AppNexus and Brightcove are trialing a software product to help reduce the amount of time it takes for video ads to load on a publisher’s website, a notably worsening issue that is severely impacting the user experience of online audiences.
The adtech outfit and online video platform have conducted tests on an open source software plug-in that will help online publishers running video ads to reduce the amount of time it takes for those units to load when they are auctioned off using header bidding.
At present, the pair is finalizing their submission of the open source plug-in to Prebid.org which will in-turn assess its specifications as an “unbiased programmatic monetization solutions” for premium publishers, with availability expected by close of June, according to sources familiar with the project.
News of the activity was made earlier this week at a panel session hosted by The Drum where representatives of the two companies were joined by USA Today and MDC Partners, alongside moderator Matt Prohaska (pictured below).
L – R: Matt Prohaska, Prohaska Consulting, Michael Kuntz, USA Today, Mike Green, Brightcove, Eric Hoffert, AppNexus, Michael Bassik, President, MDC Partners.
How to reduce ad load latency
According to Eric Hoffert, AppNexus, senior vice president of video technology, page load times have become "a real problem" on ad-supported websites running video, due to the 'waterfall effect' – whereby different adtech outfits bid separately on ad impressions until the page view is monetized.
Critics of header bidding have often been hasty to point out the potential for using header bidding software to negatively impact audience experience, as this method invites all potential buyers to submit their bid at once, as opposed to the aforementioned waterfall process.
However, Brightcove vice president of marketing Mike Green explained the mechanics of the pair's proposed solution to attendees at The Drum's Video Futures event. "The request to the demand-side is being made as the page is loaded, such that when a user initiates a player the [pre-roll] ad has already been selected, it's not happening when the video session is initiated," he said.
According to the pair, the goal of the proposed plug-in was to: “achieve a load time for a pre-roll [ad] that is as close as possible to a TV-type experience" on the open web.
Per Hoffert, if such a goal can be achieved, the “golden age of pre-roll” will be at hand, as the rise of “cord cutting” means that video-savvy publishers stand to benefit from media spend that had historically been preserved for primetime TV hours.
One panelist further illustrated the urgency of such a solution, adding that publishers risk serving audiences with a poor user experience. "Considering that most people are watching the first three seconds of a video, if your page takes four seconds to load, well, then you're done!"
Recent research by Adobe demonstrates the extent of the damage caused by content latency with 47% of participants in a recent survey claiming they would abandon a user session altogether should the page take an extended amount of time to load.
Publishers are having their monetization options squeezed
Since the turn of the year, publishers have been forced to make some difficult decisions when it comes to the monetization of their websites as a result of the upcoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in the European Union.
Additionally – and arguably more significantly when it comes to scaling – earlier this year, Google implemented an update to its Chrome browser that contains an adblocking feature forcing many publishers to be more selective with the tools they monetize their websites.
"This decides whether or not you can have autoplay, or not, on your site based what they call a media engagement index," explained Green. "Publishers have to think about do they want to have a 'sound off autoplay' experience for the user where an ad plays, but you don't get the full CPM, because buyers don't value it the same way?
"Or do you have click-to-play where you get paid in full, as you know the user is engaged?"
Changing the remuneration model?
One such publisher using header bidding to monetize its content is Gannett-owned USA Today, with fellow panelist Michael Kuntz, president of advertising sales and partnerships, on hand to speak about how his masthead was increasingly employing video.
"I think the longer conversation has to be around what the pre-roll video experience really is for the user, and what that does for a brand," he told attendees.
"I don't think there's enough conversation around that in the industry. I know some of the advertisers we work with are exploring the six-second pre-roll spot which I think will play a much bigger role in the future of the pre-roll landscape."
By comparison, others are exploring the possibility of monetizing their video content with non-skippable 30-second slots, with Kuntz reporting that such experimentation has not yet brought any downward pressure on the CPMs media buyers are willing to pay, nor has it prompted them to alter their payment models.
"They will get there eventually, but what I think what we're going to see in the future of pre-roll is shorter ad formats, and in many cases I think we'll be looking at click-to-play – if we're able to scale that, I think there should be a nice CPM attached to it," he added.
Beyond the pre-roll
The debate later moved on to video ad monetization options outside of pre-roll ads, with panelists discussing some of the latest developments in "contextually aware advertising."
This included the potential for native ads that run seamlessly within content – similar to how product placement has worked in traditional TV – with Michael Bassik, MDC Partners, president of global digital operations, recounting how his outfit conducted experiments with a company called Entry Point on providing such opportunities into AR and VR experiences.
He went on to add: "A while back we made an investment in a company called Dextro, which was an adtech company. The reason we invested in them was that it could ingest any kind of video content, and analyze what was going on in it, and then it could buy ads on YouTube or whatever, which could target around those insights."
Hoffert described such a scenario as "contextually aware native ads" pointing out some of the latest developments in the area such as the recent purchase of AI outfit Uru by Adobe, an example of progress in this regard.
Speaking with The Drum away from the event, panel moderator Matt Prohaska, chief executive of Prohaska Consulting, acknowledged that technological advances meant that marketers were now willing to pay a premium for such branding opportunities.
"There is plenty of work to do though on the attribution and measurement fronts to have leading publishers get proper credit for the engagements they are trying to deliver to an extremely attention-scattered, impatient digital media audience," he concluded.
The panel discussion was part of The Drum's Video Futures event hosted on May 8. Click here for coverage of the separate panel where Diageo's global brand manager Neil Shah discussed how the liquor giant is re-evaluating how it measures success with TV campaigns and what metrics it values.