a Hulu or YouTube style video environment, it’s possible that these ads are not commanding the user’s attention. If the small video player only plays ads without content, it is universally understood to be outstream (in-banner, in-article, in-feed, or interstitial/slider/floating). The logical conclusion for an advertiser would be that the remaining category, in-stream, would be reserved for large format, full attention, OTT-style video content. However, the legacy OpenRTB definition of in-stream left a lot of room for interpretation: “Played before, during or after the streaming video content that the consumer has requested.” What has the consumer requested? Does the video content have to be relevant to the article? Is visiting the article enough for the video player to be considered “requested”?
This gray area has allowed many publishers to adapt their video players so they fall into the gray area of that in-stream definition instead of the clear outstream bucket. If the player contains content and not just ads, regardless of quality, relevance, or subject matter, they can now argue that the ads are in-stream, commanding up to 50 percent higher bid prices in today’s market and significantly increasing the resulting revenue. But do brands targeting in-stream video and getting served in small, muted players alongside articles really understand what they’re buying?
By re-defining video placement categories to reflect the current state of the video marketplace, we aim to allow much-needed clarity for both the sell side and the buy side so that the value of premium, full-focus web video content is preserved, and other web video advertising can be clearly described.
SO WHAT’S CHANGING?
To address this issue, IAB Tech Lab updated its Video Ad Format guidelines in August 2022 with new technical guidance for advertisers to better differentiate between in-stream and out-stream placements. The primary change was that in-stream video must be sound-on when the player starts. However, these guidelines did not come with corresponding OpenRTB updates to the largely antiquated video placement value.
Despite this update, challenges remain in determining the value of video inventory, whether placement is an appropriate proxy for value, and the economic implications. Many predict that once adjusted, less than 10% of web video will be eligible for in-stream declaration, which would reduce the majority of web video that is currently marked as in-stream. Tech Lab members on all sides of the auction engaged in several months of discussion and debate, ultimately resulting in a redefined set of categories that better reflect the current state of video players. Here is an overview what’s changing, including some concessions the group made:
- In-stream video players will be required to be set to “sound-on” by default at the start – but due to Chrome’s auto-muting of most video players that can’t be the sole criteria. “Explicit demonstrated intent to watch the video” is also suitable for in-stream classification.
- There will be a new field called “plcmt” that will contain the new values and can exist in tandem with the legacy “placement” during an ample migration period.
- There should be a distinction between outstream placements without editorial video content and those that only contain standalone ads.
- The previously defined values of in-article and in-feed were found to be a confusing distinction without much difference and were removed in favor of the new categories, which are a better proxy for value. If these style players contain video content, they will fall under the collapsed new category called “Accompanying Content.”
- The category of in-banner has been largely preserved and clarified to be called “No Content/Standalone.” In-article or in-feed players today that don’t have video content will also fall under this category.
- Finally, there is an interstitial category for full-screen takeover video ads, whether web or in-app.
With these changes, SSPs will need to adopt the new values, so publishers can begin making necessary corrections. SSPs today have differing capabilities to pass through publisher-defined values or override with their own values, so even if a publisher is motivated to fix their declarations, this can become operationally difficult.
There is a migration plan to move from video.placement to a new field, video.plcmt . Please refer to the migration guidelines outlined in the implementation guide. There will be ample time for adoption, with both fields able to run in parallel during that transition period before eventually deprecating video.placement.
These new definitions represent a significant step forward towards improving the transparency and accuracy of web video inventory. By introducing new definitions that more accurately reflect the different levels of user engagement provided by various video placements, in conjunction with additional signals already available and more to come in future updates, the guidelines provide greater clarity for advertisers and publishers alike. The IAB Tech Lab members plan to continue to create a better ecosystem by continuously evaluating an ever-changing digital landscape and providing innovative solutions.
About the Author
Lead Director, Marketplace Quality
The Trade Desk