Sales & Delivery in CTV Advertising

Part of the blog post series: CTV Advertising Standards: IAB Tech Lab Standards & Guidance

Executive Summary:

  • Connected TV (CTV) devices bring new challenges to the process of ad delivery – especially around maintaining the quality of creatives on large screens.
  • Tech Lab’s video and programmatic specifications (especially VAST and OpenRTB) have become the standards of choice for programmatic advertising and sales automation on CTV platforms
  • The standards have also been updated over the last four years to better support ad delivery on CTV platforms, including a host of new features added to Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) 4.x  

The Details:

With the increase of CTV usage in the past year, advertisers are shifting more of their media spend to reach audiences in this environment. The CTV ad ecosystem seems to have realized that the programmatic/automation capabilities (in VAST and OpenRTB) developed for digital video advertising fit the CTV world well, and rather than reinventing the wheel and repeating old mistakes, the industry has been embracing these standards. Even in “TV convergence” scenarios like with Project Open Addressable Ready (Project OAR) and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 3.0, VAST has been the standard of choice for programmatic and targeted ad delivery.

As advertisers look to extend their digital video campaigns to include CTV, the biggest differences they must consider include the consumer’s context and the screen size on which ads are viewed. Larger screens mean that higher asset quality and overall consumer experience are even more important. In addition, CTV ad delivery and the plethora of devices to support has led to a deeper focus on Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI). 

The Tech Lab’s Digital Video Working Group has been working on a full refresh of the video suite “VSUITE” set of standards (VAST, VPAID, SIMID, and more) over the last four years to deal with the new realities of SSAI and CTV. In addition, VAST 4.x addresses many of the issues that publishers had with VPAID (unknown payloads, security risk, etc.).  For more details on the background behind this refresh, read our blog post “Simplifying Video Ad Delivery”, and see below for highlights.

The key updates that support CTV enable high-quality ads and facilitate more efficient workflow through:

  1. Support for higher-quality video assets with Mezzanine Files and “ready-to-serve” media files
    With VAST 4, a mezzanine file for high-quality ad creative can explicitly be marked and delivered to the SSAI vendor (rather than going with conventions around one of the normal media files that the SSAI vendor would have to guess with VAST 2 or 3). The “ready-to-serve” media files also provide more flexibility by indicating low/medium/high-resolution media files that can be picked for simpler implementations. We also have recommendations for these media files in the Digital Video Ad Format Guidelines.
  2. Traceability with Universal Ad-IDs
    One of the biggest challenges in video ad delivery has been the lack of the ability to uniquely identify a creative asset. This is necessary for reporting, caching of creative assets, and in a number of other use cases. VAST 4 enables this ability natively by providing a node that allows VAST to clearly indicate who the registry is (e.g., Ad-ID in the US, Clearcast in the UK), in addition to the ID itself.
  3. Reduced errors by separating scripts from media files & eliminating VPAID
    One of the biggest challenges with Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) is to ensure that the media file can be smoothly inserted into the video content stream. This is impossible when the ad is a “VPAID ad” because in VPAID the code and the media file are bundled together and cannot be separated to get to the media file. With VAST 4, we have deprecated VPAID and also provided separate locations for the interactive and measurement scripts to be delivered. This ensures that the media file is always easily accessible from the VAST tag. This also hands the control of the video playback back to the publisher player/SSAI vendor to ensure a more seamless TV-like viewer experience.
  4. Reduced latency by supporting caching / prefetching ads
    A second benefit of separating the script from the media file is that the ad can now be pre-fetched for better delivery experience. In addition, we have included an “Expires” node for the ad so that the time for which the ad can be cached is very clear. This transparency allows caching decisions to be automated without having to worry about campaigns being run incorrectly.
  5. Better workflows via standardization of ad requests
    VAST has historically been an ad response format, with the ad request left as an integration exercise. With VAST 4.1, we introduced a standard set of macros that can be used to communicate information about the impression and player environment up front. This enables ad servers to build solutions that ensure that the best possible VAST tag for any impression can be generated, and reduce the chances of errors.

    Note: We have also built a new ad request spec (parallel to OpenRTB3 and based on the same foundation of AdCOM) for the longer term called CATS (Common Ad Transport Standard).
  6. More accessibility, with Closed Captioning support
    While Closed Captioning (CC) in ads is not required by regulations, Tech Lab believes that it is important to support accessibility features, and so introduced support for Closed Caption files in VAST 4.1. We encourage publishers and ad creators to take advantage of this feature and improve the ad experiences for all viewers.
  7. Guidance for SSAI workflows
    With the use of SSAI, a number of new challenges were introduced related to invalid traffic (IVT) and measurement, notably regarding how platforms can differentiate between fraudulent traffic and an SSAI server. While we cannot solve for this via standards, VAST 4 includes guidance to transport some of the information necessary to help with transparency. This includes how to handle HTTP headers and support for some macros that provide transparency into the source of the various measurement and impression beacons. 

    We are also working on additional updates to ads.cert to better support security in SSAI scenarios — please stay tuned for that or join the Programmatic Working Group and become a part of the conversation!

Some of these updates may sound basic and even boring — and in many ways they are! But these are the sort of “plumbing upgrades” that are necessary to deliver the clean and high quality advertising necessary for CTV platforms. It is also important to note that while a number of these features from VAST 4.x can be (and have been) hacked together in VAST 2/3, implementing this consistently without a lot of tech debt requires VAST 4. This is why we are calling for the industry to accelerate the adoption of the VAST-4-based video standards.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Amit Shetty
Senior Director, Product
IAB Tech Lab

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