What the IAB and PWC’s latest report means for 2017

The IAB and PWC have released the latest digital ad revenue figures for 2016 and we thought you’d like to know what some of the findings are pointing to. These figures are based on the first half of 2016 compared with the first half of 2015.

The overall findings are that digital ad revenues continue to increase and compared to the same last year, they’re 20% higher. So while the chocolate bars get smaller, the crips bags offering significantly less crisps and our Toblerone’s changing shape – at least we can rest assured something in our retail economy is getting bigger. Digital ad spend.

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The report stated that historically we see around 53% of the years revenue coming from the second quarter – so we should see further growth when the next report is released. The trajectory is going one way – up!

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The big news is the domination in mobile video revenue growth

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‘Digital video on smartphones and tablets saw strong triple-digit growth, reaching $1.6 billion in HY 2016, an impressive 178% rise from HY 2015.’

We are seeing strong revenues across the board but unsurprisingly – the dollars have shifted toward the mobile platform with video growing rapidly.

As more mobile friendly ad formats begin to emerge toward the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 we would expect this to continue increasing, as audiences interact with more creative, rich media and relevantly targeted ad units.

We know which ad formats are doing well, but the IAB has also taken a look at which categories are performing better. It’s no surprise retail is right there at the top but exactly what sort of retail and which formats work best for each would be good to analyze. Mobile targeted ads for the retail space are beginning to take off as people discover on the move so perhaps the second half of the year will reveal more about the changing purchase journey.

Whilst desktop search was down from the same time period in 2015 – combined desktop and mobile search is actually up 17% – at 8.4 billion in total revenues. This goes to show how the mobile device is taking over and that it’s an area where more analysis and investment will be focused in 2017.

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Click here to view the full IAB report. Video really is showing its strength across all platforms and as we introduce more relevance, better mobile experiences and brand stories the handheld device we all rely on is set to be the main revenue generator for media companies.

Check out The OverStream Suite of advertising formats to see just one of the ways Coull is making better ad experiences that are high performing, yet non-interruptive.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Apple and Google giveth and the IAB taketh away

Auto play mobile video is evolving but who will have the final say?

Apple and Google want to give adtech companies an alternative way to auto play video ads on the mobile web, one that avoids the use of nasty hacks to enable autoplay functionality. While this sounds like a step forward, the IAB is far more concerned with the user experience and wants to limit autoplay mobile video to Wi-Fi connected devices.

In reality both of these options have the same goal, to reduce the burden on the user’s device. The result – improved user experience. We’re going to dig a little deeper to uncover the merits of each so you can decide which is more valuable.

Let’s talk about mobile auto play video ads

Video ads that auto play in your phone browser use up a lot of data over time. Despite this fairly obvious negative implication, the format is growing in popularity because it can drive 10x the revenue of standard image ads.

Until now, getting a mobile video ad to autoplay has required reliance on a hack,  especially on iOS where a video had to load in the full screen native player. The new iOS & Chrome updates change all that. It’s time to say goodbye to the hacks and the problems associated.

The good, the bad and the ugly

You can look at mobile video auto play on a spectrum of polished, to pathetic.

At one end you have the best example of the ad format in all its glory – on Facebook. Auto playing muted ads are implemented in a controlled environment within the user’s feed.

Technically speaking, there is only one ad call, and because Facebook control the ad unit and ad server it can be lightweight code and compressed video – both easy on the device. The user decide to disable autoplay, or choose to only accept it on Wi-Fi. Despite this choice you will find that no one chooses to limit it because the settings affect all video – not just the ads. It’s in-banner video, but in it’s most considerate format.

On the other end we find the pathetic versions of the format.  Arbitrageurs buy cheap ad slots intended to image ads and load a video player into the user’s browser, then making requests for ads to every ad source they can find. This is incredibly taxing for the phone, running JavaScript that hangs the page, and a never ending sequence loading resources behind the scenes.

If and when an ad is returned, the adtech used by the arbitrager exploits a browser hack via the HTML5 <canvas>, not the <video> as intended. This is slower, and doesn’t provide any playback or volume controls – less than ideal.

Apple with iOS 10, and Google with the latest Chrome update 53 have taken a pragmatic approach. They’ve looked at the data and seen how much this shoehorned method has slowed webpages, especially heavily arbitraged ones like NYPost.com & Wikia.

The updates they’ve implemented go a long way to improving the mobile experience, but have they considered the user enough?



The IAB goes in to bat for the user

The new draft proposal (page 9) for should be shown Ads in 2017 has some big changes for Outstream players like Teads, and also the arbitrageurs mentioned above (pretty much every video ad network).

This guidance addresses video ads in non-video environments. Video guidance applies to in banner videos and ‘outstream’ ads that are placed in between non video content, e.g. in article or in lists or any video ads in non-video content experiences.

1. Video MUST be user initiated.

2. Video controls to Mute/Unmute audio and Pause/Play video MUST be available when video is playing

3. The RECOMMENDED maximum length for in banner video is 15 seconds and 1.1 MB file size

4. MINIMUM 24 fps

5. Video download MUST NOT start until user initiation


Video MAY be played by the ad without user initiation when it does not significantly impact the user’s cost of consuming content. It may be used under the following guidance:

1. When a user is on Wi-Fi or broadband internet connections. This is to respect user’s cost of consuming content.

2. Audio MUST be muted when video is played without user initiation.

3. Auto play MUST begin after ad is at least 50% in view

4. Auto play MUST provide pause/play and mute/unmute controls from the start of video play

Even in draft, it’s a clear message from the industry’s own trade body that more respect should be shown to the user, and to stop pushing them to install ad blockers with obnoxious execution.

Where to now?

