Ad Streaming During Pandemic: Q&A With Publica’s Ben Antier
Article originally published on Mediapost by Charlene Weisler, covering CTV trends during COVID and giving a perspective on key technical concepts revolving around CTV advertising like SSAI & Ad-Podding.
The business arena of companies working in ad serving is centered on those featuring end-to-end solutions. How does that impact the business during a pandemic? Ben Antier, co-founder & chief product officer for Publica, offers some insights into his company’s strategy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Charlene Weisler: Please explain SSAI. It sounds like we are doing it now.
Ben Antier: SSAI — aka server-side ad insertion — is technology that combines a stream of content with a stream of ads. That means if you turn on your TV and flip the channel, the first thing the TV will do is fetch a stream of content from over the internet.
When a user is streaming a content video, there is a place designated for ad breaks. That’s where SSAI comes in. SSAI identifies those spots and replaces what was an empty slate with a series of ads that have been sold in real time for that particular user.
There has been some discussion lately about publishers failing to work effectively with SSAI, resulting in an inability to effectively pass data back to advertisers and a corresponding diminution of dynamic measurement, personalization and optimization.
My opinion is that there is a lot of panic pandering around SSAI. When done appropriately, SSAI is the most efficient way to insert ads into content, and it provides all of the measurement capabilities that advertisers might expect to receive.
Weisler: Tell me about ad podding — how it works and how your company facilitates it.
Antier: Ad podding is the digital version of an ad break. On the traditional web, you are going to make an ad request for an ad and you’re going to deliver that ad. In TV, there’s always a series of ads, back to back, especially in live environments.
Until recently, ad pod management in the OTT space was so poorly done that the best connected TV viewers might see would be an “Ad Break in Progress” message. Even worse, they might see the same ad multiple times and/or a black screen.
Ad pod management in a live linear context is not trivial. In fact, it is the key to running an Ad-Supported OTT business and it essentially revolves around a few key technical protocols.
There’s a holistic aspect to ad podding that we help facilitate. We give publishers the ability to control the ad experience at the ad pod level. We provide all the tools to make sure ads are valid, high quality, unique, and we do all of that in real-time to guarantee an optimal user experience.
Put more granularly, when we identify an opportunity to insert an ad, we run an auction in real time, under one second, where we call any of the top 15 programmatic buyers on the market. We run an auction and then pick the winning creative, the executions that yield the most revenue for the publisher. That’s where pod management kicks in.
Weisler: What are the major challenges to your part of the business at this time during the pandemic and for the media business in general?
Antier: Less spend is the biggest challenge. Advertisers are cutting back so they’re either cancelling campaigns, or reducing the budget for their existing campaigns. That translates to less revenue across the board. For the media business in general, it is all fairly similar. If advertisers are spending less, then everything gets more competitive and rates go down.
But the biggest challenge is the uncertainty, how the industry will weather the storm. Long term there will be winners and losers like in any industry. We feel confident that we can mitigate risks for our clients because we run auctions which always find the highest price for any piece of inventory. That’s a powerful tool even in the best of times — and especially now.
Weisler: What are the opportunities that you see during and post-pandemic for your area of the business and the media business in general?
Antier: For us at Publica, this creates an opportunity to show the value of a solution that delivers the highest potential revenue for publishers. That’s a great opportunity.
For the OTT space in general, the increase in consumption will decrease somewhat when shelter in place goes away but it has accelerated the transition from traditional TV content to OTT streaming services. Overall, the impact will be positive for our side of the business.
Weisler: How have your processes / business changed in the past six months? Where do you see it going in the next year?
Antier: We obviously are all working remotely and we have now even hired people remotely without ever seeing them face to face. So that has definitely changed. But from a day to day operations perspective, things aren’t changing too much. We’ve always collaborated with our clients on Slack since everything is done online.
We feel very lucky to be in an industry that can continue to operate with agility. Of course, conferences have gone away and that has always been a good way for us to build our network. But we’re innovating and finding new ways of doing that. For the media business in general, I think there’s going to be a lot more flexibility in terms of working remotely. I think we’re also going to see a long-term impact on larger cities, like San Francisco, where I live.
Companies that don’t have a healthy business model are going to suffer and some will go out of business. Unfortunately, this means that the industry will continue to consolidate but not in the traditional M&A scheme. I am a strong believer that innovation is usually driven by smaller companies. So the fact that smaller players are going to go out of business over the next few months could potentially slow down innovation. That’s not a good thing for our industry.
Weisler: Can you report on any data that has been collected regarding media usage at this time? I am curious to know if there are any trends that you can ascertain.
Antier: The market is saturated with COVID-19 research, but I have not seen anything earth-shattering that I was not expecting. The shift from linear to digital was already happening and has now just been accelerated.
But, again, beyond Facebook there are going to be tons of opportunities to deliver your message. And through CTV we are going to be able to measure how audiences are interacting with political content from each end of the spectrum. Keep an eye on that. For politicians and marketers alike, this presents the opportunity to drive campaigns based on data more than ever.