Spotlight on VPAID – Interactivity, measurement and beyond

Almost every ad techie or data scientist shares horror stories about VPAID. VPAID affecting performance, VPAID triggering timeouts, VPAID leading to misuse. No matter how hard you try to engineer a fast-loading video, no matter how much energy is vested into its optimization, VPAID continues to reel out of control, leaving a trail of errors. The results can be detrimental leading to a daunting viewer experience and lost revenue.

So why is VPAID such a hard act to tame? Why are errors so rampant? How is it affecting revenue? What can be done to stop the hardships?

Let’s dive into the VPAID drama and try to unfold what happened.

ACT 1: The setting – what VPAID intend to do

VPAID was developed to make it possible for video ad units and content to interact.  It was designed to work as a common interface between players and video ads and to support a rich interactive ad experience. Together with VAST, it was supposed to build another helpful layer of interactive data in the video serving stack. Earlier on VPAID indeed facilitated video ad delivery on top of video content and everything seemed to work reasonably well.

However, over the last few years, with the rise of mobile and social interactivity, video has been in hyper-growth mode. Predictions show no signs of it abating; ­Cisco estimates 81% of all web traffic will be video by 2021. As more viewers are spending more time engaging with video everywhere, advertisers are putting more pressure to meet demands and performance goals.

The advantage of VPAID ads is their ability to provide rich interactive ad experiences for viewers on one hand, and collect playback and interaction details, on the other. If you can track how the ad is performing and how the user interacts with it, you can perform trial and error for optimal results. No wonder VPAID tags became the new data well for advertisers.

So, although VPAID was designed to offer rich interaction data, it ended up as a source for verification and viewability.

ACT 2: Enter VPAID 2.0. 

The real drama began to unfold with the next VPAID update. The VPAID 2.0 update introduced smart interactive video advertising across mobile. At first it enabled advertisers to capture the playback as well as user-interaction metrics they craved for. Finally advertisers could track their ad’s effectiveness across multiple devices.

However, despite good industry intent, VPAID 2.0 opened up a Pandora box: Security was compromised and a host of events disrupted video ad delivery, particularly in mobile and in-app environments and possibly in smart TV.

Many problems began to surface with the excessive amounts of data streamed while a piece of content was viewed online. Data stuffing led to ongoing loading and reloading of scripts containing images, information and trackers from a whole gamut of ad-tech sources. Excessive player loading time generated an increase in page latency and a decline in fill rates.

According to IAB VPAID 2.0 release notes; when an auction occurs in a video player and it doesn’t deliver the creative (whether on time or not at all), the unit opens an event titled, “AdError”.

In practice, when creative is not delivered on time, everyone loses: Viewers end up staring at a blank video ad spot, advertisers lose engagement and feedback and publishers experience revenue loss from an abandoned ad fill.

ACT 3 – The resolution

For VPAID to bring home the bacon, it needs to smoothly complete interoperability between all ads across all networks and players. It needs to be better controlled and limited through player timeouts to avoid latency–inducing server calls. The latter could be achieved through hybrid video header bidding that optimizes for ads with prospective minimal latency.

In future VPAID needs to be more resilient to 3rd parties claiming ad space with conditional insertions but without guaranteeing the space will be filled and monetized. VAST 4.0 is expected to solve some of these conditional VPAID issues. Recognizing publisher’s lack of control over the fill rate, the IAB established that VAST 4.0 could identify conditional ads and allow the publisher to decide if they wanted to accept or abort them. By doing so, publishers will have more control over their video inventory and monetization.

Finally, a transition from Flash based VPAID to HTML5, particularly in mobile environments, could also help VPAID performance. HTML5 VPAID support will enable video tech stacks, such as Cedato’s, to provide publishers with a faster viewer experience across any device.