The race for multiscreen video delivery is on. Most service providers either are in the planning or deployment stage of solutions that enable subscribers to consume video services on tablets, PCs, mobile phones and Web-connected TVs.

Advertising has been a secondary yet important revenue source for MSOs in their traditional video services, and it provides a promising method for monetizing their multiscreen video offerings. The vast potential of multiscreen advertising stems directly from addressing the shortcomings of traditional TV advertising today:

Better cost structure for local ad insertion – Local ad insertion for traditional broadcast services is based on splicers and ad servers, which constitute a significant cost per channel and ad zone. As a result, MSOs insert ads only into popular channels, where the number of viewers in each ad zone justifies the associated capital and operating expenses. By contrast, such adaptive bitrate (ABR) technologies as Apple HLS, Microsoft Smooth Streaming and Adobe Dynamic Streaming enable the client to switch seamlessly between consecutive pieces of content. This allows for ad insertion that requires only proper pre-conditioning of the streams and ads. Once the streams and ads have been conditioned, any ad can be inserted on any channel. As a result, it’s likely that ad insertion for multiscreen will grow beyond the traditional spliceable channels, allowing MSOs to go after a larger inventory of ad-insertion opportunities.

Improved addressability – The unicast nature of ABR streaming allows MSOs to incorporate a different ad into every subscriber’s stream, based on specific criteria. As a result, MSOs can start with matching the ad zones they have today on broadcast TV, and then add more addressability as they test and validate different advertising models. ABR can provide addressability up to the household level and, in some cases, even to the individual within the household. This, of course, is an advertiser’s dream.

Enhanced interactive experience – Unlike traditional TV interactive ads, which is based on limited interaction with the TV remote and EBIF support in the STB, most of the new video-consumption devices have built-in Web-browsing capabilities and enhanced user input capabilities like touch-screen keyboards. These capabilities enable more than just basic voting, polling or RFI capabilities; they allow subscribers to be redirected to an advertiser’s Website for further interaction.

Robust measurement and accountability – Much like Internet advertising, the unicast and bidirectional nature of ABR technologies allow advertisers to get accurate measurements of ad viewership and click-through, and it also can be tied to online transaction completion. Today’s broadcast-TV advertising lacks these tools and must rely instead on statistical sampling and estimates.

Enabling other advertising forms – While broadcast-TV ads are based solely on the 30-second spot, multiscreen ads allow for additional forms, including pre- and post- rolls, sidebar ads, text-crawlers and guide-embedded ads. These contribute more ad opportunities to MSOs.

Cooperation with content providers – For the past few years, MSOs have been trying to cooperate with content providers around TV advertising and to expand their ad revenues beyond the two-minute-per-hour of local ad insertion. Leveraging their IP infrastructure, ABR technologies enable MSOs to redirect clients to a content provider’s Web server during a national ad break, thus allowing the content provider to address the audience directly based on the MSO’s client profiling. This capability will increase the value of each ad break significantly, and it will allow both content providers and MSOs to benefit.

The Promised Land

Before any MSO can take advantage of the opportunities offered by multiscreen advertising, a few technical issues need to be considered.

One challenge is the current technologically fragmented field of clients, protocols and approaches. One approach to this is for the client to pull both the main program and an ad stream, and switch between them at the “splice” point. Another approach that greatly simplifies the client/player is to use ABR technology to switch seamlessly between file-chunks containing the program and those containing the ad.

Another consideration is whether the client should be aware of the ad break. In situations where the client is aware, it actively pulls the playlist/manifest from the network in order to serve ad content at the correct time. In situations where the client is not aware, it simply pulls file chunks from the network without regard to whether they contain a program or an ad. The advantage of the latter approach is that it doesn’t require any client-specific development or integration.

Regardless of the technical decisions, MSOs ultimately need to start with a multiscreen advertising solution that matches linear-TV zoned advertising and that leverages as much existing infrastructure as possible. To be successful, the solution needs to be compatible with all target devices, flexible enough to adapt to new device and protocol requirements, and able to provide further addressability and add capabilities as MSOs become more comfortable with multiscreen viewing patterns and emerging advertising models.

Yaron Raz is director/Digital Video Solutions at Harmonic. Contact him at [email protected]

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