VAST 4.0: Revenue, Transparency and UX For Publishers And Advertisers

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

Today’s column is written by Frank Sinton, founder and CEO at Beachfront Media.

Version 4.0 of the IAB Tech Lab’s Video Ad Serving Template has been finalized, putting in place a range of important standards for the next generation of online ads.

Credit to the IAB for moving quickly to finalize these standards. Now comes the hard work of putting them all into place.

There’s a lot here that should improve life for publishers at a time when they’re scrapping for every dollar while trying to protect both their audiences and their advertisers. But other VAST 4.0 additions promise to reduce fraud, protect brands and improve audience experiences.

For example, “ad stitching” received a boost from VAST 4.0 and now stands a chance of becoming a widespread practice. Rather than pull ads and content from multiple servers and streams, this approach merges them into a single stream that both avoids ad blockers and improves user experiences with a more uniform video feed.

It’s not new – ESPN has been doing it for a long time – but VAST 4.0 support should help make it much more common. Additionally, a continued rise in mobile video consumption and rampant fear of ad blockers could create the perfect storm that pushes ad stitching to the top of preferred delivery mechanisms.

A Better User Experience

To support advertising across video platforms that include long-form content and high-resolution screens, VAST 4.0 features include support for the raw, high-quality mezzanine file. This big, uncompressed file of creative content that then is transcoded for a specific output stream is going to be used largely in concert with ad stitching.

But there are definitely some other uses here, including feeding high-resolution ads to the new high-bandwidth screens, such as UltraHD and 360-degree video. It’s also useful if you’re trying to optimize the viewing experience with a feed that has consistent resolutions and dimensions across all creative and content.

Mobile-first video or ready-to-serve files come in three quality levels – low, medium and high – and sit alongside the mezzanine to ensure an ad is always available for linear serving. VAST 4.0 lays out a group of suggested specifications for these files, and the approach should simplify and standardize what gets served up, cutting a source of delay for viewers.

This should make mobile video advertising much more palatable for the user, and serving can be optimized depending on bandwidth constraints.

Universal Ad ID And Ad Verification 

VAST 4.0 finally creates a consistent ID number for ads, a creative identifier that could be used to take part in the ad ID program. It may lead to the creation of a system that tracks not just the ad tech source of a tag but the actual advertiser behind a given piece of creative. That should make it far easier for publishers to enforce whitelists and blacklists of ads. This may set up a conflict with RTB 2.3, which tracks advertiser domains instead, but convergence into a truly universal ID system may be on the way, eventually.

VAST 4.0 also provides for a new approach to ad verification and viewability executive. It creates a designated space for ad-verification APIs, which should significantly streamline how this increasingly important function is conducted. In the past, verification vendors often relied on VPAID for verification, rather than its intended purpose. That won’t be necessary under this more straightforward process, though we’ll still have to determine an ad’s viewability.

Ad Categories And Declaration

New ad categories under VAST 4.0 will give publishers much more control in protecting ad creative by competing companies from running up against each other. It probably won’t be used heavily initially, but holds promise to provide more brand safety for publishers that would otherwise have to manually categorize competitors. It should also be helpful when dealing with network ads when it’s not clear what creative will be coming through.

Finally, VAST 4.0 promises to bring the industry out of its VPAID daisy-chain hell via a conditional ad declaration. This should reduce lost revenue for publishers that’s been caused when a VPAID unit is used to decide whether to conditionally place an ad without a link to specific creative. This provides a way to mark these “conditional” ads so the player can find another ad if it’s needed. That should prevent timeouts, wasted impressions and lost revenue for publishers.

There are lots here for all sides of the ad tech space to benefit, which is great news. Some of it, however, may take a while to be fully implemented across the industry. But the finalized standards solve some important issues, and now that they’re final the industry can move forward quickly. It’s time to celebrate and get to work.

Follow Beachfront Media (@beachfrontmedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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