VASTly Improved? IAB Introduces 4.0

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is introducing the 4.0 version of its Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) specifications, a common in-stream advertising protocol that helps create a scalable distribution of ads possible. The last update happened in 2012, which in the rapidly morphing online video universe seems much longer ago than it really was.

The revision offers improvements in the delivery and measurement of video advertising, including sophisticated tracking options for clients, a feature much on the mind of the advertising business roiling from viewability and ad blocking issues. It also hopes to make it easier for publishers to monetize long-form ad content.

VAST 4.0 was due to be unveiled at its Ad Ops summit. Earlier, IAB was scheduled to host the first of three town hall meetings at which ad blocking and the IAB’s response to it, is likely to be the topic du jour.

According to the IAB’s Website, VAST 4.0 features:



“• Server-side Support – VAST 4.0 supports ‘ad-stitching’ or providing linear video ads in a stream to players with limited capabilities using server-to-server methods

• Mezzanine File and Creative ID – Enabling advertising across video platforms that include long-form content, high-resolution screens, and advertiser requirements for tracking ad creative, VAST 4.0 includes support for raw, high-quality mezzanine files and international creative ID programs (such as Ad-ID in the U.S.)

• Ad Verification and Viewability Execution – VAST 4.0 contains a light script object to simplify ad verification using VAST instead of complicating VPAID use and interfering with the video viewing experience

• Category Support – The introduction of ad categories will allow video publishers to separate competing ad creatives and improve brand safety

• Conditional Ad Declaration – A declaration in VAST for a conditional ad helps publishers prevent and reclaim any potentially lost inventory revenue in programmatic ad delivery."

The new standards, in language at least, seem to be applying some brakes to VAST 3.0 which zeroed in on reducing technical barriers for advertisers. This version of VAST doesn’t reverse that, but seems to be concentrating on better proof that ads are acting the way clients intended.

Today’s town meeting is seeking industry feedback on the IAB’s “L.E.A.N.” ad principles, announced a couple weeks ago in response to ad blockers. L.E.A.N., which stands for Light, Encrypted, Ad-choice supported, Non-invasive ads. In a mea culpa-like blog post, Scott Cunningham, IAB senior vice president of technology, on Oct. 15 wrote: “We messed up,” by not sensing consumer backlash to improvements in ad technology that irritated them to the point of rebellion in the form of enabling ad blockers.

“As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience,” he wrote. “The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public Internet and drained more than a few batteries. We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.”

The self-flagellation continues later this month, along with conversations about how to replace it with some kinder stroking, at other town hall meetings in San Francisco and London. What’s said there will be used by an IAB working group attempting to create new global ad standards that keep what’s there but apply it though a L.E.A.N.- principle magnifying glass.
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