10 years of YouTube and still no dollar signs

10 years of YouTube and still no dollar signs

I adore Youtube, it’s a safe home for free speech, education and live cat streams. They’ve enabled anyone with a video camera to be discovered on merit alone and new young stars to have a viable career.

2016 marks 10 years since Google acquired YouTube. It seems fitting that the traditional gift for a decade of dedication is tin because Google hasn’t made much more than that in revenue.

After 10 years, YouTube is still not profitable. That’s crazy.

When YouTube stars first emerged it was incredibly exciting to think anyone off the street could make money and possibly even a career from the ‘broadcast yourself’ mantra. For a while, it seemed like the dream, but now YouTube stars are being lured to other platforms that invest in their talent and provide better advertising formats or sponsorship deals.

Creators are jumping ship because YouTube doesn’t enable enough worldwide fill. A video star may get 1,000,000 views from Egypt, but they won’t make any money. Their audience is either geographical or coincidental and nothing is gained from the view. There’s no impetus to scale and the CPMs advertisers pay is too low.

When creators do hit that sweet spot and make money from their videos, YouTube takes a heavy cut – 45/55 split to be precise. That’s a hefty sum to handover.

The 6 YouTube sins

We’ve established it’s crazy that YouTube isn’t profitable. But, why? We’ve narrowed it down to these 6 deadly sins.

1. No premium content

It’s not like they haven’t tried to be a central hub for premium content – they just haven’t tried hard enough.  For a while, Channel 4 had all its content on Youtube, but they removed it because they could earn a lot more on their own 4oD service. The login wall on 4oD gives them valuable first-party data and their existing sales team can sell directly without YouTube taking a cut. This is where Google’s walled garden approach really started, it’s not a fair model for any creator and many won’t tolerate it anymore.

2. Awkward for Advertisers

YouTube shut off access to other DSPs like Tubemogul last year. For creators, Youtube is incredibly easy and open, for advertisers it’s really awkward. Buying a specific video, using your own targeting data, and your own viewability and verification vendors are just not going to happen. This is a historical problem.

When Google first bought Youtube they had a hard time getting their salespeople to actually push it. They were used to the easy money machine that was search and display. It wasn’t until they made it 20% of the sales team’s bonus that they actually got many sales at all.

3. Premium short-form video was driven away

A few years ago when it was hard to sell your own video ad space. Mid-sized publishers used to upload all their videos such as gadget reviews on Youtube, and then let YouTube take care of monetization. But as video SSPs like SpotX and StickyAds made the process of selling your own inventory easy, they’ve all gone back to using other hosting platforms like Brightcove or Ooyala. And YouTube just watched them go.

4. No cut of sponsorship or product placement

Whilst the revenue split isn’t an ideal model, YouTube does a fantastic job of nurturing creators by providing free studio time. But a massive opportunity has been squandered. What wasn’t grasped was the potential to connect brands to creators, instead they’ve just let them go to another MCN (multi-channel network such as Maker Studios or Fullscreen).

5. Lack of brand safety

Love or loathe them, everyone knows how much vitriol YouTube comments contain. Automatically filtering content is incredibly tough, especially with so many cultures and languages. So, without the ability to whitelist, the risks to brand reputation are still there. Whilst recent changes have been made to remove monetization from videos that aren’t ‘advertiser friendly’ – it’s far from perfect.

Not a destination – if YouTube’s ‘home page’’ was a holiday destination, we’d be asking for travel compensation. As an average user, your entry point to is via a link someone else has shared. The only reason to go there is to see the recommended videos and most people just watch embeds in other sites. It’s not pretty, it’s not particularly well thought-out, it’s a bumpy ride. But, Facebook looked at the numbers of people clicking out to Youtube and decided they wanted in. Hence, launching Facebook video serendipitously with no content protection systems. This enabled people to simply upload stolen clips from YouTube and get massive views, all inside Facebook’s wall.

6. Lack of ad format innovation

The big one for me. YouTube engineers have created the best pre-roll format ever made. TrueView is loved by advertisers and tolerated by users. It’s led to innovative creative that engages a user within 5 seconds. YouTube do small tests all the time with things like brand recall surveys and implement minor changes. But rarely do they ever see full production.

