StrategyMediaThe current state of video viewability in China

The current state of video viewability in China

China's online video industry continues to be plagued by viewability and ad-serving issues – and here is why.

China’s online video industry continues to be plagued by viewability and ad-serving issues – and here is why.

I recently sat on a panel discussing viewability and ad-serving challenges facing China’s digital advertising industry. This area is still in its infancy in the local market due to regulatory, commercial and technical reasons, however, it is garnering increased attention.

This is largely due to multinational companies pushing for the same metrics they are used to using in western markets.

Here are some of the key points from the panel.

Both commercial and technical issues plague video viewability tracking

As a starting point, let’s look at the current state of video viewability in China. Video as a format usually has higher rates of viewable impressions than display ads due to the exclusivity of the video player.

However, currently in China, many video publishers by default do not accept viewability tracking. There are two reasons for this:

On the commercial side, all publishers are worried that once this metric is out, advertisers will eventually demand the purchase of viewable impressions only. This, in turn could lead to revenue loss for the publisher.

The other side of the argument is that publishers can simply sell viewable impressions at a higher CPM, while maintaining current CPMs for non-viewable impressions.

Because viewability is completely dependent on the consumer, publishers shouldn’t be punished for non-viewable impressions. But even with the promise of higher premiums, video publishers are still very resistant to any viewability related metrics.

giphy_watching you

Video player ad interface definition versus video ad serving templates

Beyond this, there are also realistic technical issues in tracking viewability. It’s harder to track viewability on video than it is on display. This is because the format is contained within the video player frame. In order to gather these metrics, the video player plugin must support a video player ad interface definition (VPAID) standard.

There are two commonly used standards in video ads, one is VAST (video ad serving template), the other VPAID. These two IAB standards set the guideline for interactions between the video player and ad unit. While there are many technical differences between the two, the majority of the differences lie in the amount of data that can be transferred thru each standard. (More information regarding the differences can be found here.)

In order to realize viewability tracking, video publishers have to use the VPAID format. But many video publishers locally still use the VAST format, and due to lack of local market standards, many are not planning a VPAID upgrade.

giphy_Simpsons_a machine to measure surprise

Video ad serving

Now let’s talk about the current state of video ad serving. This is another frequently misunderstood topic by both clients and agencies. Currently video publishers in China, do not allow any third-party ad-serving companies to serve ads on their site. However, there are “in-between” solutions used in the local market to realize features such as cross-media ad rotation.

There are a number of reasons behind a publisher’s ad-serving policy. First, local advertising laws state that the publisher is responsible for all ads appearing on its site. Hence, all ad materials have to be audited to ensure they meet regulatory requirements prior to going live.

This is the single biggest barrier to ad serving, because if the ad unit sits on third-party ad servers, then even if the ad material is audited beforehand, the publisher has no visibility into where the ad unit will actually be served by a third-party. That means all ad material sits directly on the publisher’s servers, so they know exactly which ad unit will be served when they make an ad call.

Another reason for the lack of video ad-serving adoption is the uniqueness of the video format. Compared to display, video ad units are a lot bigger in size. Therefore, if there’s an issue with the third-party ad-serving company’s content delivery network CDN (content delivery network), user experience is ultimately affected. With that in mind, publishers therefore want the ad unit to sit directly on their own servers to reduce loading times of ad units on external servers.

With these limitations, local publishers do allow “in-between” solutions to realize offerings such as cross-media ad rotation and sequential ad display. These solutions are offered by local ad-serving companies, and are also embedded within local demand-side platforms (DSP), which offer video inventory. The process is as follows:

  1. When an ad is about to be served, publishers makes a VAST call to the third party DSP.
  2. The DSP returns the URL and the ID of the ad unit to the publisher. (The ad unit still sits on the publisher’s server.)
  3. The publisher takes the information from the DSP and displays the ad unit.
  4. If the ad call times out (meaning if no response is received – which for video publishers is usually around 100 milliseconds), then the ad is either skipped or the publisher makes a call to another deal ID.

In summary, video ad serving and viewability are not without their challenges in the local Chinese market.

Change is on its way but the implementation of more metrics around viewability and ad serving will not be the same as those employed in western markets. Like everything in China, it will require patience and baby steps.


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