Google and Facebook have made a commendable move to provide a much better mobile video auto play experience than would be achieved via a hack, however the IAB’s assertion is that auto play is interruptive, cumbersome and a financial burden to the user as are some other ad formats identified in their latest guidance. You can bet there will be lots more to come from them in the near future and it will be interesting to see how Google and Facebook respond.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

ODV spells good news for publishers

The IAB last month released the Original Digital Video Consumer Study based around US audience’s TV viewing, compared with original digital video viewing habits. The results aren’t particularly surprising but they do paint an interesting picture of where media consumption is headed and it’s something publishers need to take heed of in regard to how their content is presented. For advertisers, it’s just as poignant in defining where their spend should be directed and for traditional TV media owners it’s about being aware of the facts and adapting.

Before we dive in and look at the changing behaviour in US media viewing habits, let’s first clarify ODV.

What is Original Digital Video – ODV?  

Essentially it is originally produced online video which can further be defined as professionally produced video only for ad-supported online distribution and viewing (not TV).

Who creates ODV?

Typically, ODV is created by a range of professional media companies such as Wall Street Journal Live News, Glamor DO’s and Don’ts, purely online media such as YouTube Original Channels and PewDiePie.

What other digital content owners are competing for audience attention?

  • TV Online is made up of Network TV shows like Pretty LIttle Liars and The Walking Dead or sites on the ABC.com and HBO.com
  • Amatuer Online Video is just that, video created by regular people, home made videos generally and short form more often than not.

The IAB outlined some of its key takeaways which included:

1) Growth of the original digital video market continues

The year over year growth continues for ODV unlike TV online and amateur video – which are flat in terms of growth.

2) Original digital video beats regular TV among viewers

Unique content that can be watched anywhere within anyone’s schedule, is a leading factor in the viewing choices of US adults .

3) Original digital video is becoming more ingrained

ODV’s improved quality and accessibility makes it more and more of a habitual exercise, meaning not only are more people switching to ODV, but they are watching more of it than they were before.

4) Social media wildfire

ODV is shareable, it’s engaging and often leads to another view or engagement with more content from the same site.

If growth is the name of the game – ODV has all the winning moves

The story of ODV is one of growth with approximately 63 million US adults viewing ODV on a monthly basis.

Whist TV online and Amateur video have healthy, respectable viewing numbers, the growth rate isn’t there which suggests a move to original video, and that’s a trend worth noting, especially where budgeting is concerned. The potential for advertisers to reach audiences with ODV is huge, and as ad tech companies develop new ad formats and creative agencies realize the value of enhanced user experience – we’ll likely see a premium on this inventory.

TV isn’t dead, it’s the way we use it that has changed

Remember when the remote control first came about – holy batman did that change our lives for the lazy. Not only did it help nurture the inner couch potato but we could enjoy more variety too – because we were more likely to browse channels. Simple but revolutionary.

As we do with everything, we continue to innovate, improve and make things easier and more varietal for ourselves. The TV is still sitting in the room, it’s just connected to the internet now, and audiences have adopted habits that reflect what they expect of the internet. We have so much choice, and just like ravenous consumers we are, the more choice we have, the more we want.

Whilst laptop/desktop and mobile devices remain the most popular devices for viewing ODV content, connected TV is only marginally behind, and it’s this area which has the biggest impact on a reduction in ‘regular’ TV watching. It’s the business model, not the TV set that needs to adapt now.

Social creatures

It’s not surprising to read in this report that ODV viewers are discovering their content via word of mouth and social media. There is an interesting gender divide in the way content is discovered with females discovering the majority of their content via friends and family, and social media while their male counterparts tend to follow links, recommendations and search results.

All interesting from a marketer’s perspective but it also paints a picture of how much video content is being discovered socially, rather than on a publisher’s own site, and this specific statistical shift should not be swept aside. With many publishers taking advantage of Facebook Instant Articles to publish content, there is a possible threat to bottom line revenues because they too are sharing, but it’s their revenues and their brand identity that are being given away.

When it comes to the cord cutters/cord nevers title – can we just file that in the ‘not another useless piece of jargon bin’? Viewing habits are changing – of course they are, we’re not sat round a huge wooden box with a comparatively small screen choosing from 4 programmes and being told by our mum’s and dad’s to get up and turn it down when the ads come on. No – that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy viewing together and what the TV has that other devices may not, is the magic of nostalgia.

Modern media offers disparate audiences so much variety, it’s astounding. Content is becoming personal, it’s ubiquitous, but it’s also incredibly niche so even as audiences grow, segments become more identifiable. ODV makes it possible for media companies to present quality, highly engaging and targeted content, and advertisers have the technology at their fingertips to engage through connected devices in a way they never have before – concurrently collecting data about us, learning who we are from our habits.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that viewers like the flexibility of ODV. The fact is, we all have different devices we use daily, often at the same time – and media companies have evolved to give viewers much more choice, control and a completely different way of engaging with content we love. This IAB study shows that significant shift, but did we really need a study? To make it official perhaps yes, but you can also strike up a conversation with any millennial and ask them to explain how they consumed media when they were growing up compared to now.

Millennials drive the habitual change, the next generation takes it even further

Personally, I don’t have TV subscription – I didn’t include it in my ‘broadband bundle option’ because I knew I had other options that suited my household, my budget and my viewing preferences.

It’s little wonder the report found 18-34 year olds are the biggest driver of this significant evolution in the way we view media. What is interesting for brands though is the advertising is reported to be more memorable in this format, contrary to some popular belief. That is just the tip of what’s happening right now under the surface of tech companies who are building the blocks to facilitate much better creative and to change the face of advertisements and our consumer relationship with them. The ads of the very near future will be dynamic, highly personable and definitely more interactive. Millennial audiences have sparked the adoption and growth of connected TV, ODV and amateur video as well but as we too get older and make way for the next generation, the digital model becomes even more user focused. Personal, shareable, highly accessible content packed with options and driven by advertised which itself is informed by real time data is very real, traditional models of media including TV shouldn’t begrudge this change, nor deny it – it should be seen as a real opportunity.