There is a palpable lack of creative innovation, in fact after 10 years, this is their full ad format selection – this is their selection…

Can they turn it around?

Youtube Red

YouTube is pushing their subscription service hard and with a lack of ad revenue, it’s easy to see why. However, they’ve landed themselves on a double-edged sword. If the subscription model is too successful, it will naturally cannibalize the ad business – disproportionately so. Those who can afford a subscription are generally those which advertisers will pay more to reach.

Live streaming

Herein we reach the zeitgeist. Facebook et al are throwing tons of money at live stream content. YouTube isn’t a destination site that an average user spends tons of time loitering on, like Facebook so the use case is different. YouTube views are rather more like appointments, rather than a serendipitous opportunity in your news feed. Still, neither YouTube nor Facebook has a viable way to monetize live stream, interrupting the stream for a 30-second ad is not the solution. The time to make the bold innovation in ad formats to suit evolving watching habits is now.

YouTube may currently be the king of short form, but if they don’t start shifting the goalposts, it won’t take another 10 years before a blue logo’d upstart takes over. Whether it’s building a better destination for users, innovating on ad formats or forging partnerships with those using YouTube content, something has got to give or the 20 year anniversary will mark nothing but another penniless decade.

Can’t believe it’s been 10 years of YouTube? Neither can we, but luckily, Coull’s own Scott Mackay is never too far away to remind us what user content looked like back in 2006. And while this video is still fun 10 years later, Scott is yet to receive his millions – will future Scott be any better off?

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Apple and Google giveth and the IAB taketh away

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
Auto-play video: Apple and Google giveth and the IAB taketh away

Auto-play video: Apple and Google giveth and the IAB taketh away

Auto-play video for mobile is evolving. But who will have the final say?

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

Auto-play video ads 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 and 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 auto-play video 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’s only one ad call, and because Facebook controls the ad unit and ad server it can be lightweight code and compressed video – both easy on the device. The user decides to disable auto-play 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 ad tech 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 web pages, especially heavily arbitraged ones like and Wikia.

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

The IAB goes in to bat for the user

The new draft proposal 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 an 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 a 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 the user’s cost of consuming content.

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

3. Auto-play MUST begin after an 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 a 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 auto-play video experience. However, the IAB’s assertion is that auto-play is interruptive, cumbersome and a financial burden to the user. 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.

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The Coull Quickie – Header Bidding

In the latest Coull Quickie, Elise explores header bidding. She is joined by Coull CEO, Aden Forshaw, and Developer, Tom Riley.

Find out how header bidding works, the industry benefits and the value of using it at Coull.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull video
Facebook Live is trialling mid-roll ads and we’re supposed to be impressed?

Facebook Live is trialling mid-roll ads and we’re supposed to be impressed?

Facebook has announced a monetising solution for Facebook Live: mid-roll. But we’re far from impressed.

Facebook’s relationship with brands

Facebook is the powerhouse of walled garden networks. Publishers have been lured to the garden and are essentially handing their distribution over to Instant Articles for instant reach. But how will this affect publishers long-term? Whilst reach seems to be increasing, engagement and time spent visiting the publisher’s sites is declining.

The model is pushing publishers to create snackable content for Facebook feeds, rather than the stories they’d have invested talent and research in. Ad dollars are generating revenue, but is that revenue helping the longevity of publisher brands?

Advertisers are lining up too, all eager to dive into the deep end of Facebook’s brand pool. But many may find their messages hugely diluted. And their data? Well, it’s Facebook’s data now.

Facebook Live introduces mid-roll

The latest news from Facebook is that they’ll be introducing mid-roll advertising to Facebook Live. It’s being sold as a positive story, but we’re calling them out on it. No Facebook, just no!

Facebook has jumped on live streaming video because it’s the popular flavour right now, and for a very good reason. But their advertising plans are confusing. Like pairing a fine vintage wine with 2-minute noodles and expecting people to be impressed. We’re not.

