Stitching, meet blocking: ad wars head to new level

Concerns about mobile ad-blocking have only accelerated since Apple’s latest iOS version began allowing the technologies.

More recently, Samsung smartphones also began allowing ad-blocking in their default browser.  One company estimated ad blockers have cost the industry $21 billion in lost ad revenues.

The result, of course, has been something of an ad-tech version of Newton’s Third Law, setting off a reaction at least equal and definitely opposite to the latest blocking technologies.

Wired created a separate version of its site for its tech-savvy readers using blockers. Some publishers have even began blocking people using ad blockers. That’s outright warfare against users who some see as freeloaders. But it also can be more than a bit self-defeating.


Fortunately, blocking now faces another, more flexible reaction, one that somewhat ironically hearkens back to ad-tech’s early days.

In November, the IAB released the draft update (just finalized) of its Video Ad Serving Template (VAST), version 4.0, which incorporates a group of related approaches in what’s generally known as Server-Side Ad Insertion.

This approach, called SSAI or more memorably, stream stitching, could be the cure to ad blockers. But what is it?

Back in the industry’s early days, ads were often mashed together with a given piece of video, into a single static stream. It was simple enough, but lacked the dynamic targeting and other techniques that in recent years have transformed ad tech.

But ad blockers have taken advantage of the various ad-targeting techniques used to feed a targeted ad to a given viewer, separate from the main content. When they detect different streams of video, typically from specific servers, the blockers zap the commercials.

Now, under VAST 4.0, stream stitching promises to again present a single stream to viewers, sort of like the old days, but now dynamically and smoothly merging ads and content in a single organic presentation.

That should make it considerably more difficult to block, while still providing the lucrative, highly targeted video messaging that brands want for their marketing spend.

It’s worth noting this also enables better user experience on mobile video, as all of the client-side verification, fraud detection, and of course mediation, can now mostly be done server-side without the need for heavy client libraries and endless client-side daisy chains.

This smart and nuanced approach to ad blockers, already being rolled out in some situations, can’t come soon enough for publishers or advertisers (or me).

Ad blockers will continue to squeeze display-ad revenues in particular, only hastening the shift to more valuable video inventory by many publishers and brands.

The return to the past, in the sense of a single stream, might for once be welcome in an industry known for its relentless innovation.

Will VAST 4.0 and stream stitching set off yet another equal and opposite reaction from those trying to dodge ads? Undoubtedly. Will they succeed? Maybe. The battle continues.


Frank Sinton is the CEO of Beachfront Media and a contributor to ClickZ. 

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