Last week, we explored the differences between VAST and VPAID and where the industry is headed. We concluded that interactive advertising is here to stay and in the best interest of publishers. However, this transition presents a problem. Not all video players accept these interactive VPAID ad formats and those that do may experience slower performance and increased latency. That’s why VAST continues to be updated and improved as the digital video advertising industry encounters problems such as this. Today, we’ll dive into the ways that VAST continues to address problems as they arise in this ever-evolving industry.
First, let’s revisit what VAST is. In 2008, the IAB created VAST, the Video Ad Serving Template, to provide a standardized ad response format so that advertisers no longer had to worry about their video ads failing to run on certain players and publishers no longer had to worry about limited compatible demand. Since then, VAST has been through several iterations, adding more features and functionality as digital video advertising has become more sophisticated. Let’s take a closer look at the features and functionality highlighted by the IAB for the most recent versions of VAST – 3.0 and 4.0.
|CAPABILITIES||VAST 3.0||VAST 4.0|
|Five ad formats: Five unique ad formats (Linear Ads, Nonlinear Ads, Skippable Linear Ads, Linear Ads with Companions, and Ad Pods) have been defined, allowing publishers to be VAST compliant with the ad formats that best fit their particular business models. For example, if a publisher only accepts linear ads, that publisher/player would not be expected to support for other ad formats, such as nonlinear ads.||✓||✓|
|Skippable ads: VAST has functionality for the addition of skip controls, as well as metrics for tracking skipped ads.||✓||✓|
|Ad pods: VAST supports the ability to serve multiple ads in a single VAST ad response. A set of sequenced ads in a VAST response plays back-to-back ads as a “pod”, similar to how consumers experience commercial ad breaks in broadcast television. With the addition of VMAP, ad breaks can be specifically designed to accept these Ad Pods and any combination of single ads, random sets of ads, and structured Ad Pods.||✓||✓|
|OBA self-regulation: VAST enables basic support for managing industry icon programs such as the Digital Advertising Alliance’s ‘AdChoices’ program for Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) self-regulation.||✓||✓|
|Improved error reporting: VAST defines a common list of error codes used to report errors, as well as specifications for when to send error notifications. An error tagprotocol is also included at the topmost level to handle a “no ad” response. Improved error reporting enables systems to troubleshoot technical issues and become more sophisticated over time.||✓||✓|
|Separate video file and interactive file: The complexity of digital video has given rise to the need to separate the linear video file from any creative interactive API files. While the VAST media file has accepted a variety of media files in the past, interactive APIs cannot always be executed. A VAST tag that provides the video file separate from APIs can display more successfully across platforms and devices.||X||✓|
|Server-side support: While client-side ad execution and tracking has been the recommended way to track ad impressions and other metrics, digital in-stream video ads are often served to devices (clients) that cannot execute and track ads using traditional display methods. VAST 4.0 supports the increasingly common “ad- stitching” method for stitching linear video ads into a video content stream and sending it to players with limited capabilities.||X||✓|
|Mezzanine file: To support advertising across video platforms that include long-form content and high-resolution screens, VAST 4.0 features include support for the raw, high-quality mezzanine file. The mezzanine file is very large and cannot be used for ad display, but ad-stitching services and other ad vendors use it to generate files at appropriate quality levels for the environment in which they play.||X||✓|
|Ready-to-serve files: Along with support for including the mezzanine file, VAST 4.0 provides guidance on providing three ready-to-serve video files, each at different quality levels, to ensure that a linear video ad can always play. The IAB Digital Video Ad Format Guidelines offers guidance on video file specifications for linear ads.||X||✓|
|Universal ad ID: While VAST has offered a creative identifier in the past, it has been used inconsistently. The new Universal Ad ID feature is used specifically for including a creative identifier that is maintained across systems. The existing adId attribute for creative can still be used to log creative IDs specific to the server.||X||✓|
|Ad verification and viewability execution: Verification vendors have been using VPAID for measurement verification instead of using it for ad interaction as VPAID was intended. VAST 4.0 offers a designated space for inserting ad verification APIs, enabling a more streamlined process for executing files strictly intended for ad verification. In addition, a secondary impression element, the <ViewableImpression> element, has been added to allow publishers the option to track viewability on their inventory.||X||✓|
|Support for categories: Ad categories help video publishers separate competing ad creative and improve brand safety. VAST 4.0 ad categories support these efforts.||X||✓|
|Conditional ad declaration: In programmatic environments, a VPAID unit is sometimes used to decide whether or not to place an ad. If this “conditional ad” never results in an ad to display, the publisher may have to forfeit any revenue from the resulting lost inventory. A declaration in VAST for a conditional ad helps publishers prevent and reclaim any potentially lost inventory revenue in programmatic ad delivery.||X||✓|
|New error codes: Along with support for the mezzanine file and other new features, added error codes provide additional troubleshooting support.||X||✓|
|Standardized time stamp: Trackers used in VAST often include timestamp macros, but its use has not been consistent. In VAST 4.0, the [TIMESTAMP] macro and the format for time has been standardized to enable more consistent time-sensitive tracking.||X||✓|
VAST will continue to be refined as the industry continues to evolve, serving its purpose as the standardized template for video advertising, creating truly seamless workflows across partners. That’s why it is important that the ad tech industry continues to support this initiative as a concerted effort to standardize and streamline video advertising.
This article was written by Lexie Pike, product marketing manager at SpotX.