(Sometimes it’s said best when you say nothing at all.)

It’s not too difficult to coerce influential celebrities and media companies to get involved in creating live stream content. Not if there’s a hefty paycheck involved anyway, and that’s what Facebook has offered.

Big budgets, small ideas

The budget set aside for paid live stream content was $50million. Various chunks of the budget are dedicated to attracting very specific media companies such as BuzzFeed and celebs like Gordon Ramsay. It may seem a lot but it’s not an epic amount when you consider the amount of content required and the percentages set aside for publishers. And what happens when that $50million runs out? Enter advertising, the solution that’s been keeping content free whilst also paying creators for years. Perfect. Well, it could be, but again – no!

Now playing, live on Facebook chart

Facebook’s consideration of the publisher and their audience’s experience seems to be non-existent. Zuckerberg has always been averse to the idea of pre-roll advertising because according to him it ‘ruins the viewing experience’. However, whilst pre-roll may not be the ideal ad format for all audiences, it’s a non-interruptive format because it sits before content. What ruins viewing experiences is an interruption.

Mid-roll is an interruption. It’s got the word ‘mid’ in it people! It doesn’t get more interruptive than that. But ‘The Berg’ isn’t concerned, that’s the very model he’s approved for Facebook Live advertising.

Why mid-roll for Facebook Live is fundamentally flawed

The nature of live streaming is that it’s live! That’s why it’s so exciting. So putting an ad in the middle of a live stream seems rather inappropriate. Especially as the advertising industry is fighting hard to provide better ad experiences. It’s a backward step being taken by a huge network.

There are much better options to monetise live streams and engage with audiences, and yes – Coull’s OverStream formats are some of those. We’re not going to shy away from the fact we care about audiences and our publisher’s content.

Our audiences deserve better than mediocre, interruptive monetisation solutions from the biggest social platform on the planet.

Advertisers and publishers do have a choice. Stop jumping in that pool. It’s tainted and it’s only a matter of time before the blue dye stains everything.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
ODV (Original Digital Video) spells good news for publishers

ODV (Original Digital Video) spells good news for publishers

Last month, the IAB released the Original Digital Video Consumer Study. This study was based on US audience’s TV viewing, compared with original digital video (ODV) viewing habits. The results aren’t particularly surprising but they do paint an interesting picture.

The study gives an idea of where media consumption is heading and this is something publishers should be taking note of. For advertisers, it’s just as poignant in defining where their spend should be directed. For traditional TV media owners, it’s about being aware of the facts and adapting.

Before we dive in and look at the results, let’s clarify ODV.

What is Original Digital Video – ODV?  

Essentially, it’s originally produced online video. It’s also defined as ‘professionally produced video’ and is made for online distribution and viewing (not TV).

Who creates ODV?

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

What other digital content owners are competing for audience attention?

TV Online

This is made up of network TV shows like Pretty Little Liars and The Walking Dead or sites on and

Amateur Online Video

This is videos created by regular people – homemade videos. These videos are generally short-form content.

The IAB outlined some of its key takeaways:

The growth of the original digital video market continues

The year-on-year growth continues for ODV. However, there’s little to no growth for online TV and amateur video.

Original Digital Video beats regular TV among viewers

ODV is popular among viewers because content can be watched anywhere, at any time – fitting around individual schedules.

Original Digital Video is becoming more ingrained

ODV’s improved quality and accessibility make it more and more of a habitual exercise. This means that not only are more people switching to ODV, they’re watching more of it.

Social media wildfire

ODV is shareable and engaging and so, this is leading to more engagement with the same brand.

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

The story of ODV is one of growth. Approximately 63 million US adults are now viewing ODV on a monthly basis.

Whilst TV online and amateur video have healthy, respectable viewing numbers, the growth rate isn’t there. This suggests more people are moving 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. As ad tech companies develop new ad formats, it’s likely that we’ll see more premium inventory in this area.

TV isn’t dead, we’ve changed the way we use it

Remember when the remote control first came about? Holy batman, that changed lives for the lazy. Not only did it nurture the inner couch potato in us all, but it meant we could enjoy more variety too. Simple but revolutionary.

