Poor User Experience Holding Back The Video Advertising Industry

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

Today’s column is written by Ariel Napchi, founder and CEO at HIRO Media.

Programmatic advertising was supposed to create an environment in which a viewer is only exposed to relevant ads, a premise TV never succeeded in fulfilling.

The reality, however, is very different, illustrated by increased viewer discontent that has manifested in the ever-growing percentage of ad-blocker installations.

So what went wrong? It seems the answer lies with the viewers: They have been forgotten somewhere along the way. While brands are focusing on viewability, view-through rate and other KPIs, they ignore the user experience of the video viewer.

A slow video upload due to buffering raises the heart rate by more than 30%, which is similar to how one reacts when watching a horror movie, according to Ericsson. That, as you can imagine, is far from desirable. Users would rather leave the site than stare at a buffering signal.

The stress caused by this experience reflects badly on the user’s perception of the ad and the publisher site on which is was shown. Ad-serving latency is a huge factor that should be taken into consideration while working within the programmatic universe.

Consumers agree. Most desktop users and more than 40% of mobile users grade the viewing experience as acceptable to poor, highlighting site crashes and slow video loading as top reasons for poor user experience.

So, here lies the challenge. While fighting fraud, it is relatively easy to decide what is and isn’t fraud: Nonhuman traffic equals fraud. But dealing with user experience is more complex because it is harder to define objective criterions to measure user pain and translate them to concrete technical terms while enforcing them on the demand chain.

But if I had to guess which issues are the leading contributors to poor user experience, I would choose site crashing, malvertising and unexpected behavior as the top offenders.

Site Crashing

Accessing multiple buyers is the cornerstone of an auction. Normally RTB is done on the server side via efficient server-to-server communication, but the video heritage of the VAST/VPAID protocols and buyers’ desire to verify client-side properties before buying high-CPM inventory drives many video auctions to contain a major client-side part.

The problem is that most web pages cannot withstand multiple simultaneous ad calls, even though most ad tags initiate multiple simultaneous calls. One solution would be to minimize client components and preferably use a direct video ad or server-side bidding, where response times are minimal. The IAB’s LEAN initiative (light, encrypted, AdChoices-supported, noninvasive ads) is an important step in the right direction in addressing these concerns.


Malvertising presents a new challenge to the online advertising world because it uses a loophole in the creative. The malware injected through the ad could hijack a computer, send the user to phishing sites or download injected software.

Things will probably improve when the industry finally shifts away from a Flash environment to more secure technologies. Tools offered by companies such as The Media Trust or GeoEdge can detect malware attacks, although these solutions are emulator-based and somewhat lacking real-time coverage.

Unexpected Behavior

Unexpected behaviors could include videos playing sound that the user did not initiate, black loading screens and video buffering. Most unexpected behavior is a legacy of the multiple chain calls within VPAID protocol. Waiting for the call process to end may cause latency, which is the main reason for black loading screens.

The causes are similar to those that cause pages to crash so the same solution could apply to both. It is also recommended to have an internal auditing team that will monitor the behavior of ads and block the problematic ones.

The issue here is that most of the ads paid for by advertisers do not measure up to good user experience. These ads might gain viewability and even good VTR scores, but they may sometimes slow the page loading or even crash the user’s browser, which causes a negative effect on the brand, the site and, ultimately, the industry.

These data points should be a wake-up call for our industry. Just as a couple of years ago it launched a battle against fraud and recognized its significance in the marketplace, now it’s time to fight for better user experience.

Follow HIRO Media (@HIROMedia1) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s more than just crashing or slow websites my friend! Pre roll video ads that are more than 10 seconds, and often eclipse the length of the subject video themselves, are incredibly annoying! I, and most viewers I assume, will immediately close a video if I see a 20-30 second commercial loading up.

    The web isn’t a tv set. Keep the message 5-10 seconds. A quick “this video is sponsored by xxxx, an awesome product that will change your life, see it at http://www.xxxx.com.” Done, quick and easy!