What is server-side ad insertion (SSAI) or dynamic ad insertion (DAI)?
SSAI is a process used to insert ads into a piece of high-quality, long-form content. For media owners, the ad insertion process allows for a buffer-less transition from content, to ad, then back to content, providing the same user experience as broadcast TV.
Who is involved in the workflow?
This process involves an SSAI vendor that sits between the online video player (OVP) and ad server to mediate the stitching of the ads into the content. Some media owners also have their own proprietary solution.
What are some of the benefits of SSAI?
- SSAI helps prevent ad blocking by seamlessly stitching together content and ad.
- It provides users with an optimal, broadcast-like viewing experience that often provides high-quality video and ad creatives. Moreover, the technology can adapt to different bandwidths to support poor connections by rendering a lower-quality stream without buffering.
- SSAI provides some operational efficiencies as it eliminates the need to maintain multiple SDKs.
- It allows broadcasters to insert digital ads over a linear slate.
- Finally, it helps media owners with large-scale live event inventory deal with concurrency.
What are the typical roles of an SSAI vendor?
An SSAI vendor will:
- Identify ad breaks in the content;
- Transcode ad creatives into low, medium, and high-quality versions to allow the stream to play without buffering in a wide range of connectivity levels;
- Transcode the ad into the proper adaptive bit rate formats, most commonly MPEG-DASH and HLS;
- Insert ads and stitch the ad and video content together; and
- Communicate with the player via a manifest to indicate which files need to be played at which time.
How do SSAI vendors limit buffering?
SSAI vendors put a stitched stream through a transcoding process that converts it into an adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming format. ABR is able to detect an end user’s current bandwidth in real time and tailor the stream to the optimal output. Allowing vendors to return a lower-quality stream for poor internet connections, and a higher-quality stream to those with strong bandwidth.
What devices can support SSAI?
SSAI-supported content can be accessed across all devices in both web or app environments. This means users can stream SSAI content on desktop, mobile, and connected TV devices.
Is SSAI beneficial for live inventory and events?
Yes, SSAI is helpful for any media owner that is transferring over from the traditional linear space. Server-side ad insertion can be used to replace traditional ad breaks with digital ads, whether that is a live or pre-recorded event. Broadcasters will also utilize an SSAI vendor’s technology to handle high spikes in concurrency normally seen with large-scale events. Some vendors have the ability to pre-cache ads, so they can start calling their ad server before the break actually occurs.
What types of media owners primarily use SSAI?
Operators, pay-TV providers, broadcasters, and programmers all use SSAI. This includes media owners that stream live events, live-linear cable TV, or have video-on-demand (VOD) assets. However, any media owner that finds the features of SSAI to be beneficial can utilize the technology to stream their video inventory.
Are you able to match cookied users in SSAI environments since there is an additional partner involved?
Normally, no. However, SpotX has developed a solution that enables user syncing in web-based SSAI environments. Enabling user-syncing adds value to your inventory as DSPs often look for known users when making ad decisions.
What does the SSAI workflow normally look like?
- A user sits down to watch an episode of their favorite show on their connected device. After the user clicks play on that content, the video player will request a manifest from the SSAI vendor. A manifest is a set of instructions that instruct the player on tasks like where it can locate video files and how long to play them for.
- After receiving the manifest, the player accesses the video content from a content delivery network (CDN), the group of servers that work to deliver content to connected devices. Once the content is accessed, the player begins to stream it.
- When it is time for an ad break in the user’s content, a marker in the stream indicates to the SSAI vendor that it is time for an ad to be served. The SSAI vendor will then send an ad request on behalf of the player and call into SpotX for an ad or a pod of ads.
- SpotX begins to source ad content in real time by evaluating bids from DSPs, direct-sold campaigns, private marketplaces, and additional third-party sources. SpotX then returns the ad or pod of ads to the SSAI vendor.
- The SSAI vendor takes the video file and puts it into low, medium, and high-quality versions. This allows for the video file to adapt to different levels of the end user’s internet connectivity. It then stores the file on its CDN for any future use.
- Once the ad is ready to be served to the end user, the SSAI vendor updates the manifest and instructs the video player to play back the ad content. The end user sees that ad in a buffer-less fashion, similar to that of linear TV.
- After the ads have played, the manifest once again updates the player to resume playing the end user’s chosen content. Tracking beacons will also be fired, alerting all the involved parties that the ad served.
What is OTT header bidding?
OTT header bidding gives publishers the opportunity to compete programmatic demand on the same playing field as direct-sold campaigns. Header bidding solutions allow for publishers to tap into a variety of SSPs, like SpotX, to increase programmatic performance. SSAI is a crucial technology for most premium OTT media owners, and they are currently evaluating top header bidding solutions to work alongside their DAI technology.
Which SSAI vendors does SpotX work with?
SpotX is agnostic when it comes to server-side technologies. Currently, we work with 20+ DAI vendors and proprietary SSAI solutions. Each vendor and proprietary setup onboarded with SpotX goes through a thorough certification process to ensure that all traffic and beacons are valid and brand safe.
I have more questions. Where do I start? Who can answer my SSAI-related questions?
If you are a media owner with questions about SSAI or how to utilize it with your current inventory setup, direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also begin by evaluating which SSAI vendor best meets your needs. For any one-off questions, feel free to contact the author of this article, Matthew Smith, at email@example.com.
About the author
As a Manager in the Advanced Solutions Group at SpotX, Matthew Smith is focused on curating strategies for key OTT and CTV media owners and advertisers. Matt’s areas of focus are connected TV, OTT, and SSAI, and he works heavily with SpotX’s Demand Facilitation and South East Asia teams. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor’s degree from the top-ranked Olin Business School. Matthew has been a part of the SpotX team for three years.