As with everything, we continue to innovate. The TV is still sitting in the room, it’s just connected to the internet now. 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. This area has had the biggest impact on the reduction of ‘regular’ TV watching. It’s the business model, not the TV set that needs to adapt now.

Social creatures

It’s not surprising that ODV viewers are discovering their content via word of mouth and social media. There’s an interesting gender divide in the way content is discovered. Females are discovering the majority of their content via friends, family, and social media. Whereas their male counterparts tend to follow links, recommendations and search results. This just paints a picture of how much video content is being discovered socially, rather than on a publisher’s own site.

Modern media offers disparate audiences so much variety, it’s astounding. Content is becoming personal, but it’s also incredibly niche so segments are becoming more identifiable. ODV makes it possible for media companies to present quality, highly-engaging and targeted content. Now, advertisers have the technology at their fingertips to engage through connected devices in a way they never have before.

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 and we have much more choice, control and a completely different way of engaging with content we love. This IAB study shows a significant shift, but this is something we’ve known for some time – just ask any millennial!

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

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

It’s little wonder that 18 to 34-year-olds are the biggest driver of this significant viewing evolution. What’s also interesting is that the advertising is more memorable in this format, contrary to some popular belief. This is just the tip of what’s happening right now. The ads in 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. But this should pave the way for an even more, user-focused digital model. Traditional models of media, including TV, shouldn’t begrudge this change, it should be seen as a real opportunity.

There’s no need to hollow out the old set and put Mr goldfish inside just yet. But you may just find the communal ritual of watching TV becomes more personal, more enjoyable and dare we say, more profitable?

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Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
PubNative – native mobile advertising

PubNative – native mobile advertising

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

PubNative - native mobile advertising platform

We know mobile is exploding in regards to advertising, especially video. Can you explain what role PubNative plays in mobile advertising?

PubNative is a global mobile supply-side platform (SSP) that’s fully focused on native advertising. We work directly with mobile publishers to understand their needs and provide monetisation solutions.

We have a huge range of demand in order to create good competition within the PubNative marketplace and maximise the eCPMs for our publishers. Our business model is based on a revenue share with publishers, 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’re working hard on. It’s changing pretty fast but definitely offers an exciting future.

Tell us about the ‘native’ side of the business. 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. Through this combination, native ads should actually enhance rather than disrupt the user experience.

Firstly, in terms of UX, the ad should fit in with the app and not look out of place. If we look at Instagram, the native ads fit seamlessly in the feed and therefore don’t interrupt users when scrolling.

Instagram native mobile advertising

Source: PubNative

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

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 to download a similar game when they’ve 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. Since mobile native is still new, it’s really important to spread the word to advertisers and publishers. Many marketers like to stick to what they know, so this is about showcasing why native is a future option and illustrating its qualities in comparison to more traditional formats.

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

I’d 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 the impact is minimal. And mobile web, where all the ad blockers can function, but its impact is actually pretty limited. In addition, Google recently removed Samsung’s ad-blocking tool, 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.

With this kind of combination, we should increasingly see adverts deliver value to the user and in turn, remove factors that cause the use of ad blocking 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. We’re expanding fast and Berlin gives us the ideal location for 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. Still, because of its maturity, the 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’s 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’d say that there are more native formats for in-app native rather than for the mobile web.

Mobile web is an application of the desktop meaning the content is being consumed in similar ways. Such as using news websites, blogs, portals, etc. This means that native on mobile web is a direct replica of native on desktop, so it follows the IAB Native Advertising Playbook guidelines.

Another factor is simply mobile optimization. Some companies fail to adequately optimize their sites for mobile, and so, 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, 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 any 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. So, it can be difficult to ensure that everyone follows best practices and plays by the rules.

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 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 help tackle 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 rapidly evolve, 2016 is going to see technology advancements that support an increasing demand for control and transparency.

While mobile advertisers are requesting more guarantees over 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. These platforms will aggregate all mobile native demand, enabling publishers to price their inventory and maximise their revenue in a transparent way for advertisers.

