How the ‘Plumbing’ of Video Ad Tech Still Isn’t Fit for Purpose in 2018


There are a selection of challenges facing digital advertising industry that tend to dominate both trade press headlines and conference agendas; the likes of brand safety, ad fraud and GDPR. But lurking beneath these challenges is a problem that’s being relatively ignored says Melinda McLaughlin, CMO at Extreme Reach, a workflow management platform for TV and video campaigns. The ‘plumbing’ of the industry, the supply process that moves a video asset from the creative team to a potential customer’s screen, is broken, she told VAN, and it’s causing problems for campaign success.

Extreme Reach released a study last week conduct by Advertiser Perceptions which outlined the difficulties that ad ops teams face and the problems they cause. Sixty percent of those on the frontlines of video ad activation said that mistakes are likely to happen on a daily basis, which can go on to cause rights infringements, formatting errors, video quality degradation and missed ad calls.

Those surveyed identified insufficient lead time, difficulty with tracking down creative assets and the vast array of specs and formats required by partners and publishers as the main pain points in the campaign activation process. Fixing these problems could make a difference not only to campaign success, but to job satisfaction too — 85 percent of those surveyed said improving the digital video campaign activation process would be “very or somewhat” important for improving job satisfaction.

An Overlooked Problem

McLaughlin says these problems come from a broken process for sourcing creative which leaves ad ops teams manually sourcing and transcoding creative assets in an inefficient way. A creative agency will come up with the ad itself and the media buying team will create a plan for where these impressions will show, but there is no industry standard for how to obtain the assets and fit them to the media plan.

This leaves ad ops teams sourcing creative through calls and emails, and paying people to transcode assets. McLaughlin says this process isn’t scalable, and is much better suited for technology to carry out.

“It’s kind of like kids playing soccer at five years old, everyone running around haphazardly, chasing the ball and getting it done, and they’re not working as a team.”

McLaughlin classifies this inefficient system as “a byproduct of the rapid advancement of media planning and buying, data and technology,” saying that as the industry has evolved, there was never a conscious effort put into making the asset supply chain work. “There was never really any anticipation of the volume and complexity of how those assets literally have to be prepared in order to run and play perfectly on any screen and device,” she explained.

The problem is only getting worse as the number of formats, platforms and devices for ads to run on increase. There’s also something of a lack of understanding of the problem by agencies and publishers which can lead to overly tight deadlines and unrealistic expectations.

“There’s an inability, because there’s only so much time in the day, to even care or try to understand the problem,” said McLaughlin. She believes that decision makers are more concerned with what they consider to be more pressing problems, and as a result, “no one is paying attention to the plumbing”.

Is Ad Streaming a Solution?

McLaughlin believes that single-stack cloud-based platforms from which all parties can work from, are the answer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Extreme Reach have one such platform. But McLaughlin makes a solid case for a unified stack as both the creative and the media plan get uploaded onto Extreme Reach’s cloud server, and the creative is then automatically transcoded into the formats required by the media plan.

TV ads are then delivered into the broadcast system, while digital video ads are housed on Extreme Reach’s ad cloud. Digital ads are then streamed from the company’s own content delivery network (CDN) whenever they’re called up to fill an ad spot.

McLaughlin describes this as a system which makes the delivery of an ad easy while ensuring that specifications are met and rights restrictions aren’t infringed. She believes her platform overcomes the problems identified in Extreme Reach’s research by automating a lot of the process and simplifying the supply chain of creative assets.

The company still has work on its hands to convince advertisers to use its platform, not only because they’re preoccupied with other problems, but because many aren’t yet comfortable with streaming ads. This is because historically the piece of code which plays an ad has been coupled with code used for measurement and media decisioning.

These can be decoupled, which McLaughlin says would be beneficial for everyone, allowing just the code which plays the ad to be owned by Extreme Reach, or other similar companies. However with so many players in the industry protective of their data, there’s trepidation from ad servers and digital agencies around giving up this small piece of code, since for so long the body responsible for playing the ad has also had control of data and decisioning.

Time for Change?

“We keep evangelising and climbing the mountain knowing it’s going to take some time, as we need to change the human behaviour of a whole team of people,” says McLaughlin. She believes that advertisers and publishers are most likely to drive change, and is working with both the persuade them of the benefits of her platform.

McLaughlin says she believes change is coming, even if it isn’t quite clear exactly when, and it might take the currently system really breaking down to force it. “Whether it’s our cloud, or someone else’s ad cloud that does the same thing, change will have to happen when the problems start to effect campaign success in an even bigger way,” said McLaughlin.

She believes that advertisers, agencies and publishers will all see the benefits though once the ‘plumbing’ is fixed, and they’ll be able to return their attentions back to the likes of brand safety, ad fraud and the future of programmatic.


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