If Standardization Means Scale, Why Are Publishers Failing To Adopt VAST 4.0?

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

Today’s column is written by Alex Bornyakov, CEO at VertaMedia.

When the IAB launched VAST 4.0 in January, the impact of its sophisticated and streamlined technology protocols on the video advertising industry was forecast to be tremendous.

VAST, an acronym for Video Ad Serving Template, is a system designed to create a common language for the communication and transference of data between ad servers and video players. Since its launch by the IAB in 2008, it has undergone several iterations alongside the increasing complexity of video ad technology.

Despite the promise of standardization and scale, publishers’ uptake of the new template remains slow. Why?

The Promise Of 4.0

Effective video advertising requires a balance between powerful technology and creative messaging. The release of VAST 4.0 promised to take care of the technology side of the equation, leaving advertisers to focus on creativity within their video ads. Publishers expected it to reduce dependence on VPAID creative – the IAB’s Video Player-Ad Interface Definition – to improve post-impression analysis and to create a universal viewability standard.

Updates to the system include improved server-side capabilities allowing ad stitching to enhance support for linear ads, mezzanine file support to enable the handling of bigger video ad files, such as high-definition or long-form video, and the ability to separate linear video files from creative or interactive API files.

VAST 4.0 also holds multiple ready-to-serve files at different levels of quality to guarantee ads are served. It offers a consistent universal creative ID to simplify the ad execution process and introduces a category system that improves ad testing.

These are just a few of the promised upgrades that resulted in the new version of VAST being heralded as the catalyst for video ad standardization.

Slow Adoption

But despite the pre-release hype around VAST 4.0 and the many new benefits it offers, publisher adoption has been sluggish, to say the least. This may be due to a lack of understanding or confidence in implementing the new version. Publishers may even feel that VAST 3.0, which was released in 2012 and regarded as the pinnacle of VAST development, adequately meets their current needs so they don’t want to invest the resources required to make the change.

However, the most likely reason for slow adoption may be that despite the many updates, the new version simply doesn’t go far enough. For example, VAST 4.0 doesn’t resolve the issue of working with pre-impression APIs based on real-time scoring, such as those used by a number of fraud analytics systems. It also doesn’t include an official viewability metric, so it misses the opportunity to establish industrywide viewability standards.

Despite the hype around the release of VAST 4.0 and the clear benefits the upgrades bring, publishers are biding their time before implementing the new template. For the benefit of the entire ad-serving community, what’s needed is some hard-hitting education from the IAB and supply-side platforms to communicate the benefits of the new standard and help publishers to implement it.

Follow VertaMedia (@VertaMedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. VAST 4.0 hasn’t been adopted yet for a number of reasons.
    1. Like VAST 3.0, it was mainly intended to address the needs of large broadcast publishers, and as such, also like VAST 3.0, it may not get widespread adoption at all
    2. The main use case it is intended to address, as you mention, is SSAI aka stream-stitching. Not everyone is going to implement this, and some just aren’t prepared to.
    3. VAST 4.0 is a big change and shifts more power into the hands of the publisher. They are a lot of companies with a vested interest in keeping things as they are now (anyone doing client-side arbitration in VPAID for example).
    4. VAST 4.0 was introduced without VPAID 3.0. Changes to VPAID will be required to implement verification and interactivity support over SSAI.
    5. On a related note, since VPAID 3.0 may or may not solve this problem, it’s unclear exactly how verification can work without being part of the code that surrounds the video, as is the case for VPAID. It becomes a challenge to tie a given video impression call to a given call for the verification code, and support for real-time ad blocking is even more of a challenge. The approach to verification may need to change completely, to rely more on crunching data after the fact to look for bad patterns rather than relying on client-side code to watch the ad in the broswer/player.
    Overall, I believe the shift to a system that is not so heavily reliant on client-side logic, and does not require the player to execute a package of unknown code to get at the video is inevitable, but I think far more than education is required to make this happen, and it may quite some time for adoption to catch on as a result.