About the author:

Ionut Ciobotaru - PubNative, native mobile advertising platform.

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 and digital marketing, 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 native mobile publisher platform.

Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
The IAB’s ad blocking primer for publishers

The IAB’s ad blocking 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. This is 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.

Ad blocking guidance

In this post, we’re going to break down the guidance so publishers can understand how to approach ad blockers and monetising their videos. The purpose of this post is not to criticise ad blocking but rather, to help publishers take ownership of their revenue and communicate better with their audiences.

Specific tactics are outlined in the IAB Primer, and each is based around a process called DEAL. Each tactic should keep the premise of DEAL in mind.

The DEAL process

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 limit access in response to consumer choices.

Shifting the focus from ad blockers to the consumer is really important. Publishers can then educate their audience on their business models and commitment to providing a better user experience. The IAB’s Primer makes 7 tactical suggestions as listed below.

The IAB Ad Blocker Primer suggestions

  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


Ad blocking

Tactics to encourage disabling ad blockers

Notice – educate and signpost

When an ad blocker is detected, publishers can present the user with a notice. For example, a message in the page header, within video content or on a landing page. This could even be triggered later on, once the user has engaged with the content.

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 the content.

Educating your audience about the importance of advertising is the first step. However, this could draw attention to ad blocking, raising awareness of the widespread use.

It’s also important to keep in mind that if you do enable notices, some ad blocking has the capabilities to block those too. 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 is pretty straightforward. If ad blocking is detected, publishers can simply disable access to content. This is, however, a drastic measure and shouldn’t be implemented without explaining how users can regain access.

Access denial invariably leads to a smaller audience and less sharing of content. So this is only appropriate for publishers who already have a loyal audience and don’t depend on new viewers.

Access denial can also lead to a reduced search rank because it can limit search bots ability to crawl the content. But if publishers don’t rely hugely on organic search then this isn’t an issue.

Tiered experience – limited access

This option grants restricted access to visitors with ad blockers. Instead of denying them content, it offers, for example, limited time per session or articles per month. 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 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 as a way to counter ad blockers because there’s 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. Payment for content can, however, be lightened by offering voluntary payment options, or tiered payment options.

Subscriptions can increase 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 in digital publishing for years, but now the aim is to entice visitors to disable ad blockers. This can be done via a revenue share, rewards, or collaboration with other publishers.

Again, this tactic requires some additional work on the development side but could be a viable solution, especially in the gaming industry. Some publishers already have a system where users are rewarded for watching ads with vouchers, bonuses or hints in a game.

Ad reinsertion – beating the blockers at their own game

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

Additional tech is required, meaning additional cost. Also, the more ad blocking processes going on in the background, the worse the user experience is (because of latency issues and limited data collection).

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. This involves serving the ad from the same content side. Each of these requires additional work, but it does provide consistency for visitors and enables the publishers to control their revenue stream.

woman on mobile - ad blocking

Consider, communicate, collaborate – conquer

If you’re a publisher looking to implement one or more of the IAB’s recommended tactics, we suggest that you consider every option. Consider how the tactic applies to your specific business model and how it affects editorial content and your audience. Find guidance in the official IAB ad blocker primer document here.

The IAB should be commended for initiating the conversation around fighting against ad blockers. Ad blockers may have won some judgments in the EU. And they may have 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 advertisers providing more engaging and creative ad formats, and publishers ensuring the quality of that relationship.

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Coull Programmatic Video and Ad Tech Predictions for 2016

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Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment
Why we use Go at Coull

Why we use Go at Coull

Here at Coull, we’re big fans of Go. Over the years, our systems have grown from small PHP apps through to geographically distributed systems. And we now serve millions of requests a minute.

A little bit about Go…

Go was developed back in 2007 at Google. It was designed for systems programming, something that C++ was generally used for at the time. The language itself is strongly typed and statically compiled, as well as managing memory with a garbage collector. It also has a great concurrency system.

