Anupama Anantharaman, Vice President, Product Management at Interra Systems
The Free Ad-supported Streaming TV (FAST) market is undergoing explosive growth, representing a significant revenue opportunity for service providers. A recent report from Omdia found that FAST revenue grew almost 20 times between 2019 and 2022, and is projected to triple between 2022 and 2027 to reach $12 billion.
Consumers are attracted to FAST channels because they are free to watch and provide a similar viewing experience to linear television. In exchange for free content, viewers are required watch video advertisements that typically run 15-30 seconds.
Recently, service providers have started exploring the benefits of delivering FAST channels with targeted ads. By delivering well-targeted ads, media owners can achieve a higher Cost per Mile/Thousand (CPMs), boosting their revenue. However, service providers must ensure a superior-quality streaming experience.
Challenges With Delivering Targeted Ads
The underlying technology that enables service providers to insert ads into FAST channels on the fly, is called dynamic ad insertion (DAI). DAI is used across platforms for linear broadcast, VOD, mobile, and OTT, enabling service providers to target specific platforms, devices, audiences, and geographies.
Implementing ads in a media streaming workflow can be challenging and complex. OTT service providers face multiplatform and multiscreen delivery issues. They must check for the presence of SCTE35 messages in the linear workflow, enable seamless ad insertion at segment boundaries, and assure correct alignment of ads across all profiles/variants. Furthermore, it’s important to assure a consistent ad insertion workflow and accurate ad-insertion at the correct position.
Three Strategies for Effectively Monitoring DAI
Having a comprehensive, three-pronged approach to monitoring DAI is the most effective way to isolate issues and ensure outstanding quality streaming experiences for FAST channels with targeted ads. The first step in the three-pronged approach involves deploying a real-time content monitoring system for linear streams. Deployed at the headend of the workflow for the linear streams, the monitoring system enables service providers to deliver error-free, superior-quality video by performing ad insertion monitoring, including SCTE-35 cue messages and post-insertion verification for regulatory compliance.
Ad insertion monitoring in Interra Systems’ ORION-OTT
Key ad-insertion monitoring features to look for include SCTE-35 compliance checking, checking for the absence and presence of SCTE-35 messages, DPI pair monitoring for pre-insertion and post-insertion feeds, and ad quality analysis.
The second step is using an OTT monitoring system for adaptive bitrate (ABR) content. By deploying an OTT monitoring solution service providers can monitor ABR content integrity and related network performance in an OTT environment. It’s important to choose a system that monitors both VOD and live ABR content, as most FAST channels offer a variety of video including live sports, movies, and television series. Errors can occur when delivering FAST channels due to inconsistencies pertaining to ABR package compliance, manifest and playlist syntax, download errors, and content quality issues.
OTT service providers need to monitor ad markers from the source to ABR packaged outputs at the origin stage to ensure that all avail opportunities in the upstream signal are correctly propagated downstream. Since SSAI happens post ABR packaging, any missed avail (that was present in the source stream but was not properly translated to ABR manifests) will impact revenue opportunities.
Ad monitoring checks need to be performed on a continuous basis. Some of the checks that service providers can execute with an OTT monitoring system include looking for the presence of respective ad markers in MPD or HLS playlists and out time, in time, ad duration; inconsistent ad start segments across variants; duration of ads; minimum and maximum duration of content between ads; download failure or delay for ad segments; stale manifests in ad slots; ABR compliance issues in ad chunks; and audio and video quality issues within an ad stream.
The final step in the three-pronged monitoring approach is gaining enterprise visibility. FAST providers can achieve this by centrally managing multiple linear and OTT monitoring setups. Centralized monitoring enables service providers to track all ads being inserted at different locations of the workflow. It also gives service providers an overall picture of all ad markers coming in and out of their streams.
Interra Systems’ ORION Central Manager for reports and diagnostics
With a centralized monitoring system, FAST providers can aggregate ad marker information from source to origin to show the complete trail of ad markers for a channel. The system reports issues with ad marker propagation while also helping to identify the stage at which point the ad information was missing, minimizing time for fault isolation and recovery. In addition, centralized monitoring computes ad KPIs such a number of ad events/hour, ad duration/hour, and average break duration to verify ad policy compliance.
Solving DAI Issues in the Real World
A leading U.S. broadcaster was receiving complaints that a change in network bandwidth and switching to a different profile or variant while an ad is playing was causing the ad to occasionally start all over again or skip entirely. At times, the ad would not play at all, and the end user would experience a black screen. Sometimes this would happen when an ad was playing because the source of the ad was not the same as the content.
The broadcaster needed to find the source of the problem and its root cause. Leveraging a real-time content monitoring and centralized solution, it could immediately see the exact stage and location where the ad insertion problem was detected.
Two issues were found. While the ad markers inserted at the source propagated correctly through the linear stage of the workflow, they somehow went missing at the origin server. This created an issue for end users because the player did not know when to play the ad. A second issue was detected at the origin server. Leveraging an OTT monitoring solution, the broadcaster could see that ad markers were misaligned across different profiles and variants. Due to this, ads were either skipped or played again on profile/variant switching at the end-user device. Clearly, the problem was occurring at the origin server and packager. The broadcaster gained insight into the root cause of the issues and subsequently reached out to the packager technology provider to resolve the issue.
Improving QoE for Fast Channels
FAST channel delivery is growing globally. Embracing targeted advertising is an opportunity for service providers in the FAST environment to increase viewer engagement and boost their revenue streams. By implementing a three-pronged approach that includes real-time content monitoring, OTT monitoring for ABR content, and centralized monitoring, FAST service providers can ensure the highest quality of experience for end users.