Monetizing Live Streams For The Super Bowl And Other Big Events: Three Approaches

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data-driven-mark-t-liverail_edited-1“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is by Mark Trefgarne, CEO of LiveRail, a publisher monetization platform for video.

A large number of Americans will watch this weekend’s big game live via our PC’s, tablets and other Internet-enabled devices as well as through our television sets.

Big media-driven live events, like the Presidential Elections and sporting events such as the Super Bowl, The World Cup, and the London 2012 Olympic Games are good examples of large-scale live events which have become increasingly available to watch live online. These live streams also had another thing in common, in that many have experienced the challenge of supporting simultaneous video ad calls from millions of viewers at the same time.

Needless to say, infrastructure is the main issue surrounding the streaming and monetization of live events, specifically as this article is concerned, with the ability to scale ad requests and delivery. The fact remains that online advertising, as sophisticated as it is, with real-time bidding, advanced audience targeting and cross-platform delivery, isn’t designed to receive, process, and respond to millions of simultaneous ad calls instantaneously.

Of course, most brands and publishers would be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of having millions of people watching a live stream and delivering targeted advertising at scale in real-time to monetize each viewer impression. However, handling the demand of large, live-media events like the Super Bowl creates a unique level of complexity of ad infrastructure.

So when planning for large-scale live media-driven events, what options do publishers have in order to effectively monetize their live streams, while maintaining a consistent user-experience?

  1. Scaling Infrastructure: Although expensive, many of today’s modern ad servers can leverage cloud computing to triple or quadruple server infrastructure to handle millions of requests simultaneously.  This is obviously the brute force method, but cloud computing services like Amazon EC2 make it possible and viable. However, advertisers will still face some challenges with this method as most agency ad servers and DSPs aren’t built to pace delivery of campaigns over one event and are typically meant to fulfill over a longer period of time such as weeks or months.
  2. Staggering Ad Requests: This involves having the video player make requests at slightly different times throughout the event. Pre-fetching the ads as the player loads or in a 30-second window prior to a break, the player starts requesting ads and syncs these ads to play concurrently with the break in the live event. This is cheaper than the aforementioned brute force method, but does require custom logic within the video player.
  3. Stitching Creative: Stitching ads directly into the online video stream. This solution is akin to traditional TV advertising in that the ads are already hardwired into the live-streamed event and run as they would during game/event breaks without any additional targeting. You’ll get a seamless experience, but little to no accuracy in terms of audience targeting.

Where to go from here

Last year, NBC selectively streamed the same commercials repeatedly, and users reported significant delays. In the press releases for this year, CBS has promised “immediate access” to commercials as they are broadcast, but it also has created an “interactive gallery” of all ads so you don’t have to wait to watch them -- two seemingly contradictory statements.

While I can't predict what method CBS will use, premium publishers with a stake in live video should take note of digital ad insertions for this weekend’s streaming Super Bowl experience. Solving this complex, technical challenge will be a major step forward for online video advertising.

Follow Mark Trefgarne (@trefgarne) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

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