Now, nearly 9 years on, Go 1.6 has just been released and has been a completely open source for some time. While some of its development is still done within Google, a lot more has been contributed by the great community that has built up around the language.
Golang - Go programming language

Go like the wind

The reasons we use Go are numerous but one of the main ones is its speed. Both in operation and speed of development. We’ve found it’s easy for competent developers to pick it up and can contribute to the code base in a short amount of time.

Our web server

Almost all our use cases include a web server and this is one area where Go shines. Its standard library is fully featured but just big enough – it was designed so a developer could have most of it in their head.  Go 1.6 also features a stable HTTP/2 server – which as I covered in a previous article (Our impressions of the IAB OpenRTB 2.4) has some advantages in the world of advertising technology.

Go keeps our apps h-appy

We wrote our first app in the middle of 2014. It was a simple rewrite of one of our Ad serving systems. This proved that Go was something we should continue to look at.

Over the past 2 years, we’ve learnt a thing or two about how to use Go in production. It now powers most of our stack – our ad server, data collection system and exchange. Most of our apps can happily function at a few thousand requests a second on standard cloud hardware. This was virtually impossible with PHP.

Our apps span a few different clouds and data centres, giving us great availability, as well as unparalleled agility when handling unexpected traffic spikes. This is all put together with a homegrown cloud orchestration and management framework; we’ve even got a patent for it! Deploying Go apps to this sort of infrastructure is super easy. Taking advantage of the fact that Go creates statically compiled binaries, we can push new features a few times a day with confidence.

Our entire stack has had many different faces over the last few years. But with the inclusion of Go, we have a single technology that enables us to innovate quickly and grow in the ad tech world.
Programming language Go mascot

And also, the mascot is very cute!
The Go gopher mascot was originally designed by Renee French.
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Our impressions of the IAB OpenRTB 2.4

Our impressions of the IAB OpenRTB 2.4

The IAB’s Advertising Technology Council has recently upgraded the OpenRTB guidelines to version OpenRTB 2.4. We’ll be highlighting some of the positive updates as well as recommending areas we expect to see improvement in version 2.5.

1.    Impression expiry

Open RTB 2.4 goes some way to improving fraudulent impressions caused by ‘Xindi-style’ bot networks. 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 for 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.

OpenRTB 2.4 review - Xindi style bot networks


Xindi targetted corporate environments or even universities, allowing it to generate fake viewable impressions from recognised IP addresses at scale. The diagram below shows how this process works.


Xindi bot network - OpenRTB 2.4 review

Source: Pixelate

One of the OpenRTB 2.4 updates involves expiring the impression tracker which will stop the botnet being rewarded. The table below shows new impression expiry times guidelines for video ad impressions. Guidelines will be implemented 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 become so cheap that this argument hasn’t been valid for a long time. So, from our perspective, it’s great to see it’s finally recommended.

Legacy exchanges and DSPs may drag their feet when it comes to securing web traffic but the whole industry should embrace this. We’re certainly ensuring our own processes incorporate stringent security. Reflected in current practices, we have an ad tech ecosystem that’s essentially self-policed and DSPs aren’t making targeting segments from bid requests etc. ‘Bad actors’ from outside the industry aren’t 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 2.4. 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 they’ve previously had very little control over. However, there’s no clear definition as to who is responsible for creating it – the publisher in their player? Or the 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 mobile location data is actually valid. 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, it 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, like podcasts or services such as Spotify 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.

Other OpenRTB 2.4 updates worth a mention

Other OpenRTB 2.4 updates include the ability to format the size of banner ads, additional creative attributes for Adobe Flash and best practice guidelines for DSPs responding with deal ID. They’re all valid updates but don’t add a huge amount to the innovation of the space.

What Coull expect in OpenRTB 2.5

As a market-leading third generation video ad exchange and platform, we operate with multiple DSP’s and push demand through our SSP and supply partners. So it’s very important to constantly update and upgrade our proprietary technology. We’ve made a 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.