There’s no need to hollow out the old set and put mr goldfish inside – but you may just find the communal ritual of watching tele, becomes more personal, more enjoyable and dare we imagine, more profitable?


Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Coull Quickie – May 2016

The Coull Quickie for May is here and it’s not good news for publishers as 3 Mobile UK sets to trial Shine’s ad blocking tech at network level. The IAB US reveals some interesting stats around new viewing habits, AppNexus launches free viewabiltiy measurement for its partners and the Guardian launches their own native mobile ad formats. Get all the latest programmatic video advertising news right here, every month.

Watch the Coull Quickie – May 2016 right here, right now:

Posted by simonholliday in Coull video

PubNative – native mobile advertising

As part of our blog series on mobile advertising and mobile formats we spoke with Ionut Ciobotaru, Co-founder and Managing Director of PubNative, to find out more about this native SSP and how native mobile advertising – specifically video, is evolving.

We know mobile is exploding in regard to advertising, especially video – can you explain what role PubNative plays in mobile advertising and exactly what service you facilitate?

PubNative is a global mobile supply-side platform (SSP) that’s fully focused on native advertising. We work directly with mobile publishers to understand each app’s needs in terms of UX and business objectives, and to provide ad monetisation solutions that enable sustainable revenue growth. Mobile native is a growing market so focusing specifically in this area gives us an actionable specialisation.

We aggregate a considerable quantity of demand in order to create good competition within the PubNative marketplace and maximise the eCPMs that we provide to our publishers. Our business model is based on a revenue share with publishers, where depending on their size, they can receive up to 90% of the revenue generated through our platform.

In terms of video, we’re working on some native and in-feed video ad placements. This is a really interesting area and it’s something we’ve worked hard on to understand and document the native video market on mobile. It’s changing pretty fast but definitely offers an exciting future.

Tell us about the ‘native’ side of the business and how you differentiate native mobile from other mobile ads?

At PubNative, we see native advertising as a framework. Adverts should fit the form of the context (i.e. the UX), but also the content (i.e. the content that is currently being displayed or read by the user). Through this combination, native ads should actually enhance rather than disrupt the experience of users.

To provide a little more detail on this, let me explain these two points further. Firstly, in terms of UX, as the ad has to fit the app and not look out of place within it. Inherent in this means not disrupting the experience of those using the app. If we look at a platform like Instagram, the native ads fit seamlessly into the app feed and therefore don’t interrupt users when scrolling.

In terms of context, it is about delivering relevant advertisements according to the profile of the user. To take the example of Instagram again, they use information about a user – for example, an early 20s woman from San Francisco who follows a lot of fashion accounts. With this information, they are able to use adverts that fit the context of that user’s Instagram feed, for example with adverts for related fashion products on ecommerce sites.

How do you best work ads around UX for gaming apps?

This is actually something I covered relatively recently in our blog, looking at several examples of in-game advertising. Overall the issue is about following the principles of fitting the advert to the content and context of the games. In real terms this means a consideration of the way a game is built, amongst others.

For example, users are likely to be more receptive to downloading a similar game at the stage in which they have just completed a level rather than halfway through. By considering factors like this, we can boost UX and improve installs.

What is the biggest challenge for mobile advertisers at the moment?

One of the biggest challenges is educating mobile advertisers, especially the brand advertisers. Since mobile native is still in its relative infancy, it’s really important to spread the word to advertisers and publishers. Because many marketers are inherently conservative and like to stick to what they know, this is about showcasing why native is the option for the future and illustrating its qualities in comparison to more traditional formats like banners and interstitials.

To what extent do you think mobile publishers are being affected by ad blocking? How do you approach this problem?

I would say that mobile is being marginally affected by ad-blocking. There are two cases to consider: Mobile in-app – which can’t be blocked so easily – so impact is minimal, and mobile web – where all the ad-blockers can function – but despite the buzz of its initial launch, its impact is limited. On top of that, Google recently removed Samsung’s ad-blocking tool from the store, showing the influence of major players in the market.

With movements like the Acceptable Ads Manifesto, the industry is evolving in a way that both advertisers and users can live happily ever after. For those of us working in the native sector, this is about making sure our adverts work with the form and the function as well as providing superior value and relevance to the viewer.

With this kind of combination, we should increasingly see adverts deliver the requisite value to the user and in turn, remove factors such as irritation and intrusion that so frequently cause the use of ad blocking software in the first place.

You have global offices, what is the scale of PubNative and are you seeing any particular trends based on geography?

Our HQ is based in Berlin and we also have offices in San Francisco, Beijing and Seoul to serve all of our major markets (EMEA, APAC, NA). We’re expanding fast and Berlin gives us the ideal location of working between the two time zones.

APAC is one of the fastest growing markets for us. Smartphone penetration is particularly high there and some of the emerging markets are mobile first or even mobile only – in terms of consumer adoption of technology. Still because of its maturity – US remains the highest revenue generating market.

In-app and mobile web are significantly different when it comes to ad serving – do you service both mobile formats or do you deal purely with apps?

Most of our clients are mobile app publishers but we also work with mobile web publishers. With so much search being conducted through mobile web, it is still a significant source of traffic for advertisers.

Mobile web can be seen as falling somewhere between desktop and mobile app. Whilst it often employs resized ad formats used on desktop, it has to be optimised for the smaller screen and provide good UX.

If you work with both is there a particular advantage one has over the other?

It really depends on the user base of mobile web and apps. At the moment I would say that there are more native formats for in-app native rather than native ads on the mobile web.

