Love them or hate them, commercials are a big part of the viewing experience, even more so today when ads can be targeted directly at viewers.
Targeted advertising in broadcasting is nothing new. It can be traced back to the early days of commercial network television when regional broadcasters or affiliate stations would play advertisements specific to their audiences into the main program feed. Back then it was analogue videotape machines and manual switchers but technology has advanced considerably, through the digital and tapeless revolutions of the 1990s and 2000s to the ever-expanding area of Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI) that we know today.
DAI is a key component behind the increasing dominance and importance of OTT video delivery. But it is now playing a major role in live linear broadcasting, bringing a level of targeting viewers – not just in terms of location but also demographics – that was unobtainable with previous techniques. A chief enabler of DAI is the IT-based playout and distribution systems that rely on servers to store both programs and ads.
What is DAI?
Specifically, DAI is defined as a server-side technology, meaning the main server is controlled by an automation system programmed to send content – both main video content and ads – to specified destinations. These include linear TV channels, and streaming services, which can be catch-up/video on demand (VoD) or live feeds. DAI assembles the video material and ads into a stream without the need for a web page or app. In doing this it takes out the ad request and ad response procedures from the SDK (software development kit) used to create the system.
This process reduces the risk of faults when the stream is received, whether by a smart TV, computer/laptop, smartphone, or other mobile devices. The ultimate aim is to create an end result that is more like conventional TV presentation rather than video streaming, with no latency or buffering in between the programs and the commercials.
DAI and Targeted Ad Insertion
While this in itself is a significant move on from previous methods of streamed video distribution, it is the ability to incorporate specific ads into both live linear broadcasts and VoD services that sets DAI apart and proves the power of this technology. The targeting aspect of DAI is facilitated by all material being in the digital domain. Once an ad has been encoded it can be slotted into a stream and target viewers based on data received about their viewing habits. Service operators can also utilize Ad Exchange for Video to place commercials for advertisers over a range of devices.
What this means, of course, is that keeping track of what is supposed to go where and when ads should be inserted into a stream is of paramount importance. In terms of identifying ad breaks, there are several digital insertion triggers that can be used.
These are based on three standards – SCTE 30, SCTE 35, and SCTE 104 – which are jointly ratified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE). Together they form a complete system of detecting insertion points for commercials.
Published in 2009, SCTE 30 describes the API (application programming interface) intended for digital program insertion splicing. The API is designed as a standardized way of communicating between servers and splicers being used to insert material into MPEG-2 output multiplexes in the splicer. SCTE 104 came into being in 2012 and defines the communications API used between a playout automation system and the compression scheme working with it.
This works with SCTE 30 and is also able to insert SCTE 35 private sections into an outputted transport stream. SCTE 35 first appeared in 2013 and is the standard for digital program insertion in cable broadcasting. It describes methods for inserting cue tones inline into MPEG transport streams. In the US it is the basis of flagging up ad points, while European broadcasters tend to use it for opting into local TV programming, such as news.
Monitoring and Compliance
OTT has grown to the point where it now challenges linear TV as the primary source of ‘broadcast’ entertainment. Video and audio need to be scrutinized as they pass along the delivery path, through CDN (content delivery network) edge points, and undergo numerous processes, including targeted ad insertion, multi-language selection, and event-based transmission. Managing this increasingly complex ecosystem, with its ever-growing list of logging and compliance requirements, is now a high priority for both content owners and broadcast regulators.
Modern compliance monitoring and analysis platforms provide such capability. They are not only able to check that the content of both programs and ads conforms to regulatory requirements for quality – including picture consistency and audio loudness – but also can help in collating data so ads can be targeted at specific audiences. The key is to get viewers to ‘log on’ so there is a better opportunity of identifying the demographics of those watching. It is then possible to track their behaviors, such as viewing preferences and when they watch.
To allow broadcasters to do this, software tools have been developed to sit alongside quality assurance features. These are based on an advanced model of ‘outgoing and return’ monitoring that involves interactive multiviewers. This creates a new but familiar way for broadcasters to analyze and monitor hundreds and thousands of profiles in real-time.
The aim for any broadcaster or content owner in today’s heavily diversified and competitive OTT market is to ensure content is delivered at the correct quality according to the relevant national standards and that programs get through the CDN in the right format versions to the various devices and platforms. Real-time monitoring of the output program means the broadcaster can be confident that what is being sent is correct in terms of both content and compliance. A more recent addition to the toolset is the ability to monitor different profiles in the cloud.
The viewers may not realize that all this technology is the reason they see advertisements for products that appeal to them while they’re watching their favorite streamed videos. But that’s the point.