In the fast-paced world of online video, there is constant debate regarding the benefits of client-side and server-side ad insertion. As broadcasters, publishers and brands grapple with the challenge of monetizing digital content, the discussion is important. But what does it all mean?

There are three key elements that come to play in online video in 2016: major broadcasters transferring infrastructure to IP, the proliferation of digital media, and the well-known rise of ad blocking technology.

Collectively, these elements have become a catalyst for moving the logic of advertising from the ‘client’ – the browser or the app on a device or hybrid TV – to the server. These factors haven’t created server-side ad insertion (SSAI) – but they’ve certainly provided an impetus for its widespread adoption.

SSAI, sometimes referred to as ‘ad stitching,’ allows publishers to knit their advertising and video content together into one seamless stream — at the CMS level, rather than at the client level. It takes all of the difficult components of the client-side approach, such as multi-language coding, out of your hands. The server-side approach also makes it harder for ad blockers to discern between advertising and core content and, therefore, harder to intervene.

The process relies on manifest manipulation — the real-time creation of a playlist comprised of advertising and core content. Manifest manipulation defines when all the individual pieces are going to be streamed and presents them to the client frame-by-frame. Ad blockers do not know which frames are ads and which are not.

SSAI is proving to be an effective antidote to ad blocking. But it also brings additional benefits that are helping brands and broadcasters meet the present-day challenges of online video. But how do you do it?


Step #1: Find the right provider
The first step is to find the right technology partner. Being SSAI-ready requires new technology that may or may not be part of your existing ad server stack. The right partner will be able to manage manifest manipulation and SSAI — and will pair the new technology with your existing ad servers.

Step #2: Integrate with the right video ad platforms
It’s important that your new provider integrates with marketer-focused video ad platforms. If they don’t, it jeopardizes your chance to exploit the innovative and creative opportunities that modern video technologies present. When integrated with the right platform, SSAI becomes an engine for improving the quality of online video creative. Marketer-focused video ad platforms allow marketers to deliver interactive video and personalized campaigns – enhancing the viewer experience and propelling customer engagement levels with high-quality interaction. Large media companies like CBS, Crackle, and Hulu have been leading the charge on migrating to an SSAI infrastructure and are thinking a lot about the most optimized experience.

Step #3: Make sure you’re VAST 4
In January 2016, the IAB updated its guidelines that define the core specification for delivering video ads on the Internet. VAST 4 introduced a specification for SSAI and a standardized way to transact between buyers and sellers in this new TV-ready world. The main takeaway from this is simple: whether you’re a broadcaster, publisher, brand or marketer, whoever you work with on the manifest or server side must be VAST 4 compliant. If they’re not, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to monetizing content.

Step #4: Look ahead & take a walk on the client-side
Expanding your infrastructure to support SSAI will almost certainly move you closer to addressing the three main challenges facing online video. You’ll have TV-quality video that works easily across multiple devices, and better technology to battle ad blocking. The future still includes a walk on the client-side. To deliver a truly interactive experience — one that’s personalized to individual viewers — you’ll still want to be creative at the client level. You may want to introduce red-button functionality or ask viewers to select a specific option. Anything is possible. To achieve it, make sure you look out for a platform provider that offers client-side SDKs for advanced ad capabilities. That way, you get the best of all worlds.