Regarding the mobile web – because it is an application of the desktop environment to mobile, this means that the content is being consumed in similar ways – i.e. through news websites, blogs, portals, etc. This means that native on mobile web is a direct replica of native on desktop, so underpinned by the six formats laid out in the IAB Native Advertising Playbook.

Another factor is simply mobile optimization. Whilst there remain companies who fail to adequately optimize their sites for mobile, ads on these sites are unlikely to provide good UX or ROI for advertisers.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, have specific functionalities, such as games, utility, entertainment, etc., and the UX is very particular to each function or app. In turn, this means that in-app native advertising has to be much more flexible in terms of format.

Do you encounter many issues with transparency and how do you tackle viewability, brand safety and fraud issues within mobile?

Ad tech is a fast-moving space that has evolved incredibly quickly. In an industry that moves so fast, it can be difficult to ensure that everyone follows best practices and plays by the rules that can often lag behind the market.

The issue of fraud, in particular, has certainly been a topic of conversation lately. In fact there are a number of different fraudulent activities that have taken place, one of which is the issue of click spamming. We need to come together as an industry to ensure that we legislate and advise to reduce the frequency and impact of issues like ad fraud.

As well as fraud, there a number of other issues that affect the industry. In terms of viewability, the MRC has actually just released a paper on the viewability of native ads, so this part is already happening. Increasing transparency on both the publisher and advertiser side would also go a long way to helping issues like fraud.

What is your mobile advertising prediction for 2016 – is this finally the year of mobile – at least when it comes to advertising?

As the mobile native advertising ecosystem continues to evolve at a rapid pace, 2016 is going to see advancements in technology in order to support an increasing demand for control and transparency from all players in this industry.

While mobile advertisers are requesting more guarantees over the execution of their native programmatic campaigns (viewability, fraud), mobile publishers are rightfully demanding more transparency in pricing.

In this context, we should inevitably see the emergence of independent, third-party technology solutions – unified platforms – that aggregate all mobile native demand, enabling publishers to price their inventory at the correct market value and maximize their revenue while facilitating enhanced transparency for advertisers.

About the author:

Ionut Ciobotaru (Co-founder & Managing Director of PubNative) started his career with a web development company and several technology related blogs. After years of entrepreneurial work in fields like eCommerce, digital marketing and collaborating with brands like Orange, Vodafone, HTC, Microsoft, Ionut sought a new challenge in the mobile space. He joined AppLift where he successfully developed company’s product suite for publishers and media partners. In order to fully focus on improving solutions for mobile publishers he founded PubNative, a mobile publisher platform fully focused on native advertising.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

The IAB’s ad block primer for publishers

The IAB Tech Lab Ad Blocking Group has compiled guidance to help publishers manage ad blockers. The Publisher Ad Blocking Primer provides tactics for responding to ad blocking and comes as a result of the high adoption rate of ad blockers provided by companies such as AdBlock Plus and Ghostery. These are businesses too, making money by either whitelisting preferred ads (or ads that have been paid to be whitelisted), or collecting and selling data. So while publishers lose out these companies are thriving, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In this post we’re going to break down the guidance so our publishers can understand how to best approach the problem of monetizing their video content whilst combating the quandary ad blockers present. The purpose of this post is not to criticize ad blocking but rather help publishers decide how to take ownership of their revenue and communicate better with their audience as to how they provide their content and what they reasonably expect in return.

There are specific tactics outlined in the IAB Primer, and each is based around a process they call DEAL. Each tactic should keep the premise of DEAL in mind:

D – Detect ad blocking in order to initiate the conversation

E – Explain the value exchange that advertising enables

A – Ask for changed behaviour in order to maintain an equitable exchange

L – Lift restrictions or L- Limit access in response to consumer choices

Shifting the focus of tackling of ad blocking from the ad blockers themselves, to the consumer, both by educating them about publisher business models and providing better user experiences is really important. The IAB’s Primer makes 7 tactical suggestions as listed below. We will cover those relevant to the audience only, but you can find a link to the official primer with more details including tactics specific to the ad blocker provider at the end.

  1. Notice
  2. Access Denial
  3. Tiered Experience
  4. Payments from Visitors
  5. Ad Reinsertion
  6. Payment to Ad Blocker Companies
  7. Payment to Visitors


Tactics publishers can adopt to ecouraging the disabling ad blockers

Notice – educate and signpost

When an ad blocker is detected you can present the user with a notice – a message that displays on the site in a variety of formats whether it be in the page header, within video content, on a landing page, or perhaps it’s something that’s triggered a little later once the user has been engaged in your content for a defined amount of time.

The notice can serve a variety of purposes including:

  • Educating the visitor about ad blockers and the threat they pose to content providers
  • Requesting the visitor to disable the ad blocker
  • Request the visitor for payment for access to content,
  • Informing of the consequences of them using ad blockers such as limited or completely restricted access to your content.

Educating your audience as to why advertising is essential is the first step in beginning a discussion that leads to asking them to do something such as either turn off their ad blocker, or pay for your content.

Whilst giving notice is a good way of educating your audience it also has the potential to draw attention to ad blockers, raising awareness of their widespread use and therefore, potentially give them more traction.  It’s also important to keep in mind that if you do enable notices, some ad blockers have the capabilities to block those too. It is recommended that if you decide to issue a notice, this should not be a standalone tactic but part of a wider strategy.

Access denial – risky business

This tactic seems pretty straight forward. If a visitor has ad blockers detected on their device, as a publisher, you simply disable their access to content. This is however quite a drastic measure and shouldn’t be implemented without an additional notice explaining why the content has been made unavailable and what the visitor can do to gain access.

Access denial invariably leads to a smaller audience and less sharing so it would only be appropriate for particular publishers who feel their audience loyalty is cemented and whose business model isn’t dependent on attracting new viewers.

