Defeat Ad Blockers with the mpx Server-Side Ad Insertion Solution

Right now I’m part of the problem. I haven’t seen a client-side video ad in months. Why? Because I have an ad blocker turned on. But I have a good excuse – thePlatform has been working on a feature to defeat ad blockers, and today I’m pleased to announce the general availability of the mpx Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) solution. It protects against ad blockers and makes it easier to get your ads onto new devices with minimal client work.

Both client-side and server-side advertising have been around a very long time. Much longer than most would think… the very first video ad was a server-side ad spliced into a baseball broadcast in 1941:

When video started to jump online, the earliest approaches were also server-side. In those days, we would use playlist formats like ASX and SMIL to sequence ads and content on the server and play them back in rich desktop players. Then, around 2002, the tide started to shift away from desktop players and towards embedding video in web pages. At the same time, client-side techniques for fetching banner ads got extended to fetching video ads, so that all ad units on a page could be synchronized.

Now, in 2015, the tide has shifted once again towards server-side as a result of two trends:

  1. The increasing prevalence of ad blockers, and
  2. The near ubiquity of Apple’s HLS format.

We’ve seen research that suggests almost 28% of U.S. web users have a blocker turned on. That’s a lot of lost impressions. Fetching ads server-side skips over ad blockers, which is one of the big reasons why server-side is having a resurgence. However, using this advertising approach is cost-effective only if there’s a server-side playlist format with a very wide reach. If there isn’t one, you’re spending all your time building clients for the playlist format. In the last few years, HLS has gained traction as an almost universal playlist format. Almost every new platform and device in today’s video-enabled, internet-connected universe has added native support for HLS (thePlatform has also encouraged this trend by adding support for HLS in the Player Development Kit and App Development Kit).

So… if the mpx Server-Side Ad Insertion solution is enabled for a given ad policy, when mpx gets a request for content in the HLS format, it will resolve the ads on the server. mpx uses the client’s IP address and a non-identifying token to do personalized targeting, and when it gets back VMAP or VAST from the ad server, it’ll parse it and insert the HLS ads into the avails for the HLS content. If the ad server returns a non-HLSad, mpx will automatically re-encode it as HLS. A single, unified HLS then comes down from the server, and a viewer will see ads seamlessly transitioning to content on any device that supports HLS. The end result is a viewing experience un-tampered with by ad blockers and generating advertising revenue. mpx also provides standards-basedEXT tags in the HLS for a richer client experience. The mpx Player understands these tags, and it’s straightforward to write a parser for them to get a richer experience on devices that the mpx Player might not yet support.

Products doing SSAI based on HLS have been around for a while, so thePlatform made it a priority to supersede other marketplace solutions when we built our SSAI solution. And we are confident that thePlatform’s mpx Server-Side Ad Insertion solution is indeed superior, for the following reasons:

  • We don’t require you to pre-process your HLS to enable it for SSAI. Rather, you can use any existing HLS file you have or use HLS that is generated dynamically from a CDN like Akamai HDN or Level 3 DCP.
  • We’ve been extremely diligent about making sure that ad blockers can’t find patterns in our URLs they can block on. Other solutions in the marketplace haven’t been so careful.
  • We’re smart about dynamically choosing between client-side and server-side approaches. If you’re in an environment that doesn’t support HLS, mpx will fall back to client-side.
  • The mpx Server-Side Ad Insertion solution is completely integrated with the rest of our mpx video publishing and management system. It’s not a separate component that’s been bolted-on. You simply turn it on by clicking a checkbox, and everything just works.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to read our white paper called “mpx: A Superior Server-Side Ad Insertion Solution.” It has a deeper comparison of client-side vs. server-side approaches, a walkthrough of how SSAI works with a diagram, and some thoughts on where thePlatform is going to go with server-side content manipulation in the future.