Understanding Video in a Display World

The Video Audience“The Video Audience” is a column written by members of the media community and focused on the evolving world of online video advertising.

Today’s column is written by Cynthia Butler, Publisher Integration Engineer at Denver-based, SpotXchange, a video advertising technology company.

I’ll give you two differences between display and video advertising: technology and people.

Some publishers and networks are selling video ads in the same way that display banners are sold. Display ad servers are “upgrading” their software to integrate video ad serving capabilities. The people behind advertisers and agencies who have been in the online industry expect video to behave the same as display banners. From both perspectives, video is being treated like it’s the same as display banners. Voila, all our problems are solved, right?

Okay, noted sarcasm there. But anyone who’s ever tried to “integrate” a new video ad server or new video technology keeps running into the same issues. Advertisers, agencies, networks, and publishers are all building, managing and creating video very differently, yet expecting the same results as display banner advertising. Beyond that, video is at the point of adoption where it is changing much more quickly than display.

Along those lines, over the years the IAB has set all regulations and standards for display banners. The IAB is working hard to establish standards for video technology (VAST, VPAID, companion banner sizes, overlays). But the video ad industry isn’t there yet. While video technology is changing and adapting quickly, some regulations set by the IAB have not kept up with this faster pace of change.

In the display banner world, there are four ways an ad can be displayed: hard-coded, iframe, JavaScript, or Standard HREF and ImgSrc. Tracking pixels, technology limitations, survey tracking — they’re all the same issues that everyone faces and is familiar with handling. Publishers don’t need to have expertise about how an agency / advertiser has created or is serving an ad because it always comes to them in the same format and can be displayed in the same fashion. While some agencies usually only have minor creative spec differences between publishers, they can usually meet the same standards across publishers without too much effort.

In the online video world, an ad can come in many different formats: Flash, Flash Video, MP4, Windows Media File, WebM, Audio only, Pre-Roll (Mid, Post) vs. Overlay vs. Companion Banners. They can be served in numerous environments like HTML, Flash, or Silverlight Players. They can be aired as placeholders while something else on the page is loading, they can be played before, during, or at the end of video content.

Unfortunately because not all publishers are the same, publisher capabilities are not the same when it comes to the integration and use of video advertising. Currently, going it alone, publishers in the video space have their work cut out for them trying to understand all of the technologies the advertisers are using. Over the past few years, many have had to upgrade their environments to maintain the recommended standards that are provided by Adobe or the IAB. This could be because the latest version of ActionScript code, 3.0, came out only two years after ActionScript 2.0 and does not support most AS2 code, for example. In contrast, the latest HTML, HTML5, came out 11 years after the previous 4.0 version and does support older code.

The IAB began trying to regulate video standards around the end of 2007. The IAB folks are currently on the second version of their Video Ad Serving Template (VAST), which is already showing signs of being outdated. VAST 1.0 was released by the IAB with little to no fanfare and, more importantly, little to no adoption within industry. The lack of adoption was the result of a number of reasons: too hard, too different, too short-sighted, too little industry understanding of video.

VAST 2.0 was created to address the shortcomings of VAST 1.0 and try to better “future-proof” the specification. While far from perfect, VAST 2.0 is a better step in the right direction. The IAB and its industry members also have looked to standardize how video ad creative / interactive environments embed within publisher “player” enviornments and released VPAID 1.0. The VPAID specification is independent of the VAST specifications. VAST makes some specific notations to support VPAID “containers.” VPAID is a great step towards standardization but is basically an additional hurdle that publishers must support if they want to take advantage of some the newer, higher-paying ad units.

Ultimately, this means that publishers are continually trying to stay ahead of the technology and the industry. Publishers spend good time and money attending every industry trade show, keeping developers on call, and constantly rearranging technical priorities on their site. Obviously, there are huge costs associated with these methods of staying abreast of the issues and technology. There are real costs associated with standing by and not upgrading — the potential revenue impact both from a short-term “we can’t take this IO” to the long-term impact of “it’s harder to get a new customer than keep an existing customer.”

Individual publishers shouldn’t have to worry about video ad technology. Working with ad servers formatted for a display world means they’re not at the head of the curve for video ad serving. Instead, publishers should be focused on generating great content and from there, generating revenue. They should be able to rely on their platforms, partners, ad servers, etc. to keep them current in the online video industry. This includes removing the pain points behind upgrading technology as much as possible. The answer? Until technology and people with expertise agree to overarching industry solutions for video, publishers should work with a partner who is going to worry about the latest technology advancements, the latest standards, and protecting those publishers from spending too much money on integration and staying ahead.

My advice for anyone breaking into the online video world, from someone who’s been through all the ad ops issues: don’t worry about how many implementations your Flash developer has to do. Don’t stress over not getting that huge IO because you’re still six months away from VPAID support. Rely on a solid, proven partner with the industry and technology expertise to show you the way in video, while you spend your time at a strategic level, focused on your core expertise.

Follow SpotXchange (@SpotXchange) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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