Access denial can possibly lead to a reduced search rank because it can limit the ability for search bots to crawl the content, but if you’re relying on an audience that would come across your content without the use of search, that might not be a huge issue.

Tiered experience – limited access

This option grants restricted access to visitors with ad blockers, instead of blanket denying them content, it offers either a limited amount of time per session or articles per month for example. Many publishers use this approach for their subscription service but in this case we’re talking about its application to ad blocker users.

The risk of the tiered tactic is that some visitors may become accustomed to the limited experience and simply settle for that without taking any further action. It requires additional work for developers and may make measuring visitors difficult.

The positive of this approach is that it gives your audience more options, leverages the available inventory and is less likely to compromise search rankings.

Payments from visitors – subscription

This is essentially the subscription model. It’s a highly risky model for offering advertisement free content as a way to counter ad blockers because there is no obligation for audiences with ad blockers to pay for content. It’s their prerogative and you could run the risk of seriously reducing your audience if you create a black and white scenario. Payment for content can however be lightened by offering voluntary payment options, or tiered payment options.

Subscriptions can increase development and operational costs and the pricing of your content can become complicated. The desire to share socially is greatly reduced with paid for content, so losing audiences both direct and via social is a big risk.

Payment to visitors – the flip side

There have been various reward systems in place for visitors/players/viewers in digital publishing since well before ad blockers came about, but now they serve this additional purpose of enticing visitors to disable ad blockers. This can be done via a revenue share, rewards, or collaboration with other publishers to make ‘both financial and non-financial rewards more easily distributed’. (IAN Tech Lab).

Again this tactic requires some additional work on the development side but could be a viable solution especially within the gaming industry. Some publishers already have a system in place where users are rewarding for watching ads with vouchers, bonuses or points/hints for a level completion in a game. Ad blocking therefore serves a two problems for these publishers, often app owners because it disturbs the user experience and damages their model on more than one level. Another reason to educate your audience as early as possible.

Ad reinsertion – beating the blockers at their own game

The word reinsertion is a little misleading because whilst technology can place an ad where an ad blocker had previously removed it, it doesn’t mean the same ad will appear and doesn’t guarantee what the value of the new ad will be.

Additional tech is required meaning additional cost, and the more ad blocker – reinsertion – ad blocker processes going on in the background, the worse the user experience as latency and reduced ability to collect data compromise how the user experiences not just the ad unit but the content itself.

There are various methods that can be used to re-insert an ad or block the ad blocker. These include obfuscation, in browser modification and on server, which involves serving the ad from the same content side. Each of these requires additional work and monitoring but it does provide consistency for visitors and well as enabling the publishers to retain control of their revenue stream, as is their right.

Consider, communicate, collaborate – conquer

If you’re a publisher looking to implement one or more of the IABs recommended tactics, we would recommend you consider every option very carefully and how it applies to your specific business model, how it effects editorial and audience and weigh up the pros and cons, all of which can be found in the official primer document here.

The IAB should be commended for actively initiating the conversation around fighting back against ad blockers. Ad blockers may have won some judgments in the EU and managed to bypass some publisher revenue models, but ad blockers are not the future. Audiences need to understand the value exchange, publishers need to retain control of their own revenue, and users need better experiences. This all comes down to the advertisers and agencies providing more engaging and dynamic creative ad formats, and publishers ensuring the quality of that relationship by ensuring editorial teams are part of the decision making process.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Our impressions of the IAB OpenRTB 2.4

The IAB’s Advertising Technology Council has recently upgraded the Open RTB guidelines to version 2.4. This latest version of the standard used between SSP/Exchanges and DSPs is out for public review so we will be highlighting some of the positive updates as well as recommending areas we expect to see improve in version 2.5.

1.    Impression expiry

Open RTB 2.4 goes some way to improving fraudulent impressions caused by Xindi style bot networks which have caused the industry huge losses. Last year Pixelate identified how these bots work by subverting frequency caps targeting a highly desired user base. The botnet works when malware infected machines make massive amounts of ad requests within a short space of time, holding on to them without showing them. Those requests are stored over the course of a few hours or even a day, then impression trackers call them simultaneously. This causes them all to fire at the same time, evading fraud filters and making huge amounts of money on false impressions.

Xindi is sophisticated in the way it targets corporate environments or even universities allowing it to generate fake viewable impressions from recognised IP addresses that attract high CPMs, at scale. The below diagram taken from Pixalate shows how this process works.

One of the updates in the OpenRTB 2.4 involves expiring the impression tracker which in-turn will stop the botnet being rewarded. The table below shows new guidelines of impression expiry times related to video ad impressions, guidelines we will be implementing as part of our video ad tech platform and third generation exchange.

“The following expiration times are offered as examples of reasonable delays based on the nature of the impression. These are only provided as rules of thumb. A more data-driven method of determining these times in specific situations is highly recommended. “ (IAB)

For display or video ad formats:

Desktop and mobile web browsers: 1 Minute
Mobile app banner or native ads that may be cached: 5 Minutes
Mobile and video interstitials: 30 Minutes (or even longer)
Audio or video with server-side stitching: Very Long or Unknown

2.      SSL support – encoding

In version 2.3 SSL was not recommended “due to the additional processing overhead.” The fact is hardware has gotten so cheap that this argument hasn’t been valid for a long time, so from our perspective it’s great to see it finally recommended.

Legacy exchanges and DSPs may drag their feet when it comes to securing web traffic but it’s worth the industry as a whole embracing this and we’re certainly ensuring our own processes incorporate stringent security. Historically speaking and reflected in current practices, we see an ad tech ecosystem that’s essentially self-policed, especially in terms of DSPs not making targeting segments from bid requests etc. ‘Bad actors’ from outside the industry are not bound by that, and can get a view on the browsing history or millions of people if they hack the bid request stream (think Snowden). Securing web traffic is the zeitgeist as anyone working in tech knows and we’re very happy to finally see an expectation of encryption across OpenRTB. Securing web traffic guarantees the connection and what comes through making the entire process much more secure and transparent. In our opinion this one is a no brainer!

