VAST 4.0: What does IAB’s recent Video Ad Serving Template mean for publishers and advertisers?
An Adotas Q&A with Michael Tuminello, director of product at Innovid.
Since the public release of VAST 4.0 by the IAB on Jan 21st, we’ve fielded a lot of questions from agencies about the significance of this release. VAST (Video Ad Serving Template) is the standard delivery mechanism for video ads across a number of different platforms, and one of the IAB’s most successful and broadly adopted standards. If you’re seeing a video ad on any IP-connected device (desktop, mobile, connected TV), there’s a very good chance it was delivered using VAST.
Q: What Is VAST?
A: Viewed simply, VAST is no more than an XML (aka structured text) package for delivering the video asset along with other information needed for advertising – primarily the tracking pixels used to measure standard video metrics (impressions/views, quartiles, completions) by the viewing audience.
Q: What’s the history of VAST?
A: VAST 1.0 was somewhat of a misfire. VAST 2.0 successfully met the general requirements for ad delivery, and is still the most widely adopted version of this standard. The development of VAST 3.0 and VAST 4.0 has mainly been driven by the needs of big publishers, like the broadcasters. VAST 3.0 introduced support for multiple ads in an “Ad Pod’ which is more friendly to the multiple ads shown in a typical TV commercial break. Some additional useful features include support for skip, privacy compliance icons (from Truste, Evidon, etc.), and VAST error codes and other amendments.
VAST 4.0 The primary focus of VAST 4.0 has been to address one ad-serving scenario: server-side ad insertion, which is already widely adopted by big broadcasters and continues to gain traction. Server-side ad insertion, also known as stream-stitching, pulls the video asset out of the VAST file on the server and combines it into a single stream with the video content. This has a few benefits for the publisher: it eliminates ad-specific latency, simplifies the process of delivering ads to multiple devices (which only have to receive a video stream rather than a device-specific ad unit), and defeats attempts at ad blocking.
However, it also sets the stage for the elimination of VPAID as an ad delivery mechanism, which has implications for the buy side. VPAID (aka the Video Player Ad Interface Definition) is the agreed-upon language that the player and the ad speak to each other. So, for example, the ad can tell the player when it’s done, so the player can get rid of it and proceed to the content. VPAID was always intended to play this role, but over time, as a layer of code that has to be executed before the video can be played, it has increasingly been asked to play a part in ad delivery – for example, making calls to verification parties to potentially block an ad in certain contexts, or sometimes making last-minute decision calls to not play the ad for other reasons.
VAST 4.0 calls for separation of the video asset from this VPAID layer, so publishers can get at the video asset without executing an unknown package of VPAID code, and specifies separate calls for verification and interactivity. While this is better from a publisher perspective, the separation of the verification code from the video itself makes it more difficult for verification and viewability vendors to do their jobs (some specific issues include – specific verification calls now need to be tied back to specific impression calls, and verification calls could potentially be executed from somewhere other than where the video plays).
Q: So what’s this all going to mean for advertisers, marketers and users?
A: While VAST 4.0 makes some good moves that propel the industry towards a better cross-screen standard (by reducing the demands on the publisher and the device) and helps open the door to some exciting new possibilities, like interactive over live content, it remains to be seen whether it goes quite far enough to win adoption beyond a few large publishers. For now, at least, VPAID continues to be the in-market standard for enabling viewability, verification and interactivity. VAST 4.0 is the first promising step away from the old model, but future versions of VPAID (next up for revision) and maybe VAST will have to bring us all the way to a new one before the whole market will shift in its favor.
About Michael Tuminello
Michael Tuminello is Director of Product at Innovid, managing the iRoll® format family and the creative tools for building them. He was previously responsible for rich media and creative at Mediamind, including the Mediamind Workshop, MediaMind Blocks and rich media formats, and prior to that led the design and development from scratch of Unicast’s ad authoring tool, the Ad Kit, as well product management and design ad platform initiatives. Earlier experiences include design and development of an IM client specialized for the education market for Wimba (now part of education giant Blackboard), years of hands-on experience as a multimedia designer and programmer, and a stint teaching English in Japan.
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