The Rise of OTT Programmatic Advertising & How to Monitor It

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Brenton Ough

December 16, 2021

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OTT Programmatic Advertising Is on the Rise: How Can You Monitor It?

OTT programmatic ads have radically improved the way streaming video providers, such as OTT platforms like Hulu and DAZN, sell ad inventory. What was a manual process before has become automated, driven by highly-targeted, first-person data to ensure the best possible match between eyeballs and ad content. But, unlike before where OTT operators had more control over the receipt and delivery of the ads, much of that is happening in the background now. Purchases, commitments, and even provisioning are all automated which makes advertising fulfilment more efficient but also, unfortunately, harder to monitor. To improve your advertising monitoring, you’ll need to take a different approach to tracking the flow of ads through your workflow.

In this article, we explore the challenges of monitoring programmatic OTT, how to overcome them, and why a monitoring harness is key for efficient and effective monitoring.

The challenges of monitoring OTT programmatic ads

In the traditional method, OTT video advertising was carried out with a lot of operational visibility: operations engineers knew what the ad URLs were because they were provided directly by the advertiser through the OTT operator’s ad sales team. Operations could test each ad to ensure proper delivery and display prior to the ads being dynamically inserted at the time of viewing which made monitoring much simpler. Once operations determined the ad URL to be valid, data about actual playback could be retrieved from the player just like data about the main content asset.

OTT Programmatic ad sales, though, are carried out through a programmatic platform. These platforms enable OTT operators to announce inventory to potential advertisers. Along with the number of ad slots available, the operator can also provide detailed first-party data about viewership. This allows for better and more focused ad targeting by advertisers, while also increasing ad slot value for operators. Once matched, ad purchases happen automatically. Multiple software systems, such as the programmatic platform, DSPs, and ad servers all interface behind the scenes to ensure the ad assets are available to the OTT operator’s ad-delivery components within their streaming workflows.

Embracing this new approach has obvious benefits. First, it provides the OTT operator with a more efficient ad sales process. Second, by including first-party data, operators can charge a higher rate for ad slots since advertisers are able to improve targeting and leverage techniques like retargeting and lookalike modelling. Finally, it transforms many manual processes, which previously were difficult to integrate into existing operational monitoring systems, into automated processes that can be tracked programmatically.

However, when an operator embraces OTT programmatic ad sales, they are essentially adopting a new advertising workflow. It’s no longer as simple as:

  1. Sell ad slot to the advertiser
  2. Receive ad URL
  3. Test ad URL
  4. Queue ad for delivery

Why is it a new advertising workflow? Because it involves a new system: the programmatic platform. This platform takes the place of many of those old, manual processes but, as a component within the streaming workflow, it must be monitored. Without visibility into how the system is working with other workflow components (such as an ad server and caches), there is little opportunity to catch and resolve errors before they happen.

The solution: programmatic OTT requires programmatic monitoring

ott-programmatic-ad-platform-ingegration-via-monitoring-harness-touchstream-infographicTo address this new advertising workflow, OTT providers must develop integrations between their monitoring harness and the programmatic platforms through provided APIs. Here are some of the monitoring endpoints which an OTT operator must consider when adjusting their harness and their dashboard:

  • Ad slot purchase: this indicates that an ad sale has happened and provide information about the targeted demographic, the details of the ad sale (i.e., viewership percentage for completion, number of impressions, dates, etc.), and the ad URL.
  • Ad URL confirmation: with the ad URL in hand, there must be an automated ping to the URL to ensure it’s available. This monitoring can make use of what’s already available to test streaming content. So it’s not just a 200 vs. 400, it’s a complete playback of the ad and confirmation of each chunk at each bitrate.
  • SSAI insertion: all of the data that is received from the programmatic platform must be provided to the SSAI component of the OTT operator’s workflow and then tested to ensure correct operation. Even if a URL is correct when tested, plugging it into the SSAI component needs to be tested as well. A simple programmatic error could create a malformed URL which, when inserted into the SSAI, would result in an ad failure.

Unifying content and advertising monitoring

Because OTT programmatic advertising is automated, it invites the integration of ad monitoring within the traditional workflow monitoring. This can only happen efficiently though when everything is moving through a monitoring harness that provides a single, flow-based visualization. Many OTT operators who have an advertising-based model already monitor and track their ads in the same manner that they do their other content, since ad errors and poor ad quality not only undermine the viewer experience but also jeopardize revenue. 

However, with the introduction of the programmatic platform, data is now available which can be integrated into existing monitoring systems, such as a harness, to enable greater visibility and reduce the possibility of broken URLs and poor-quality ad content.

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