3.    Video skip ability support

OpenRTB 2.4 allows publishers to declare if they want to impose a skip button on the ad, something that until now they’ve had very little control over. However, there is not yet a clear definition as to who is responsible for creating it – the publisher in their player? Or advertiser in VPAID? The advice at this stage is for the DSP to consult the publisher, so whilst this is a good addition it would benefit from further clarification.

4.    Location support

Accurate location data is a big demand of advertisers, especially in mobile. The problem is, not much of mobile location data that’s offered is actually valid. Putting aside the fraud for a second, the problem here has been the advertiser inferring absolute accuracy because it has been given a lat/lng. The device may know it’s only accurate to 10 or even 500 meters but the exchange it made the ad request to, couldn’t pass that on to its bidders. This has all changed with the latest update. The exchange can now pass on this location information with the “accuracy” value set in meters, along with a “lastfix” value to say how long ago that fixed.

Where location is looked up via IP address, exchanges can now declare the vendor they used as ip2location, Neustar, or Maxmind. Sorry DigitalElement, looks like you’re not on the list?! Perhaps that’s one for the IAB to address once public comments have been considered.

5.    Audio object

The addition of the audio object enables live audio streams such as podcasts or services such as Spotify or potentially SoundCloud to request ads from bidders with the OpenRTB standard. This update assumes DAAST standard compliance, with companion banners as an option just like video. The audio object/ad can be stitched into the playback, and even downloaded by the user.

Look for more legacy ad exchanges to jump on this as a new way to differentiate themselves.

Others worth a mention

Other updates include the ability to format the size of banner ads, additional creative attributes for Adobe Flash and the guidelines detailing best practices for DSPs responding with deal ID. They are all valid updates but don’t add a huge amount to the innovation of the space.

Here’s some of the updates we feel could have been implemented in 2.4 that we expect to see in 2.5, hopefully sooner rather than later.

As a market leading third generation video ad exchange and ad platform, we operate with multiple DSP’s, we also push demand through our SSP as well as other supply partners so it’s very important to us to constantly update and upgrade our proprietary technology. Our We’ve made a very conscious choice to ensure we operate and implement above and beyond the industry standard – if we can do something better now –we do it, we’re not waiting to be told, and we don’t believe the guidelines should wait either.

What Coull expect in 2.5

HTTP2 and Advertising

The current OpenRTB spec does not take HTTP2 into account, it assumes HTTP1 as the standard. We believe there are a few parts of the new HTTP2 spec that are exciting from an advertising point of view.

Currently HTTP1 only allows for a single conversation to go on between 2 computers, so if there are to be more conversations then more connections are needed. HTTP2 allows a single connection to have multiple conversations go on with no specific order in them.

HTTP2 is also a binary protocol, meaning it’s more aligned to how a computer speaks than a human. It’s evident that the overall efficiency of a connection and the data sent over it is far better. This is obviously quite relevant in exchange to DSP connections.

Security in HTTP2 was also thought about from the beginning with the downsides of secure connections in HTTP1 considered. Secure connections in HTTP2 can easily send both secure headers and body while being compressed effectively saving bandwidth.

Another subtle change that has an advantage in exchange to DSP connections is the ability to cancel a request without dropping a connection. In theory this saves computation power should an exchange make a decision – maybe securing a PMP deal before a DSP has decided on a bid.

These all add up to some good increases in efficiency of connections, both in between clients and ad servers as well as exchanges and DSPs, though obviously both parties in all examples need to be able to handle the HTTP2 connections.

Our third generation exchange has already implemented some of these changes and are well underway to go even further. Our feeling is the industry as a whole should be guided in this direction because these improvements make programmatic advertising safer, more reliable and more efficient for everyone.

Loss Notification

To ensure the most efficient means of bidding and yield optimization we have loss notification built in to our exchange. It’s something that could easily be included as a standard within OpenRTB and would expect to this appearing in 2.5. Within the Coull exchange we inform bid loss notification in real time without revealing the identity of bid winners, so advertisers and DSPs can better optimize their campaigns. Not only does loss notification help streamline yield optimization but it aids in stopping ad fraud such as that mentioned above. By letting the bidder know they’ve lost the auction, they can finish it within their systems without worrying about when a future impression might arrive. It just makes sense which is why we’ve already applied this technology within our own platform.


Do your part and get your feedback to Melissa at the IAB before the 19th of Feb.

A link to the latest spec can be found here.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Tis the Season to be Programmatic

Digital media and advertising technology companies have had a turbulent year. Advertising budgets started to swing away from traditional channels and methods but haven’t swung nearly as much as we would have hoped because of a lack of trust in programmatic.

We saw very specific issues rise to the top of the programmatic cons pile in 2015 but the good news is these are all problems that can be addressed and possibly even put to rest in 2016 – largely thanks to the work that has been done behind the scenes by tech companies.

We must however, learn from the problems we’ve faced this year if we’re to avoid the havoc and scrutiny we’ve experienced in 2015 repeating.

Stop adapting and start innovating

In this fairly nascent industry of programmatic video, many companies have attempted to cash in while cutting corners, augmenting legacy products with small fix tech, rather than building a sustainable, foolproof technology from the ground up. You just need to take a glance at one of the many digital ‘lumascapes’ to see how crowded the industry is with a multitude of different companies. But can you identify where the unique point of difference is? It’s tricky for anyone to navigiate the maze of choice, let alone settle on the right partner.

