More video is being consumed online than ever before. According to some of the latest stats Facebook now receives 8 billion video views per day, while Cisco has predicted that by 2020 80% of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video. And that’s no doubt music to the ears of those of you in the publishing, advertising and marketing industries, all of whom are turning to video more and more as a way to drive your businesses forward.

However, while the majority of video revenue is still ad-supported, it is a model increasingly under threat from a growing tide of consumer resentment towards bad online advertising experiences – as evidenced by the rapid rise in the use of ad blocking technologies.

As the quality of digital video content increases – so too do the expectations placed on the related ad experience. All too often however consumers are faced with viewing the same irrelevant ads time and time again, watching content fail to load or buffer repeatedly, and receiving an inconsistent experience across their devices. Sound familiar?

At Brightcove we believe that consumers absolutely have the right to avoid broken, annoying and intrusive ad experiences, but at the same time companies have the right to monetise and promote the content they put a lot of money into producing. The question is – how do you marry the two?

The answer lies in striking a balance between these two rights – providing ad-supported content that gives businesses a way to monetise the content they make, whilst prioritising the customer experience.

With this balance in mind, we’ve outlined four key areas which can assist in building better ad-supported user experiences.

Choice to serve, choice of journey

In their race to make the most of consumers’ attention, it seems to be the trend for publishers to serve ads against any type of video – without pausing to think about whether the content and audience is right for the ad in question. As owners of the ad, you need to force this pause.

For a variety of reasons, there will be videos that should not have an ad placed in front of them under any circumstances – no one wants to see a holiday ad run before news on a natural disaster for example, and there is an argument against serving ads on any type of online video content aimed at children (see last year’s media cycle around ads on the YouTube Kids channel).

To pursue a more responsible form of advertising those in the online ad business need to work closely together to set and enforce strict parameters around their ad content – this could be as simple as turning off the economic model for a particular video if the tag doesn’t match the ad content.

Choice also relates to the type of in-ad experience you offer up – an increasing number of publishers and marketers are experimenting with interactivity as a way of making ads more engaging or at the very least tolerable. By offering consumers the ability to choose their own content paths, you are not only ensuring that the content they see is more relevant to them but can also win their favour by exchanging their interaction with a smaller (but hopefully more effective) ad load.

The idea of personalising the ad experience takes us to the second area for potential improvement – targeting.

Targeting individuals, not personas

How many times in the last month have you been served an online ad which had absolutely nothing to do with you, or the content you were watching? Exactly! I am hardly likely to engage with an ad about a female fashion brand, just as others wouldn’t be interested in an ad about a trip to Mars.

The more engaged your viewers are however, the more data they generate – and feeding those data insights back into the creative process to ensure the next ad served is personal to them is key to further improving the consumer ad-experience.

Increasingly, we are seeing brands turn to programmatic video advertising – an automated process of media buying – as a proven way to efficiently target their message to the right consumer. In comparison to traditional video advertising, which involves buying ads in bulk and casting a wide net in the hope of hitting those in your perceived target audience, programmatic enables a much more granular form of targeting by both audience characteristics (age, gender, geography, interest etc.) and, more importantly, behaviour. Ads are only served at those who are most likely to be interested – saving both your ad budget, and the frayed patience of consumers.

Programmatic advertising also offers the benefit of being highly measurable – particularly when compared with TV advertising – which should be a great deal of help for the next time you discuss budgets with the business.

Technologies that deliver

Serving up engaging, interactive, personalised content is only half the battle however. The real victory rests on its delivery – which needs to be faster-loading, smoother, and a more linear TV-like ad experience than ever before, whether your ad lasts for three seconds or thirty.

One of the best ways to ensure this type of experience is through the use of Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI), a technology which allows for the insertion of ads via the Cloud directly into the video stream. This method of stitching ads into the content on the server side, and delivering both the content and the ads as one seamless stream to the viewer, not only avoids ad-blockers, allowing unobtrusive monetisation (a big plus for marketers) but also stops irritating buffering or stream breaks (a big plus for consumers).

There are also a number of other industry standards and technologies that marketers and advertisers need to be aware of when it comes to improving the online ad experience:

  • VAST 4.0 – The Video Ad Serving Template, or “VAST” specification sets a standard for communication requirements between ad servers and video players. It tells the video player what it is supposed to do when receiving a VAST-formatted ad response from an ad server: what video ad should be played; how it should be played; and what should be tracked while it is playing. In particular, the latest VAST iteration – 4.0 – is going to standardise the use of SSAI within the industry.
  • HTML5 VPAID 2.0 – HTML5 VPAID 2.0 is a relatively new video format, which – unlike its predecessor Flash – allows great cross-platform interactive advertising experiences. With more marketers wanting to get their interactive ads in front of mobile viewers (I’ll refer you back to the Cisco stat here) this format is of vital importance.

Key to any of these new technologies and formats, will be their ability to give brands concrete knowledge of whether their ad is being served properly. Until now this has been an area of dangerous disconnect along the content chain, which has been further exacerbating the frustrations of consumers and leading to wasted ad experiences for brands.

If you are not sure whether your content is already in VPAID 2.0, or which side your ad insertions are happening, these are definitely questions you should be asking your player provider and content host.

A/B testing – fine tuning the ad experience

Outside of the technical format and delivery options, there are a whole host of other variables that may factor into the success or failure of an ad experience. And the only way to narrow these down is to test and retest them until you have a finely tuned ad machine.

We always recommend conducting testing with a 1% sample of your audience – examining how they react to your ads at certain times, in certain locations on the page, in certain formats or when offered certain content choices. From this, you can decide which consumer experience is most likely to yield the best results.

It is not enough to run the tests once and then sit back contentedly. This testing process should be continual – part of your content platform and strategy at all times.

A call to action, not to arms

There are always going to be lousy ads out there – and while ad blockers offer consumers a short-term filter for irritating content, they don’t offer a long-term solution to the underlying issue of poor ad experiences. The good news, however, is that ad blockers are providing the industry with a call to action to redefine the ad-supported online video experience.

Ad blocking signals an opportunity for publishers, marketers and advertisers to improve video experiences across mobile, desktop and TV in order to engage audiences. The rewards for those who get it right could be huge, so isn’t it about time you gave your video ad strategy a refresh?

Sophie Rayers

Sophie Rayers


Sophie Rayers, Director of Marketing for EMEA & LATAM at Brightcove.