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Overcoming the Top 5 Challenges in Server-Side IP Ad Insertion (SSAI)

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Service providers continue to confront significant differences between the video delivery models of traditional broadcasting and IP video. Advertising is one area where addressing these differences is critical. To ensure providers can maximize revenue and maintain an optimal viewer experience, the advertising model should target several goals, including: no ad spot should go unsold or unfilled, the quality of video playback must be as pristine as possible, and advertisements must play as expected—with the ability to prove that they executed successfully on the end device.

In traditional Pay TV where architectures and processes are well established, adhering to these principles is standard and expected. In the dynamic IP video environment, however, adherence is not simple or easy, and service providers are likely to encounter several roadblocks that threaten both their monetization goals and the user experience. Fortunately, it is now possible to overcome these roadblocks and deliver the experience service providers need. 

The Traditional Broadcasting Experience

In the traditional broadcast model, enabled by legacy set-top boxes, viewers have become accustomed to a specific experience: reliable, predictable, and consistent in quality.

From an advertising perspective, the across-the-board dependability of what many think of as "real TV" stems from several constants upon which the legacy system was built:

  • Content and advertising are delivered to one type of end device: a set-top box
  • Content preparation and delivery are tightly integrated into the operator’s platform
  • There are a limited number of time slots allotted for advertising
  • Audience is defined in terms of geography and basic demographics
  • Tools for monitoring and measuring ad performance are well established

The stable, hardened architectures crafted on these constants allow service providers to monetize their investment by selling, executing, and billing for advertising with confidence. These architectures have also enabled providers to define a clear process for inserting advertisements into programming. As a result, viewers know what to expect regarding commercial breaks, and advertisers can reliably serve their content at regular intervals and with seamless quality—without gaps, glitches, or interruptions.

By contrast, the increasingly popular subscription video on demand (SVOD) and over-the-top (OTT) services have suffered from a lack of standardization, resulting in at least five challenges for service providers:

  1. Matching devices, content, and advertisements
  2. Supporting a range of business models
  3. Scaling for growth and peak traffic
  4. Monitoring and analyzing ad execution
  5. Maintaining precise timing across ads and content

The good news is that service providers now have proven best practices and consistent approaches to solve for these challenges.

Matching Devices, Content, and Advertisements

The ecosystem of devices and content formats in IP video is constantly evolving, making the task of ensuring a consistent high-quality ad insertion experience very difficult.  Factors such as content with multiple language experiences only add to the challenge, threatening delays and increased costs with each new device introduction. By developing an automated workflow that can easily be tuned system-wide, service providers can vastly reduce new device deployment timelines, increase performance and consistency, and reduce operational costs.

An automated workflow:

  • Allows the operator to define session attributes, such as device type, origin, location and content type
  • Defines session handling rules, such as how to transact with ad servers, how to handle ad tracking or how to match bit rates, codecs, and groupings.
  • Maps attributes to rules for consistent session handling at any scale.

Supporting a Range of Business Models

Multi-Ad Decisioning System ("ADS") support helps service providers protect quality and revenue by ensuring no spots get unsold.  It also helps capitalize on new business models by complementing direct sales with external channels. But the ability to quickly turn new ad sales partnerships into revenue depends on the time it takes to integrate ad workflows between the service provider and each ad sales partner’s ADS. An agile manifest manipulator speeds up this process by tailoring the ad request going to the partner’s ADS with the targeting parameters that matter.

Scaling for Growth and Peak Traffic

The manifest manipulator needs the agility and intelligence to successfully manage millions of requests from IP devices, and to account for varying response times from other components of the system. There are several goals to keep in mind to address scalability issues: reducing latency, adapting to fluctuating workflows, ensuring resiliency and geo-redundancy, optimizing load distribution, and allowing zero-downtime software upgrades and maintenance. To achieve each of these goals, the manifest manipulator should be horizontally scalable, based on the latest in cloud deployment models, and have the ability to meter requests to other ecosystem elements to manage peak demand. 

Monitoring and Analyzing Ad Execution

With millions of clients streaming personalized ads, ensuring the proper, accurate and timely reporting of successful ad insertions is critical to keeping ad revenue flowing. Operating at the heart of the ad ecosystem, the manifest manipulator has the most complete view of ad performance and delivery quality. It should be configured to prove that an ad has been inserted into the stream, have the intelligence to monitor the health of other components in the network, and be dynamic enough to parse the necessary data to analyze faults in a session.

Maintaining Precise Timing Across Ads and Content

Due to the nature of IP video, small timing mistmatches between ad breaks and the ads themselves can lead to "drift" (where streams with ads get out of sync with the live stream), or more serious video quality issues, including the sudden stream termination in the most extreme cases. Fortunately, an agile manifest manipulator can prevent many of these issues by making intelligent decisions that eliminate or lessen their impact. The decisions the manifest manipulator makes cannot be static because the effects and their magnitude vary with the duration of a streaming session.

The Need for Agile Manifest Manipulation

The IP video environment is architected for constant change and customization, which opens up powerful new capabilities and opportunities for service providers and their subscribers. Chief among them is the ability to deliver personalized experiences and targeted ads across a wide range of devices. But the advantages of this dynamic environment bring with them a set of challenges that, if not managed, can create noticeable issues with video streams and threaten monetization.

To truly offer a "real TV" experience, service providers must counter the dynamic world of IP video with an agile manifest manipulator. This manifest manipulator must

  • Automatically match content, ads, and devices to ensure ads stream properly as more devices get supported.
  • Support multiple business models by connecting multiple ADS systems.
  • Support rapid growth and spikes in traffic seamlessly.
  • Unify data collection and delivery from a range of systems in the ad and content delivery chain.
  • Intelligently absorb, resolve, and even prevent timing issue to ensure a high quality of experience. 

In short, as the backbone of video and ad delivery, the manifest manipulator must be just as agile as the IP video environment itself. 

For more information, read the eBook "Overcoming the 5 Challenges of Server-Side Ad Insertion."

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from CommScope. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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