Media is consumed very differently today, data is passed over and collected in milliseconds, people communicate, entertain and learn from all kinds of new sources, many of which are not ‘safe’ passages. Expecting a seamless experience for all, with no interference, with noone trying to take advantage, is pretty ludicrous. But in a world where everyone wants to be everything to all, there is a need for specialists who are concerned with identifying and building responses to digital advertising pitfalls. It’s these specialists who will facilitate improved performance and revenues in 2016, so don’t count them out.

In April 2015 the IAB with Advertiser Perceptions, reported 68% of marketers and agencies anticipated increasing their digital video ad spend over the next 12 months.

As marketers and agencies seek long term ROI, the trajectory toward programmatic video is accelerating. The perceived lack of premium video inventory called out by some in 2015, will become a relic mentality next year. The Definition of premium inventory has changed irrevocably and has surfaced to contain the same principle issues that caused such a raucous in programmatic – the very things video ad tech companies like Coull, are working hard to negate right now.

  • Is it viewable?

  • Is it brand safe?

  • Is it human?

We can break these areas down further into segments that give a better overview of the level of quality of the inventory. This comes down to how much we know about the inventory and where it comes from, something that is often limited by how much the publisher is willing to give away about their own data.

  • Player size

  • True url (where does the inventory originally come from)

  • Device

  • Geography

  • Relevance

It’s no secret programmatic video has endured a year of inefficiency, however according to emarketer ‘ad spend in programmatic video specifically is set to jump 84.5% in 2016, due to a resolution of holdbacks’.  Proprietary tech such as that built to drive Coull’s new generation video ad exchange, is stepping up to address and implement solutions to these holdbacks. Because we’ve built a new breed of ad exchange, we have rigorous standards specific to programmatic advertising and the expectation of quality inventory and premium CPMs.

New, quality inventory on demand

With subscription based video on demand now such a huge part of our entertainment lives, services such as Netflix, Now.TV and BBC iPlayer are competing for your dollars every month. There’s only so much appetising content audiences will be prepared to pay for. There is therefore a huge opportunity, especially in geographies like America where the competition for subscription dollars is rife, to implement advertising based services or AVOD (Advertiser based video on demand). As this happens, those ad dollars we’ve seen start to move from traditional broadcast, will quickly move to video and programmatic will become very important.

As more VOD services become available, it goes without saying that video will be increasingly consumed on mobile devices, and there is massive scope for improvement in mobile video advertising, but it’s opportunity that needs to be realized quickly yet methodically.

Mobile video must be optimized

Mobile video is still not being optimized to full effect, but in 2016 we will see solutions emerge to provide better advertisement creative and more user control. This will not, NOT be another bullshit ‘year of mobile’. It will be a year of programmatic ad tech, being given the investment it needs across platforms to transform mobile advertising. It will see mobile video, not just in-app video be used to grab advertising budgets, but obviously, networks have their work cut out before any real improvements can be seen. For mobile advertising to succeed video publishers and platforms/players need to allocate budget and investment to upgrade and implement the development work needed to make video compliant and of consistent standard industry wide. And it needs agencies with creative gusto, willing to drive better ad formats and better stories, if they can’t do this, ad blockers will prevail as customers say no to bad experiences.

For any of this to happen, industry bodies need to step up and ensure video inventory is held to higher standards including or VPAID compliancy and that video players are up to spec. It’s time publishers ensured the video partner or player being used has to ability to integrate with tech partners to ensure standards and metrics can be met. This is really the only way we’re going to start seeing consistency in reporting and in expectations and it’s the only way to ensure viewers get the best experience possible. But doing this does demand time and money from publishers, so the incentive needs to be worth it.

‘Love plant a garden’ – but then ‘they’ put up walls, and the love died

Walled gardens amassed in 2015 but not without publishers taking notice and becoming much more self aware. In order to go around these walls, publishers began using header bidding and in doing so, gained back control from Google DFP.  As Google and Facebook work to keep content and data inside their own bubble, it’s up to publishers and advertisers to think about the value exchange their getting, and the brand ownership they wish to maintain.

It’s also up to independent companies with alternative ad exchange and technology platforms to provide better options for media companies to release their inventory, and also where advertisers can get the most for their money, and the best engagement from their customers.

With ad blocking, viewability, fraud, data security and bots all front in centre in 2015, better ad experiences, mobile video, programmatic video and better measurement standards will hopefully be the identifiers we speak about as growth stimulators and industry saviours in 2016.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

The limitations of current Viewable Ad Technologies

Viewable video advertising has been and is a huge topic of conjecture in the digital ad industry. This is because of the struggle to come up with a consistent way to deliver and measure 100% ad viewability.

There is a discrepancy within the industry as to what this term ‘viewable’ actually means. There is yet to be an agreed metric that tells both supply and demand if an ad unit is in view on a browser. And if it was in view, was it present long enough to have a reasonable chance of being seen?

There are multiple tech partners measuring viewability within the ecosystem, but no one method is the same, and whilst advertisers value the length of time and full resolution of an ad, publishers are less likely to value that metric in the same way. The IAB has their own standards but to cut a long story short, there is no consensus here. An industry wide viewability measurement system is the loch ness monster of ad tech – if it does exist, it’s lurking below the surface, waiting to be discovered but so far evading us all.

Even though the marketplace has the ability to sell viewable impressions, there is a lack of efficiency on the sell side that limits yield for the publisher. Advertisers and networks are unlikely to pay for an impression that’s not deemed viewable by their own measurement standards, even if the supply side disagrees. At the moment it’s a fairly one sided solution in favour of demand, and we need a consistent algorithm if the benefits are to be more equally spread. We can’t lump all these bits of terminology together and expect a one size fits all metric but we can get smarter about how we measure.

The requirements

The IAB and MRC have established minimum viable requirements for viewable advertising.