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

HTTP2 and Advertising

The current OpenRTB 2.4 spec doesn’t 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. But if there are to be more conversations then more connections are needed. HTTP2 allows a single connection to have multiple conversations 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 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 is well underway to go even further. The whole industry should be guided in this direction. 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 into 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. This means 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 without worrying about a future impression. It just makes sense. Which is exactly 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.

The latest spec can be found here.

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Coull’s 5 programmatic video and Ad Tech predictions for 2016

Coull’s 5 programmatic video and Ad Tech predictions for 2016

It’s been a big year in programmatic video advertising and the scale of change has not gone unnoticed or unanswered. There have been big challenges to overcome in 2015, such as the pitfalls of viewability, fraud, brand safety and ad blocker issues. But these issues have become the ‘make or break’ for ad tech companies hoping to survive.

In reality, there’s been a lot of negative press surrounding programmatic video and advertising as a whole. We need a bigger effort from industry bodies to provide consistent standards that meet advertiser expectations. Educating audiences about the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ advertising is key for the following year. We need to show that ‘good’ advertising is useful and engaging for audiences and funds quality content. And we need to show ‘bad’ advertising is not creative or engaging and doesn’t comply with IAB standards.

Huge potential for programmatic video

There’s a massive opportunity for programmatic to consolidate the great work that’s being done with proprietary tech. But there’s also a small margin for error with agencies and DSPs fighting for the unique factor that will make or break their bottom line.

The IAB have predicted, around 70-80% of all digital spend will be programmatic by 2018, and therefore, we expect the coming year to have even more growth than 2015.

Our 5 ad tech predictions for 2016

Here are our top 5 programmatic video predictions for 2016, as foreseen by our trusted oracle, CTO and Coull founder, Aden Forshaw.

1. We’ll see the rise of AVOD (advertiser-supported video on demand)

Subscription services like Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime offer people quality content for a monthly fee. And whilst a lot of UK viewers now have subscriptions to 3-4 services, as well as BBC iPlayer, there are a countless VOD services competing in the US. While competition is good, there’s only so many services people will pay for – it’s a zero-sum game.

Having said this, there are many traditional media companies with loyal audiences, and in some cases, these brands already have their own original content. These media companies should now translate their offering into online platforms and support it with advertising to quickly gain market share.

2. Media companies take more control of their own data and targeting

Video supply platforms will be bought or white labelled. Big publishers creating more video and new content platforms will want to white label or buy supply platforms to help them integrate with the demand side. This consolidating takes out more of the middlemen and creates a stronger proposition.

3. Shakeout of DSPs

DSPs act as the gateway to the market for advertisers, but as more advertisers bring this knowledge in-house, only the most useful DSPs will survive. DSPs that present no points of difference are in danger of extinction or at the very least, absorption by another powerhouse.

4. Trading desks put under pressure

The route to the programmatic market is becoming more commoditised, and as this continues to happen, trading desks will be swept away. If a trading desk can’t provide a unique way to improve ROI, advertisers will seriously question their use and either move activity in-house, go direct, or switch platforms.

5. Agencies, with so many cooks in the kitchen, it’s time to get creative or get out

There’s been a lot of talk about the role of agencies and how (or even if) they fit in the programmatic ecosystem. Agencies have lost the responsibility of ad spend. So, to survive they need to get creative and partner with ad tech providers to enable new ways to run campaigns.

Google VR cardboard - programmatic video ad tech predictions

Source: New York Times

A great example of innovative storytelling is Google’s VR Cardboard – a piece of incredibly engaging kit, made from cardboard. Who’d have thought it? Well someone did. And that’s exactly the point, we need ideas and agencies need to make those ideas a reality.

When the New York Times, Google and collaborated to create Google Cardboard, even they couldn’t have dreamed it’s huge success. It really was the start of a remarkable new way of storytelling with the most important factor: accessibility.

The scope of possibility is only limited by imagination. If agencies are to survive, they need to be relevant and valuable. Agencies need to be pushing those limits, collaborating with tech partners and helping brands tell stories in exciting ways.

So that’s our top 5 predictions for 2016! It’s definitely going to be a huge year for programmatic video and we couldn’t be more excited.

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Posted by simonholliday in Coull comment