There’s a popular misconception that online TV viewers employ ad blockers because they don’t like advertising. Wrong. The truth is that viewers reach for ad blockers when ads are too disruptive to their TV experience.
Remember Peter Kay’s comedy sketches for John Smith’s? Or the meerkats of Compare The Market? Adverts are talking points for people as much as TV programming, even the outrageously bad ones – think of Louise and Jamie Redknapp being swept away by Thomas Cook. At their best, they can have a transformative effect: in the case of Audi, its Vorsprung durch Technik campaign changed the image of the German car industry overnight – a reputation that’s still going strong 30 years later.
Adverts are as much a part of the viewing experience as premium content. The ones listed above all reached their audience through ad breaks in live TV channels, and they benefitted greatly from a medium that allowed the viewer to switch on the TV and sit back and keep their eyes on the screen as long as they wanted. In this scenario, the ad break served as a welcome intermission from the main programme.
Compare that with advertising strategies across TV content today. Online viewing, initially driven by on demand services, is commonplace, often with pre-roll advertisement insertion. But the technology deployed to insert them is usually a player, or client, based system that relies on the broadcaster implementing a different framework for each platform or device and offers a poor user experience due to buffering, latency and an added drain on bandwidth. Also, pre-rolls tend to be unpopular with the viewer because they perceive them to get in the way of their desire to press play and sit back.
It is in this context that the use of ad blockers has soared. But all is not lost, for we know TV audiences have a capacity to genuinely love advertising. So what’s the answer?
The answer lies, as it always did, in live TV. The concept of live channels, complete with ad breaks, is such a compelling medium for the viewer that it has gone relatively unchanged for decades – it even pre-dates colour. Something about it just works. The viewer gets to sit back and be fed content, while the broadcaster has a monetisation strategy that delivers whether the TV’s been on for 5 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour or more.
When on demand platforms initially launched in the mid-00s, it was feared that live TV channels would no longer be relevant. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Driven primarily by major sports events, broadcasters have added live channels to their online platforms and found a welcome audience is still there. In looking for a monetisation solution, they turned to server-side advertisement replacement.
Replacing ad breaks in live channels online opens up a huge amount of inventory that is otherwise inaccessible. Online viewing, which is often a very personal experience, with each viewer engaging their own stream, as opposed to a TV set in a busy living room, unlocks the possibility of applying targeting, or even personalisation, to replacement adverts.
The concept of programmatic advertisement replacement in a live stream has often been described as the Holy Grail of broadcasting. Vorsprung durch Technik (or, roughly, advancement through technology) is an apt phrase to describe the latest engineering solutions in online ad insertion.
The buffering created by client-side solutions render them unusable in a live environment, so broadcasters turned to server-side solutions. By replacing adverts in this way, a single continuous stream can be delivered to the player on the viewer’s platform or device. That means no heavy-lifting is required by the player and there’s consistency for the user across multiple platforms.
By integrating closely with the broadcaster’s playout system, Yospace’s system is able to insert ad markers into the live stream at the exact points that ad breaks begin and end. This level of interaction is the result of committing to ad technology as well as ad stitching and is the crucial factor that allows ad insertion to be performed frame-accurately, creating an experience where the viewer does not observe any disruption to their live stream.
Then there’s the relationship between the ad technology, the ad server and the broadcaster. In the case of Channel 4, who was first to market with its 4OD service in 2006, user data has been collected at the point of registration for nearly 10 years. When applied intelligently to advertising, this means the ad server can make a highly informed decision and instruct the ad technology system, which has already conditioned the stream correctly, which ads to insert for each viewer, one-to-one, in a way that is scalable to national broadcast audiences.
The result is a true live broadcast experience, in which the viewer gets to sit back and enjoy being fed content, interspersed every now and then with an ad break they are expecting to see. Yospace customers consistently report view-through rates of over 98%, which is far higher than usual network figures. The impact has been so strong that many broadcasters are going back and applying server-side ad insertion to their on demand services too.
When applied correctly, in a medium the viewer is used to, TV advertising applied online has the same power to entertain that it has always had on a television – and that’s great news for broadcasters and advertisers alike. Far from being a dying format, the concept of live TV promises to be a fixture of online viewing for many years to come. And, as a result, digital revenues for linear channels are set to outstrip anything that’s gone before.