Outstream Video Faces Trackability Challenges

OutstreamBuyers have decidedly mixed feelings about outstream video.

Outstream formats are generally billed as a highly viewable alternative to scarce pre-roll because they’re embedded natively within article text and only play with the sound on when a consumer scrolls over.

But some say outstream formats are difficult to discover within the exchange environment and, unsurprisingly, others claim clients expect a video ad to run before video content in a video player.

The format clearly has a bit of a perception problem.

Another contributing factor? Demand-side platforms and viewability vendors were not built to serve or measure an outstream format in its native form, which means there continue to be discrepancies in overall trackability.

“We’ve seen some instances where there’s a much higher viewability rate with one DSP vs. another where we would have to do some course correction,” said Matt Kramer, director of video and TV products at Accuen, Omnicom Group’s programmatic trading desk. “A lot of third-party auditors were set up for pre-roll, and not necessarily outstream or what we call native video or in-read video.”

It’s a legitimate concern and vendors are responding. Teads, the largest of outstream video vendors, for example, launched an outstream video accreditation program designed to educate agency and brand buyers about the unique requirements of these units.

But among outstream’s biggest challenges is discovery, which wasn’t a historical concern within the programmatic environment because a sizable majority of these formats were sold direct. 

But as big exchanges like AppNexus and Rubicon strike deals with the likes of Teads, StickyADS.tv and Virool, scale grew – and so did difficulty to identify outstream within buyers’ larger media mixes.

“We went from having no programmatic demand to having programmatic demand exceeding 30% to 40% [of our revenue] by the end of the year,” said Todd Tran, global SVP of programmatic and mobile at Teads. That said, roughly 75% to 80% of demand is still enabled via Deal ID, he said.

When Teads initiates a bid request in a marketplace deal, it identifies the format as “outstream.”

Since DSPs themselves might categorize these formats as “Teads” units (or refrain from breaking it out from other formats at all) buyers may not even realize they’re buying outstream in the first place.

“When we are buying on the open exchange, we typically expect to be buying pre-roll that is playing within a video player – not in-banner or out-stream,” said Jim Caruso, SVP of product and client strategy at Varick Media, the programmatic trading desk at MDC Partners. “I do know that we experience inventory coming from those sources … [but it’s not something] we would want to buy without explicitly knowing.”

It’s not unusual for buyers to conflate outstream with native video in the in-feed environment – and they’re different animals.

With in-feed, autoplay and sound off are the common attributes. Not so with outstream. And this further complicates categorization, particularly as Twitter and Snapchat add API access to programmatic demand partners for native and social video.

Accuen seeks to distinguish between native video and in-article content because native video is often feed-based while outstream, in-read or in-article units are video placements within a text environment.

“We really don’t use that phrase [outstream] internally because it’s too elusive,” Kramer said. “If I was a client, I wouldn’t know what it meant.”

Measuring It (And Not On Pre-Roll’s Terms)

FullSizeRender-8Beyond the semantics question, outstream video is up against a number of viewability measurement gaps.

Third-party viewability vendors typically start the clock for measurement once a page loads. But Teads defines viewability as when a user scrolls below the fold and over the unit. Initially, that difference in definition was a problem for Teads.

“We had to work with some of the DSPs and measurement companies because you can’t measure upon page load with outstream,” Tran said. “You have to start the clock when it’s in-view and it actually starts playing. Otherwise you end up with a horrible viewability score.”

Tran said that after flagging the issue to its DSP and viewability vendor partners, most corrected the situation, but the growth of video demand means it’s an ongoing challenge.

Michael Krauss, Integral Ad Science’s VP of product management, noted outstream is almost always bundled within larger pre-roll and/or banner ad campaigns, but that IAS is focused on synchronizing measurement with individual ad executions.

He claims IAS validates these ads when they’re actually playing vs. just loaded on the page.

Another challenge is pricing outstream ads relative to their value. While pre-roll is commonly charged on standard CPM and completion rate, outstream is better suited to a metric like viewable-cost-per-completed view, Tran argued.

If a user scrolls away from a Teads unit, the video pauses and it doesn’t complete and the advertiser is not charged.

The company claims this solves discrepancies around viewability rates – and issues of low engagement if that user was on another browser tab when the video rendered.

“The second thing is, and this comes at a disadvantage to us, is because we’re not a forced video view like non-skippable pre-roll, we do tend to get a lower completion rate than pre-roll out in market,” Tran said. “The upside is we price less than premium pre-roll, with better viewability. We’re talking anywhere from 10% to 25% cheaper.”

But is this enticing enough for buyers to change the way they’ve historically valued video?

Accuen’s Kramer likened outstream video to traditional pre-roll video as such: “It’s totally frozen yogurt. Not ice cream.”

“To me, there’s only so much premium pre-roll you can buy, so we do see it as a way of getting more video assets in the publisher environment,” he added. That said, “I don’t think it’s worth the same amount or is as efficient in terms of delivering a message to the consumer.”

A number of premium publishers including Slate, The Washington Post and The Guardian use various flavors of outstream video, but some feel that the format performs better in a text-heavy environment vs. a pure video play.

“I think the challenge is people see it, they click out or ignore it,” said Stephen Strong, the head of revenue for Scripps’ video site Newsy. “It’s set up to be highly viewable, premium ads for an ad-first environment, but I think user anticipation of content afterwards seemed like a mismatch for us being video content first with ads merely there to support it.”

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  1. Outstream is a dramatic improvement over pre-roll for user experience and absence of intrusiveness, which should please both buy and sell sides if they worry about consumer irritations with online ads. So it’s worth the extra money. One or more tech firms will solve the metrics problems once it becomes important (and lucrative) enough. As for clients not understanding the format, then just explain it and show them. Isn’t that what selling is?

  2. “With in-feed, autoplay and sound off are the common attributes. Not so with outstream.” Huh? Please give me an example of outstream that isn’t autoplay and has sound on by default.