According to the IAB and MRC online viewable ad impressions guidelines:

‘As a baseline it is simple to appreciate the in-view measure aims to be an objective, qualitative, measure that simply answers the following questions.

  • Was the ad served?

  • Was it in-view?

  • Was there an opportunity for the user of the device to see it?

While these are the very basic guidelines for digital advertising, the metrics that constitute an opportunity to see, differ between ad formats:

  • For in page display advertising there must be greater than or equal to 50% pixels in view for greater than or equal to a second.

  • For video advertising, an opportunity so see is measured as greater than or equal to 50% of pixels in-view for greater than or equal to 2 continuous seconds of video ad play.

The problem with current measurement

These standards while seemingly basic are difficult to measure because different browsers load content differently. Not only that but as mentioned earlier, there are a huge number of ad tech vendors running their own measurement of these standards, and the methods used to do so vary for each. This means each vendor’s results will be different, affecting expected CPMs, creating a paucity of excepted inventory and mistrust.

Some vendors use a historically based system to measure viewability, meaning they will assume certain domains are viewable and others are not depending on the historic data of those domains. But because domain content changes regularly and the advertisements vary widely, this method can be very inaccurate. It’s not enough to solely rely on historical probability scores to tell an advertiser their ad may or may not be seen based on a domain that may or may not have previously served a viewable impression. So while industry players are trying to address these issues, we’re not accelerating to true ‘viewability’ very quickly and we could be disadvantaging a lot of publishers.

Coull pre-bid viewability technology

To give our demand partners the very best opportunity to engage with their customers we developed Coull’s pre-bid viewability technology. Of course the first step along that road to viewability that everyone seems to be moonwalking towards, is very simply for the ad to be seen in compliance for the minimum standards.

What we’ve developed is the ability to detect where the ad unit is on the page before it’s served, in other words, pre-bid viewability. This enables advertisers to decide what inventory to purchase based on whether their ad would likely be in view. We have the ability to run viewabilty tech that combines historical viewability and pre-bid viewability data. This tech is tested across different browsers to try and mitigate the lack of consistency, as well and give the best potential for efficiency and ROI success across campaigns.

For media companies, the ability to sell inventory that shows a high level of viewability delivery and opportunity to see, means an increase in the value of that inventory in the market.

The biggest advantage in using this viewability technology is that it minimizes wasted ad spend, giving demand partners real-time data to help them make the best buying decision.

Coull provides viewability analysis using both page geometry and browser optimization and the tech is available through the Coull Video Ad Exchange which is in beta phase right now; due for full release before the end of the year.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment

Next mobile video advertising standard will be a game changer

Standards are not known for being a rousing area of industry discussion, but that does not mean they aren’t critical to a functioning ad tech ecosystem.

Each standard’s release adds more oil to video advertising’s engine, ensuring it is running smoothly and firing on all cylinders. The usual incremental adjustments that we have accepted as the norm will take a back seat when a new version of the IAB’s mobile advertising standard gets the go-ahead.

Instead of the baby steps usually seen in standards point releases, the next release of Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions (MRAID), a specification that clarifies interoperability between publishers’ mobile apps, ad servers and media platforms, will be more akin to a low-gravity lunar leap. Display advertising’s founding fathers in the nineties would never have dreamed up the type of data that today’s marketers are set to access through MRAID 3.0.

IAB future-proofs MRAID

Although there is no official word from the IAB that the 3.0 release of MRAID is imminent, references about what the ad industry can expect were made in 2.0’s public comment document. Buried in the PDF is copy describing future capabilities of the MRAID API. The IAB would like to see the advertising SDK queried for smartphone features such as an accelerometer, compass and GPS.

Besides the above trio of inputs, Apple’s latest mobile device, the iPhone 6, also boasts a barometer, three-axis gyro, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor and biometric fingerprint sensor. These are only the tip of the iceberg as Japanese semiconductor firm ROHM offers a UV sensor and there is talk of air quality sensors too.

Of course, there will be concerns about privacy. Consumers will need to be educated about the sort of information advertisers can use. There will be no personally identifiable information. All the data recorded by sensors will be used to deliver ads to the right person at the right time. In order to receive subscription-free content and services, a value exchange must occur, and new data sources will be a powerful tool to ensure consumers receive more relevant and engaging ads.

Sensors and the engagement evolution

(image via techradar)

Biometric sensors will present brands with a unique opportunity, thanks to the rise of premium wearables. Temperature and heart rate, for example, can be used to improve the whole advertising experience for consumers. Imagine if you could measure how much an ad increases a viewer’s heart rate!

Ad-blocking software is becoming more pervasive. Eventually, only more engaging and relevant experiences will have any hope of cutting through. The data gained from biometric sensors may be part of the solution.

Allowing video advertisers access to sensory feedback in mobile devices will provide an unprecedented level of information. Some companies are already ahead of the curve, pre-empting any formal standards release. Adtile, for instance, makes use of a smartphone’s various sensors to create an interactive motion experience with ads. It has examples where a user shakes their phone to create a milkshake or receives directions for the nearest coffee shop. While Adtile only offers rich display formats, it does showcase the power of these sensors.

In addition to contextual information such as content categories, brands will be able to deliver dynamic ad creative based on a rich array of data such as a consumer’s movement, altitude, or air pressure. The opportunities are further expanded when a wearable is added to the mix. Imagine an iPhone ad that culls data from an attached Apple Watch on heart rate and recent exercise to deliver video ads around the health category.

In the not too distant future, video advertisers will benefit from the contextual information provided by a burgeoning array of sensors that each new generation of smartphone brings. Different formats, whether that is pre-roll, in-banner, in-stream or in-app interstitial, will deliver so many advertising possibilities, once the communication between mobile sensors and advertising creative is standardised. With all this data, will the inevitable release of MRAID 3 be the first step towards video advertising sentience?

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment