IAB Member Q&A: SSAI

On November 05, 2020 Research & Resources

SSAI – the critical operational enabler for a 2020 digital advertising hero product

Traditional TV advertising budgets are increasingly seeking more digital opportunities, particularly during the last 6-9 months, as Australians continue to consume more content on connected TV’s and via streaming services and devices. In the past any advertising opportunities were delivered via client-side ad insertion (CSAI) solutions, which would load ads into the content before they were displayed to the consumer. However this has many limitations related to the consumer experience, targeting, measurement and ad blocking.

As a result server-side ad insertion (SSAI) has more recently become more prevalent as it enables ads to be stitched into video content in real-time, can be provided via specialist third-party vendors, delivers improved consumer experiences and is ultimately a more efficient and effective revenue generation offering for all concerned. However, a number of nuances still remain in terms of the delivery, execution and related opportunities. On the back of a recent AdTech Matters blog post, in which we provided an update on some recent workshops on SSAI hosted by IAB Tech Lab, we felt compelled to follow-up with a local perspective on this topic. We hope that you find it useful…

Ilda Jamison, Managing Director, ANZ – SpotX

How much easier is it for marketers to manage their reach & frequency and more meaningfully measure results when delivering via SSAI vs. CSAI?

SSAI doesn’t necessarily help from a frequency cap standpoint. Ad server frequency capping will still use device IDs and IP addresses, which exist in both SSAI and client side environments. From a reach standpoint, SSAI allows advertisers to individually target households who are watching live/linear broadcast content, enabling much better targeting than would be available in a traditional live or linear broadcast. It’s not about client side vs SSAI, think of SSAI as opening up live/linear inventory for much better addressable targeting and reach.

Are yield optimisation solutions such as header bidding also available for content owners when utilising the capabilities of SSAI?

Yes, server side header bidding has recently become possible through services like SpotX’s Total Connect+ and various implementations of Prebid Server. This allows media owners to compete programmatic demand against direct sold demand in their legacy ad server for premium live, linear and VOD inventory. Many media owners have to date seen % increases in yield when utilising SSAI capabilities. SpotX’s Total Connect solution has provided media owners with 15% increase in yield when leveraging the bespoke solution.

Peter Howard, Solutions Engineer – Brightcove

How does SSAI enable an improved customer experience in terms of how advertising is delivered within content streamed via an OTT device or on a Connected TV?

SSAI is a great way to deliver advertising within content on devices, and in some cases the only way. One of the key benefits is that all the complexity of ad delivery is shifted to the server, so it makes it easier to run on client devices that might have less capability from an SDK perspective, or even just less power. For the end user, this translates directly into a smoother video experience — more seamless transitions between content and ads, without buffering between breaks. It can also enable more consistency, so that content and ads are delivered at the same quality, and with audio levels normalised so you’re not jumping from quiet content into really loud ads. At the same time, if an OTT or CTV application enables it, you can still get all the user-friendly elements of the ad experience, with support for countdowns, skippable ads, and optional interactivity that takes advantage of a remote or companion device such as a mobile app.

A major ongoing issue with CSAI has been how ad-blockers were increasingly being adopted by consumers as the ad execution replicates pre-roll delivery. How effective has SSAI been in eradicating this issue for the industry?

SSAI can help avoid ad blockers, but it isn’t a simple one-for-one swap, so not everyone has been able to pick it up easily. For publishers who can target ad-blocked inventory particularly, and take advantage of their own first-party or contextual data, they can still effectively monetise this opportunity. But because ad blockers also block third party trackers, they reduce the value of this inventory if it’s dependent on third-party data. As the industry shifts away from a reliance on third-party cookies, we should see more widespread adoption of tooling that works with SSAI as well, which will open up this ad-blocked inventory for even more publishers.

Mike Midden, Director of Product Management – IAB Tech Lab

There have been concerns raised recently by verification vendors regarding the growing levels of fraudulent CTV traffic rates. What best practices would you recommend to ensure buyers are adequately protecting themselves?

When it comes to the ever-evolving tactics of ad fraudsters some of the most resilient preventative tools tend to be the implementation of transparency standards. Enabling transparency of the supply chain shines a light on the ecosystem allowing buyers to make better informed decisions about which channels make the most trustworthy business relationships. Properly implementing the Tech Lab’s guidelines for CTV User Agents and App Store Identification provides important information about the environments in which ads are placed and is a great step toward transparency. Additionally standards such as app-ads.txt, sellers.json and SupplyChain Object were designed with transparency and anti-fraud in mind.

Some of the tools for fighting fraud within CTV environments are still somewhat nascent though, as there are additional challenges which don’t exist in traditional web and mobile environments, such as complex syndicated content relationships that can exist between platforms and content providers. There are several initiatives underway at the IAB Tech Lab that are looking to solve these issues which includes CTV specific updates to app-ads.txt, and an updated version of ads.cert which proposes a mechanism to provide signed billing notifications to combat fraud.

More context about these standards and best practices can be found in our recently published a 6 part CTV Advertising Standards blog series.

Are there any forthcoming initiatives from the Video and/or CTV Working Groups at IAB Tech Lab that the industry should keep an eye out for?

Yes, as mentioned above app-ads.txt and ads.cert both have updates in the works specifically to address CTV use cases, and ultimately should improve transparency while helping to reduce fraud in the ecosystem. VAST 4 and related standards (SIMID, Open Measurement) have also been built with SSAI and CTV in mind. The Open Measurement Working Group is working on a CTV version of the SDK. The Digital Video Technical Working Group will shortly be releasing a list of recommended macros for SSAI use cases which focuses on the passing of Device/Environment, Content and Media Player related data.

Additionally, a CTV / Taxonomy sub-group is currently working on updates to the Content Taxonomy which proposes new categories that align with commonly agreed upon video genres which will be very useful in contextual targeting, and in tandem a companion proposal to update the OpenRTB spec.

Dylan Dharmadasa, Head of Product and Operations – Finecast

Can marketers utilise the standard range of available targeting attributes and brand safety mechanisms through ads delivered via SSAI to users on connected TVs and casting devices?

SSAI is critical for the Connected TV space, it ultimately enhances the user experience by creating a seamless viewing experience between ads and content. The technology is pretty good for publishers that invest and innovate. We’re still seeing all of the usual data attributes and buying signals which we use for buying, targeting and measurement. However we do know it can create specific identity challenges for DSPs and their ability to always frequency cap as intended. As the industry matures it’s important we continue to innovate and integrate better with technology to provide the best user experience possible.

What does the scope for identity management within BVOD look like in the future? Are you more excited by the related opportunities in this niche, or cognisant of the forthcoming industry challenges to come?

It’s definitely an exciting future, we will continue to have a greater focus on consumers and privacy, but I also appreciate that this will create challenges for brands. It’s hard to imagine that there will be a blanket one-size-fits-all approach to identity management across all channels. Identity is complex and changes across devices, channels, regulatory environments and global markets. BVOD has been able to navigate this by creating an organic value exchange between consumers and broadcasters through premium content and relevant advertising. But the notion changes by device. TVs are typically a shared home screen, mobiles and tablets on the other hand are definitely more personal. So marketers and ad tech are going to have to navigate the nuances between one to one identity and one to few. Looking globally, we know regulation events can also change this and we’re starting to see the development of the concept of a single identifier representing a small cohort of users, an approach that better protect the privacy of any single user, whilst still giving targeting and measurement capabilities to brands.