Commentary

VAST 2.0 To Bring Order -- But Not The Kind We Might Think

The legacy of friction that existed during the first frontier of online video may have been put on notice last November, when the Interactive Advertising Bureau released VAST 2.0, an update to the Digital Video Ad Serving Template that it created in July 2008. The video industry had been in never-ending pursuit of standards for the five or so years prior to the VAST 2.0 update. Technical and operational procedure stalled behind the frenzy to innovate. It may have been assumed that the speed to create revolutionary delivery platforms and ad systems was necessary to accommodate the oncoming big brand outlay. Of course, it's easy now to see how that speed may have actually slowed us down.

No segment of the industry contributed more to the chaos than the array of video networks, each one with its own metrics definitions, ad-serving system, and tracking methodologies. As irony would have it, the advent of VAST 2.0 has many of those same video networks facing possible extinction -- at least, this is what some have suggested. The thinking is that the IAB's update puts the display networks on the fast track to video viability, which would further commoditize video network inventory, enable brands to wield far greater pricing influence, and ultimately push some of the traditional video nets from the space entirely.

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While this outcome may eventually play itself out, VAST 2.0 isn't likely to spell immediate doom for video networks, due to many of the same technical and operational reasons it was born. For starters, it's difficult to envision accelerated VAST 2.0 adoption across the publishing community. The VAST update is designed to improve communication between publisher/network and ad server, by standardizing the ad server(s)' response to an ad request. It's still up to the publisher to identify the best resulting ad for the requesting consumer at the specific moment of request. It's still up to the publisher to determine the best value from among available ads. This might fly in a world where third-party ad-serving is commonplace (such as display), but to date that's been a slow process with video. Only those video networks and ad servers who've done the legwork to integrate a pure third-party video connection with their sites are in a position to provide publishers with guidance on value. VAST 2.0 isn't intended to provide standards around multiple ad returns in a single call, or how to value those ads. For the other guys -- the rep firms, if you will -- who lack the native communication with a site's video player, the jig will soon be up. Sure, they can manually deliver sites a fully formatted VAST template and proceed with business as usual, but these companies aren't actually "networks" in the truest sense of the definition.

Regardless, securing meaningful video inventory will be more difficult than some think. Even with foundational standards in place, there's a limit to the number of ad sources a publisher can be expected to work with and effectively manage -- unless an ad vendor steps forward with a solution that delivers video ads asynchronously. And delivering in full for advertisers may turn out to be an unexpected challenge. Historically, in display, when a network is short of full delivery near month's end, it can go to other networks and buy media from mystery sources. These placements are largely unknown to the advertisers. Video ads aren't delivered through daisy-chained requests or placed in nested Iframes, so rogue placements are easier to spot.

The IAB and its members have worked hard in recent years to craft acceptable guidelines to support in-stream media, from simple encoding specs to the complexities of tracking and reporting the various assets that can be presented in-stream. In theory, a display network or video rep firm could package and serve a Flash SWF as a VAST-compliant pre-roll, but that practice would in many ways run counter to the time spent moving the process to its current place. Never mind the challenges that can go into transcoding video assets (regardless of whether they're included in a SWF) and allowing a system to define and easily innovate around various video-based ad units to drive value to the advertiser.

If anything, VAST 2.0 will create clear distinctions in the video space as a whole, accelerate the learning curve on the buying side and, ultimately, separating the genuine video networks from all the rest.

4 comments about "VAST 2.0 To Bring Order -- But Not The Kind We Might Think".
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  1. Walter Sabo from HitViews, February 1, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.

    its all about the show. no show, no need for standards.

  2. The digital Hobo from TheDigitalHobo.com, February 1, 2010 at 3:28 p.m.

    The lack of VAST standards is a shameful excuse for the lack of creativity around video content.

    VAST standards allow the networks and non-premium sites to accept premium advertising. isn't that a bit of a disconnect?

    too much focus on standards and leveling the playing field instead of driving a medium forward by building eye popping creative. bottom feeders be damned. pick 5 sites and blow them away with creativity.

    or just sit back and wait for someone else to do it. up to you.

  3. Michael Molesky from LiveRail Inc., February 4, 2010 at 9:26 p.m.

    "Even with foundational standards in place, there's a limit to the number of ad sources a publisher can be expected to work with and effectively manage..."

    This is exactly why ad source optimization tools like LiveRail have been developed for the video market, and I think you will continue to see third parties leading the charge in this arena. Keep in mind, there aren't IAB-defined standards in the display market for yield management either...

    I personally think VAST is a great step forward for anyone seriously interested in spurring growth in the video ad market, but it's important to remember that it was created for a very specific (i.e. limited) purpose - enabling third-party ad serving in video by creating a standard for communication between video ad servers in retrieving campaign assets and information. I'm sure there will be further initiatives for video ad standards, just as VPAID moves us another step forward, as a universal framework for the interactions between video ads and video players, but I don't think yield optimization will be one of those standards.

  4. Jason Burke from clypd, Inc, February 5, 2010 at 9:08 p.m.

    VAST is a necessary component for video ad distribution to approach the same level of distribution as display ad (inventory constraints aside). As Bryon and Michael mention, it is difficult (but not impossible) for a site to connect to an infinite number of sources -- video is a diff't beast than display. Among other benefits, using a platform like LiveRail removes the work required to tie into multiple sources. <P> VPAID is nearly equally important as advertisers are going to demand more from their ad spend than the ho-hum, low-engagement 30 sec prerolls. VPAID compliant ads will allow for delivering engaging, interactive ads to any video player/platform that is VPAID-compliant. <P> This might be a ways off, but the next standard that is needed is the common language to allow for real-time bidding/pricing whether it be in the ad request from the publisher to the ad source or in the ad response where the ad source includes a price that will be paid for the impression. Many biz challenges/issues here, but the only way any true marketplace works is when the buyers and sellers are speaking the same language and using the same "currency" -- eventually those ad sources and those publishers that can "barter" in this fashion stand to rise above those that can not. <P> <P>

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