When TV first arrived in American households in the decade after WWII, the existing creative talent in film, theater and radio didn’t quite know what to do with the new medium. They televised programs that looked a lot like radio plays, or live theater with static sets.
It took pioneers such as Lucille Ball, Milton Berle and Rod Serling to create programs that truly exploited the medium’s possibilities.
Something of that same transformational moment is arriving for digital video, with a confluence of revised specs such as VAST 4.0, an evolution of VPAID and MRAID into a unified multiplatform solution. That's coupled with the general maturity of ad-serving technology standards developed by the IAB and the industry. (VAST stands for Video Ad Serving Template.)
While viewability and measurement standards remain thorny, VAST 4.0 represents an important step toward monetizing full-length TV content. It creates the opportunity to innovate on both the content and advertising user experience in the booming digital-video space.
Tal Chalozin, co-founder and CTO at Innovid, observes: “For consumers, the lines between video and TV are blurry. Regardless of platform, viewers expect TV-like quality and developments like VAST 4.0, SSAI (server-side-ad-insertion), and multi-bitrate streaming are keys steps in the right direction for the next generation of TV.”
That said, for all the hard work and cooperation of the IAB Video Committee, and the thinking that went into VAST 4.0, the true work is only just beginning.
Like the pioneers of early television, the challenge today is to create truly native digital-advertising experiences that are unique to the fast-growing mobile and OTT platforms. The industry has genuinely solved the challenges of moving the linear TV advertising model to digital platforms, but now it is time to exploit the opportunities that these new specs enable.
Specifically with VAST 4.0, one of the most important opportunities is the separation of the video asset from the VPAID interactive functionality that can accompany the video. There has been a good deal of industry discussion about the potential negative implications of this move, but I would like to highlight the positive.
Until today, the evolution of interactive video capabilities has been largely delayed by publishers’ concerns about poor player performance with VPAID interactivity. One primary concern has been that a VPAID interactive payload that works on a powerful mobile device or desktop might not work in OTT, or on less capable devices.
With VAST 4.0, critically, the ecosystem can activate additional interactivity on the devices that are capable and appropriate, without needing to reduce their user experience to a lowest common denominator.
Understandably, publishers have focused on delivering a simple, complication-free stream pruned of more sophisticated capabilities. But that approach also sacrifices the higher CPMs and additional revenue opportunities available on digital platforms.
The result, in something of an irony, is that online video ends up more a recreation of linear TV, instead of a deeply engaging and interactive new experience.
Publishers should now ask what can we do differently on mobile, what is unique to OTT, and how might we serve relevant and unobtrusive ads into the video content itself? What if ads could be a deeply engaging experience of their own, or a short game, to truly serve and entertain the user? VAST 4.0 and the evolving specs make these scenarios and new ad products possible.
VAST 4.0 promises to take the fear out of sophisticated streaming by separating the core video feed and the interactive components. That allows an ad-delivery platform or other system to determine the capabilities of a given user’s device, and only deliver extra interactivity if the device can handle it.
Done right, we can create device-appropriate ads that don’t overwhelm a given user’s phone and connection, while providing the user (and advertiser) the richest possible online experience. Everyone wins.
With these new specs in hand, it will be up to the industry, new ad-product people and developers to come up with creative ways to deliver innovative advertising experiences. Who and what will be remembered 50 years from now as pioneers of this new medium?