Home On TV & Video VAST 4.0: Is This The Video Standard We’ve Been Searching For?

VAST 4.0: Is This The Video Standard We’ve Been Searching For?

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hadrienbouchraraOn TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Hadrien Bouchrara, solutions architect at Facebook.

It’s time for another installment of “Ad Tech: The Acronyms Awaken.”

In November, the IAB released VAST 4.0, its new video ad-serving template, for public comment. Since VAST was originally intended to be the global video ad standard, any update is big news. This new extensible markup language (XML) script aims to smooth communication between video players and ad servers by making multiple improvements in delivery and measurement.

Is this “The One” we’ve been waiting for? The standard that can bring balance to the industry? Will the new version of VAST finally summon the scale the ad tech industry so desperately craves?

The short answer is probably not. While 4.0 makes great strides over its predecessors and introduces new functions to help reduce dependence on video player-ad interface definition (VPAID) creative, the new script simply doesn’t do enough.

It’s taken a long time to get this far, and the IAB should be commended for its persistence. Advertisers first adopted VAST back in 2008 as a way to measure results regardless of publisher. The appeal was plain and simple: Since VAST was XML-based and relatively lightweight, it was easy for most video players to get on board. Later versions added features such as multi-rendition ads (2.0) and VMAP (3.0), but measurement languished.

Concurrently, the IAB developed VPAID API to enable a wider range of creative options for video. VPAID allowed advertisers to create and deliver custom JavaScript or Flash-based creative. It then became known as a path for advertisers to deliver their viewability and performance measurement tool. But VPAID was never intended to be a comprehensive solution. Since advertisers have to inject their own viewability-tracking tool in VPAID creative, measurement is based solely on internal benchmarks.

And that brings us back to VAST.

The lack of an industrywide viewability standard has long been an issue for advertisers. Many now exclusively deliver VPAID creatives to ensure baseline performance tracking, especially for programmatic. VAST 4.0 is the IAB’s latest attempt at an adoptable standard that will help the industry grow scale, and eventually volume as well.

Of course, the newfound focus on VPAID has diminished VAST’s ubiquity, creating cause for concern among publishers. Since VPAID’s reliance on Flash and JavaScript slows video load times, ad delivery time increases and the user experience suffers. VAST’s XML-based standard is much lighter, making it faster at both process and delivery.

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What’s New For Advertisers?

VAST 4.0 gives advertisers a new slot for their own performance, viewability and anti-fraud tracking tools, lessening the dependency on VPAID and increasing publisher confidence in video ad load times.

However, there is no official IAB metric in 4.0 to categorize inventory as viewable, and the new template still doesn’t establish industrywide viewability standards. Advertisers are still to rely on VAST’s limited performance and viewability tools and must develop their own custom elements if they want to track performance of their ad delivery.

What’s New For Publishers?

VAST 4.0 has the potential to improve inventory quality, lowering latency and contributing to a better overall user experience. Since 4.0 reduces the focus on VPAID inventory, publishers won’t have to use VPAID players for advertisers that use the new viewability slot.

But 4.0 still doesn’t give publishers an automated way to track inventory viewability, inject video ads from VAST on the server side or track server-side ad delivery.

YouTube and Facebook video ads will remain largely unaffected by the new standard. Since both publishers control most of the ad delivery chain for their inventory, they aren’t tied to VAST or VPAID.

Any standard that doesn’t apply to two of the largest publishers in the game can hardly be called “universal.”

Where Does That Leave Us?

Rather than move us closer to understanding viewability and performance, VAST 4.0 draws us further away. The lack of clearly defined, industrywide standards will only encourage advertisers to further rely on their own KPIs or buy more from controlled ecosystems, rather than stick with VAST’s limited tracking.

While VAST was originally intended as a global standard, the new version only reinforces issues that already exist.

The Force could be stronger with this one. It’ll have to be if the industry wants to get serious about viewability and measurement standards. For now, the search continues.

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