Server-side ad insertion (SSAI) — a process that allows for a buffer-less transition from content, to ad, then back to content — was developed years ago and was quickly adopted as it brought the user experience of digital video up to par with that of broadcast TV. Though SSAI technology has advanced since its introduction, there are still some misconceptions floating around the industry that it can limit the dynamic capabilities of video advertising.
This is fundamentally incorrect.
If anything, SSAI drastically increases the opportunity for personalization, though it does require new skill sets and knowledge. To help media owners and advertisers alike take advantage of the opportunity, we’re breaking down some of the misconceptions we’ve been hearing about SSAI and bringing you the truth.
Myth No. 1: SSAI hinders personalization and makes video a static medium
The reality: SSAI has not made anything static. In fact, almost every OTT video stream today has personalized advertising enabled thanks to SSAI’s best features: the ability to work across all devices and endpoints, ease of integration, conformity to VAST specifications, and the ability to deliver even when ad blocking is enabled.
This doesn’t require VAST 4.2 or add any extra implementation steps, and today, both the ad request and beacon already includes much of this data in the X-Forwarded-For headers that are already in use. In most cases, the device Identifier for Advertiser (IFA) is also included, which makes it even more useful for advertisers who are leveraging their own data to reach desired audiences. Third-party data sets are rapidly expanding, improving personalization opportunities even further.
Myth No. 2: SSAI limits real-time data exchanges, posing targeting and measurement challenges
The reality: As noted above, most publishers do implement SSAI in a way that allows them to pass data back to advertisers at the time of an impression. There are no technical limitations that would cause any issues with passing required data between publishers and advertisers. Publishers may choose not to send information, which is likely due to privacy and security concerns and has nothing to do with SSAI.
To avoid any struggles with data access, it’s important advertisers choose to work with the right partners that can offer direct integrations. As data plays a larger and larger role in the value of media transactions, additional safeguards are required to protect the data. Broadcasters, cable providers, and others will not freely share details such as device type or IP address in an open market, regardless of SSAI. That’s why SpotX developed Audience Lock, which provides a secure environment for targeting by modifying an ad request to remove device identifiable information before it is sent to the advertiser’s DSP.
Advertisers must work with a trusted supply-side partner to get direct access into these environments, and have the express permission of broadcasters, device manufacturers, and streaming services to see this data. Unlike the wild west of the old display advertising days, this is highly premium OTT inventory from the world’s top content producers, and it requires a data strategy with direct partnerships to streaming providers to create privacy-compliant environments where personalization can occur.
Data matching can occur inside “clean rooms,” such as an environment like Audience Lock, to protect data and privacy. Even when IP address or device type is not exposed to a buyer, it can still be used to forecast, match, and execute campaigns to take full advantage of personalization and SSAI.
Myth No. 3: SSAI increases vulnerability to fraud in OTT
The reality: In recent studies of ad fraud in OTT or CTV environments, some have pointed to SSAI as the culprit. It’s true that bad actors follow the money, and because OTT is a premium environment, there are some creating fraudulent traffic with botnets and trying to pass it off as legitimate SSAI traffic. This means that they are initiating ad requests to ad exchanges or SSPs from botnets and claiming it is valuable OTT or CTV inventory. If someone buys that inventory, the bad actor sends beacons from the servers hosting their botnets as if they are SSAI server-side beacons. Client-side beacons are a best practice in the industry and buyers should avoid, or at minimum further scrutinize, any inventory where the beacons they are receiving are sent server-side.
The best way to prevent fraud in programmatic OTT is to work directly through the media owner’s or broadcaster’s chosen SSP partner, such as SpotX, and not a third-party reseller. At SpotX, our Brand Safety Team is committed to providing a brand-safe platform to ensure that the inventory buyers purchase is legitimate.
The truth: SSAI advances the future of OTT
We cannot emphasize enough that SSAI in no way, shape, or form denies personalized ad experiences. Truly, SSAI is the backbone of personalization in streaming. Context, content, and audience are all available.
The future of video advertising is codependent on an advanced SSAI implementation that respects user privacy, optimizes yield, and provides a seamless viewing experience for consumers.
About the author
Allen Klosowski, SVP of SpotX’s Advanced Solutions Group, focuses on enabling video advertising technologies for enterprise environments for pay-TV providers, broadcasters, MVPDs, telcos, and operators. The Advanced Solutions Group is a global consulting arm that assists enterprise-level media owners and advertisers to plan modern architecture for their video advertising strategies, specifically in premium spaces like OTT. This includes designing end-to-end solutions for data activation, technical architecture, and product development in a way that enables buyers and sellers to transact around context and audience in a real-time, protected framework. Previously, Allen led the connected television (CTV) and mobile initiatives at SpotX.