Stitching Ad Tech Together: Client-Side & Server-Side Ad Insertion

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By Bob Waln, Software Portfolio Manager, MediaKind

The growth of streaming video has been meteoric, and the past 18 months have only served to drive its ubiquity and popularity. Based on Q4 2020 subscription figures, the six leading video streaming service providers (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Tencent Video, iQIYI, Disney+, and Youku) held 777.6m subscribers between them – around 10% of the world’s entire population!

As streaming continues to dominate consumer viewing preferences and new opportunities emerge within the market, there is a continued and increasing need to monetize content. The subscription model is one means, but the long-term potential of advertising in this market is still largely untapped. To date, the primary revenue sources for streaming services can be broken down into three broad categories:

  • Subscription – no ads: The consumer pays a recurring fee to watch content without any ads.
  • Ad-supported subscription: The consumer pays a recurring fee to watch content that has ads inserted, with either a traditional ad load or a reduced number of ads.
  • Free-ad-supported: The consumer can watch content without any fee

Approaches for ad insertion: CSAI and SSAI

With this stark rise in IP streaming, there are currently two approaches for insertion of ads into content: Client-Side Ad Insertion (CSAI) and Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI). So, what’s the difference?

  • In CSAI, the client application and video player enable the process for making ad decision requests and taking resulting actions. Ads are downloaded to the client and stored locally, allowing the client to switch between primary content and ads.
  • Conversely, in SSAI, communications for ad decisions and the actual ad stitching are performed by components upstream of client applications. By the time the client receives and processes the complete stream, ads have already been inserted, so the client plays the stitched stream, just as if the ads had not been placed at all.

Both major approaches to ad-insertion – CSAI and SSAI – have been possible for traditional set-top-box delivery. Now, however, streaming has opened possibilities for both methods. In MediaKind’s new application paper, ‘Stitching Ad Tech Together’, we explore both approaches, providing new insights and outlining the key advantages and challenges for each. The paper also factors the various considerations when choosing CSAI or SSAI and whether combining the two could be the optimal solution.

Managing the various approaches for ad insertion

The current ecosystem is complex to unpick, partly because there are so many different moving parts at play. There are a range of systems and providers all overlapping with one another – each offering various functions to the overall workflow.

We can see that many brands recognize the advantages available through SSAI for ad insertion. However, it’s not currently being reflected – or at the very least prioritized – by many publishers. There are two possible reasons to explain this. The first comes down to heritage; the digital evolution has naturally seen many publishers regard ad insertion as a client-side activity. The growth of interactive advertising has evolved with the history of the internet.

The other factor is a simple one – budgets. Who is funding the effort to develop a client? Also, if there is an existing cloud solution provider, campaign manager, or manifest manipulator, new solutions must adapt to these processes and workflows. There is simply no standard cookie-cutter approach to ad-tech – it really depends on the customer, their alignment, and their needs.

Stitching Ad Tech Together: A collaborative approach

We’re seeing a marketplace that is increasingly divided between those who build their own best-of-breed solutions and those at the other end of the spectrum, who are looking to various providers to deliver their service as simply and with the greatest ease as possible.

Helping customers across the spectrum is a real challenge for our industry as we move forward. For providers such as ourselves, it means we must develop various components and solutions compatible with other providers while simultaneously providing ready-made services to our customers that they can leverage immediately. It’s a complicated picture, but the answer lies in creating interoperable solutions that conform to the latest standards – something we pride our advertising and linear rights portfolio around.

Please reach out to me via LinkedIn if you would like to learn more about how MediaKind supports both methods for ad insertion and how we can help you determine where best to use each type of approach.

DOWNLOAD THE PAPER HERE!