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

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.

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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  1. I have to say this was a disappoint view of vast in general. VAST as a video ad serving template is meant to be a language for video players and agency’s to communicate which each other in standard manor

    The industry has already defined what a viewable impression is. A new event in vast 4.0 was made for this exactly. When a video player, SDK, etc determines hat a video ad is viewable that event fires

    It’s important to call out VAST is a language and not a spec designed to do the actual detection. That is why other systems do that job and the MRC audits them.

    As for the two “large” portals not needing vast 4 you clearly missed other elements of the new spec like AD-ID and Ad category support.

    As for the other content publishers like TV broadcasters adoption support is there and we can’t wait.

    Anyone with long form or live content will thrive on vast 4. User experience l, category protections, and cross screen research vast 4 opens all those doors

    • Agreed on several points. Some new features 4.0 is bringing to the video ad industry as a standard language are not mentioned here, the post is mainly focusing on the value brought by the new viewability component slot with his impression tracker and how it should decrease dependancy on VPAID. VAST as a language is opening the viewable impression tracking path, as well as helping stream stitching services to track server-side (out of topic here again), but advertisers still will rely on their own / 3rd party viewability tracking tools to define what is viewable. VAST keep on allowing advertiser to define their own standard, and it has a dark side.

      • The initial draft didn’t say how the player would actually use the new AdVerification slot. Now it’s been updated to say that it will be via the VPAID API, so players will still need to be VPAID compliant, or have bespoke code in to integrate each verification vendor.

        You are right about the advertisers still relying on their own 3rd party tracking tools though Hadrien, the tracker may be there, but you’ve really got to trust the integrity of the publisher’s video player to rely on it.

        Ideally there’d also be an IAB verification of publishers video players implementing the standard too. It’s something most SSP/Exchanges only do once when boarding a publisher if at all, I’m trying to do it on every ad request.

  2. A bit unfair and inaccurate at least in its suggestion that it is unsupported by YouTube as well as Facebook. True that Facebook does not support VAST. YouTube does support VAST. If we were to judge industry standards based on their Facebook support, they would all be severely lacking. 🙂