Blog | Evan Vernon, Senior Product Manager
February 10, 2017

Why Advertisers Should Love Server-Side Ad Insertion

Online advertising in all its forms, from banners to pop-ups to videos, generates a significant amount of revenue for both advertising agencies and media companies. Thanks to innovative technologies that are able to overcome anti-advertising tactics and better target consumers, advertising revenue continues its upward trajectory.[1] One of the most talked about tactics recently is server-side ad insertion (SSAI); I’ll illustrate why:

I was talking with a friend of mine recently, and she mentioned that she uses an ad blocker on her laptop. When I asked her why, she told me that she hates overly advertised pages and the slow load times that come with all that. I asked her about what shows she watches online, and she mentioned binging on The Walking Dead. Her ad blocker strips ads out of her stream and she didn’t even realize it. What’s really concerning to the media company providing the content is that their attempts at monetizing her zombie-watching experience have hit a brick wall.

So how do we re-enable video ads on her content without driving her away from her favorite shows because of slow video playback? Server-Side Ad Insertion, also known as SSAI or “ad stitching”.

To fully understand the advertising powers of SSAI, you also need to understand how its client-side counterpart works:

  1. Client-Side — When a consumer plays an ad-supported video, the player on their device pauses video playback at an ad break, makes a separate call to an ad server, which then makes a separate call to the ad content. This process causes buffering, and also allows ad blockers to determine that the new content is coming from a known ad provider. The ad blocker then prevents the ad content from being played.
  2. Server-Side — All advertising decisioning and integration is done at the very beginning of the content playback, allowing one consistent stream with all content and ads included, and protected from ad blockers.

Although client-side advertising continues to be a very effective way for media companies to monetize their content via dynamically inserted ads; the rise of ad blockers, and the drive towards a smoother, more “broadcast-level-quality” approach to online video has made this method less favorable in recent years.

Ad blockers are essentially browser plugins that have a configured list of regular expressions that match known ad server URLs. When a browser makes an ad request, and the request matches one of the ad server URLs, the ad blocker will apply a change to the page. The page will then simulate an error from the ad server URL and/or attempt to remove an element from the page, thereby effectively blocking the ad.

According to a recent report from Kantar, 18 percent of Internet users worldwide use ad blockers.[2] In the U.S., it’s estimated that in 2017 32% of Internet users will use ad blockers.[3] In 2016, it’s estimated that $20.3 billion in ad spend was blocked.[4] That’s significant lost revenue.

Had the media company providing my friend’s zombie-a-thon used SSAI, she would have a smooth, pleasant, terrifying experience across the entire binge, complete with correctly targeted, relevant and cleanly delivered advertising. Plus, the ads that are no longer blocked can now generate revenue as originally intended.

From the advertiser-side of entertainment, what’s not to love about SSAI? To learn more about server-side ad insertion at Comcast Technology Solutions, check out the solution brief.

[1] Digital Advertising Report, Adobe Digital Index 2015

[2] Kantar TNS, “Connected Life,” September 28, 2016

[3] eMarketer, June 2016

[4] Forrester, “Ad Blocker Rock the Media Ecosystem,” May 10, 2016