IGN Publisher Ziff Davis Rewrites Its Video Playbook

Outstream video is one way publishers can bypass the pre-roll shortage, but the format doesn’t always fly for pubs with heavy ad-blocking audiences.

Ziff Davis, the publisher of tech, gaming and lifestyle properties like PCMag, IGN and AskMen, found that certain titles – IGN audiences in particular, which amasses a cult following among gamers – give outstream video a hard pass.

“The editorial team is really resistant to it and it’s also a site where we’ve experienced about a 50% ad block rate, so the last thing we want to do is annoy our users,” said Michael Irenski, director of programmatic for Ziff Davis, who joined 10 months ago from a senior ad ops role at The Wall Street Journal.

Ziff Davis engineered a bespoke deployment for IGN using server-side stitching, a method of ad serving that unifies ads and content into a single pod at the video player level.

Because a lot of IGN’s content is review-oriented, it creates a lot of opportunity for native content and video to mimic a “broadcast” model. 

“It’s almost like a TV model where we’ll have a teaser before content, but it’s not like a standard pre-roll,” Irenski said. “We don’t serve the ad through our ad server, but handle it through the CDN (content delivery network), which also gets around the ad block.”

Server-side stitching lets IGN address the realities of monetizing a super ad-averse audience by pricing that pre-stitched content on a cost per view, rather than asking the user to sit through another pre-roll.

And, if there’s less of a chance the consumer will block an ad, the publisher’s viewability rate most likely increases.

Like most publishers, Ziff Davis has a pre-roll shortage and experiences a 95% sell-through rate for most of its video inventory across its broader portfolio, which is sold directly.

As such, Ziff Davis rewired its video mix to include a wider mix of video formats to help improve yield, including outstream video via Teads, and native in-feed video via Connatix and Sharethrough.

Although Ziff Davis still fields requests for guarantees around video completions, the rise of alternative video formats has also diversified publishers’ metrics beyond the standard desktop completion.

“We try to work across every format, focusing on everything from viewability to potentially selling on time-based metrics,” Irenski said.

Outstream video tends to perform better on viewability than completions because this type of video is designed to render only when it’s in view or a consumer scrolls over it.

An additional priority for Irenski is boosting video viewability measurement across Ziff Davis’ portfolio.

Ziff Davis bakes Moat directly into the publisher’s video player, but found that in the past, mobile viewability rates didn’t always measure up to desktop standards, partially due to the discrepancies between different video players and measurement systems.

To solve some of these reporting issues, Ziff Davis recently moved its video player to support HTML5 assets beyond Flash. Determining which metrics work best is a work in progress, but the publisher plans to experiment more over this year.

But creating a viewable video experience isn’t an ad tech-only problem, Irenski noted, and content strategy shouldn’t take a back seat.

“You can make page speeds faster [with header bidding] and ensure you have HTML5 tags, but having content people really want to watch is so incredibly important,” he said. “We have a one-to-one ratio in terms of ads to content and have found, when we’ve pushed more video to Snapchat and create shareable content, our viewability rates went up.”

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1 Comment

  1. Everyone seems to be jumping on the outstream video bandwagon, but I can tell you as the Founder & CEO of http://www.outstream.com it’s not easy to figure out. There are a lot of technical hurdles, particularly with mobile that a lot of providers haven’t figured out. They rush to market to announce a “NEW outstream unit” and then disappoint when it comes to actual performance. I urge publishers to make sure to test their outstream units on different mobile devices and SW versions, because that’s where the biggest issue is. If you are using a broad SSP for outstream vs. specialized providers like us it’s extremely important since it’s the broad SSPs and providers who have every ad unit under the sun that really mess up outstream for both you and your users. Good luck!