Multi-Screen Video Advertising: The Standards We Have, The Standards We Need

  • by August 2, 2013
The joint release from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and the Media Rating Council (MRC) regarding new mobile measurement guidelinesearlier this month underscores an irony of the current era of digital advertising: sometimes it seems that the only thing that is outpacing the enthusiastic predictions of advertising convergence (and implied simplicity) are the number of new standards and technologies that the industry needs to navigate.

 The sad truth of the matter is that it is still wickedly confusing out there, and some new markets such as connected TV are only just getting started, so it probably won’t be getting simpler anytime soon.

 Given that, I thought it might be helpful to discuss at least the main technologies and standards currently in play and how they overlap, or don’t, as the case may be.

I’ll focus on interactive video advertising because they have more challenges associated, and since interactivity seems to be such a big part of the future of all advertising.  

 The 2013 digital advertising market is actively dealing with two related forks in the road: the first is desktop vs mobile, and the second is Flash vs HTML5. Each of these gets more complicated, especially desktop vs mobile since mobile fragments further into web vs in-app, Android vs iOS, and tablet vs smartphone.

 So, what are the standards that exist today to help us deliver interactive video advertising across screens? Where are they lacking? The two main standards in use (thank you IAB!) are VPAID and MRAID.

 VPAID stands for Video Player-Ad Interface Definition – this is the agreed-upon language that the ad will speak to the publisher/network video player that contains it. So when the ad doing all the things an ad generally does – it loads, initializes, plays, pauses, closes, etc. – it is communicating all these things to whatever player is playing it in a predictable manner, allowing it to run across players built by different publishers without problems, provided they are VPAID-compliant.

 MRAID stands for Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions. This is the agreed-upon language that a mobile in-app ad should speak to its container. In this case, the container is provided by an advertising SDK generally provided in turn by a mobile ad network or advertising technology partner.

 The ad SDK exists so that individual app developers don’t have to write their own unique code to load and render ads. Instead they incorporate the SDK into their app, which does the heavy lifting for them. 

 However, like publisher video players on the VPAID side, all these SDKs  (for Software Development Kits) need their own common language for the ad container to communicate with the ad, and this is MRAID.  It governs very similar functionality to VPAID – loading, playing, pausing, closing, etc.

So they have a lot in common, which is a good thing.  Unfortunately, they also have a lot NOT in common. 

First off, VPAID players nearly all run using Flash technology--which doesn’t work at all in mobile. The VPAID spec does talk about an HTML5 implementation of VPAID, but unfortunately at this point the adoption by the mobile marketplace has not caught up to the proposed reality. 

Also, to support the same VPAID ads across both desktop and mobile, the publisher would have to not only create or adopt an HTML5 VPAID player to run on phones and tablets, but would also have to migrate their entire Web inventory to accept HTML5 ads rather than Flash ads, a step which is dependent on other significant players the online video ad ecosystem (creative agencies, exchanges, third-party technology and data providers, etc).  

Understandably, most established Web publishers are not moving quickly on the HTML5 VPAID front, and instead are keeping their desktop inventory running Flash VPAID, while they explore separate solutions specifically for the much smaller mobile market.

The focus on the mobile side has been where the money is which, at least initially, has been in-app inventory rather than mobile Web inventory. This is where MRAID comes in, by giving the publishers a standard way to run ads in-app.

The problem here is that the MRAID standard has been conceived primarily with rich media in mind, and does very little to address video.  There is actually nothing in the MRAID standard to address standard video tracking (quartiles, completions) at all. And it applies only to in-app and not at all to mobile web.

The IAB seems to be betting on long-term adoption of the VPAID standard across all platforms, which overall seems like a very reasonable bet, but leaves the industry in a weird place in the interim period, and has some holes as well.
For example, will publishers/networks be expected to implement or adopt a full VPAID player that runs in-app in the future? If pubs and networks develop HTML5 MRAID ad solutions to work in the current market, will they happily throw this work away when and if HTML5 VPAID starts to become more of a market reality?

While it makes sense to continue to push the VPAID standard across platforms and across technologies, it doesn’t make sense to have standards that only address the world as we hope it will be, rather than addressing the current marketplace. It’s also important to note that VPAID in and of itself has nothing to do with mobile whatsoever – there is nothing in VPAID to deal with mobile-specific functionality, like accessing the accelerometer of the device.  This is only handled by MRAID.

One possible interim solution would be to borrow the video tracking outlined for HTML5-based VPAID and adopt it as an official addendum to MRAID, to ensure that as long as publishers are using MRAID and doing video tracking that that they are doing it in a way that is compliant with an industry-accepted standard.

Although there is no doubt that a lot of the difficult work of establishing standards has been done, the industry is ultimately in need of standards that better support a unified solution for advertisers – interactive ads that run across all screens, taking advantage of all the capabilities that each target device has on offer. 

 It’s not an easy task, but the industry cannot, as the common rallying cry goes, “break down the silos” between devices while trying to adhere to a set of siloed standards.

Guest blogger Michael Tuminello is director of product for Innovid. MediaPost Online Video Daily blogger P.J. Bednarski will return Aug. 7.

2 comments about "Multi-Screen Video Advertising: The Standards We Have, The Standards We Need ".
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  1. Matt Cooper from Addroid, August 5, 2013 at 3:15 p.m.

    Thanks Michael for getting this discussion out in the open!

    I just spoke about this exact problem at the IAB Joint Mobile, Digital Video, and Audio Committee in SF on July 31st. Here's a screencap with voice over of the deck if anyone is interested.

  2. Robert Smith from Millennial Media, August 8, 2013 at 11:16 a.m.

    Good article. I agree and would like to see the iAB address video in the MRAID spec. We're starting to see video more frequently on media buys and it seems there's always some nuance to account for. I think one of the major hang ups on standardizing video in mobile is the fault of the OSes involved. iOS is very good and handling HTML video. Android, not so much.

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