Buyers' Guide to Blocking the Ad Blockers 2017

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This obfuscation is only one piece of the puzzle; the other is preserving all the messaging and data communications inherent to Figure 1 that enable publishers to fully monetize the webpage. According to Montagnon, Secret Media owns two patents on these technologies and is the only company that can deliver an anti-ad-blocking solution that works with programmatic ad buys.

To a degree, all client-side anti-ad blocking technologies are engaged in a cat and mouse game with ad-blocker developers, so choosing a solution means betting on a technology that may ultimately stop working. When evaluating client-side anti-ad blocking technologies, you should also determine compatibility with existing ad servers, and whether the technology enables client-side scripts to deliver the viewability statistics, bidding, and interactivity required for premium add units.

Ease of implementation is another factor. In this regard, a California-based startup named Publica offers a simple two-stage solution. During the first step called Discovery, which is free, you add a JavaScript tag on your site and Publica provides details regarding fill and revenue loss, and how website performance compares for visitors with and without ad blockers. If you decide to go forward, the Publica system lets you dialogue with the user, recover ads from your own ad server, and maximize fill rate using ads from a Publica ad system. The system is designed to be 100 percent self-serve, though it was just launching while we were researching this article, so we couldn’t speak with any actual users.

Before implementing a client-side anti-ad blocking technology, be sure to measure latency and failure rate, not only for visitors running ad blockers but for those without them as well. Given the cat and mouse battle we just described, you should keep monitoring these metrics even after implementing the chosen technology.

Server-Side Ad Insertion

With server-side ad insertion, the advertisements are called by the server, so there are no ad calls from the player to the ad network for the ad blocker to block (see Figure 4). Ads are fed into the server-side system by the ad network, where they are merged with the actual content to deliver a single stream of content and ads.

At its best, server-side ad insertion, or ad stitching, not only avoids ad blockers, it also improves the playback experience and enables delivery to thin clients like OTT devices and Smart TVs. I say at its best because some providers acquire advertisements at full quality and re-encode them to the same specs as the original content, so ads look seamless. Others simply stream previously encoded advertisements, which could have a different resolution, aspect ratio, or data rate, making them even more jarring to the viewer.

The big negative of most server-side ad providers is that they lack the information flow and reporting capabilities of player-based systems. With client-based systems, the client itself can report how much of the advertisement was viewed; with most server-side systems, the server can only report that the advertisement was served.

How to choose among server-side offerings? One major factor is the information flow and interactivity enabled by the service and how that factors into ad personalization and reporting. For example, Verizon Digital Media Services opens a dedicated session with each viewer, providing an information flow similar to client-side advertising insertion. The obvious concerns of such a system are scale and cost, because more server resources are necessary to support these sessions. In this regard, Verizon claims that its costs are competitive and that it has successfully served millions of viewers in very high-profile events.

Unlike client-side systems, which you can generally integrate into your existing workflow, server-side advertising is very resource-intensive and requires tight integration between the content management system, ad networks, encoders, and player. This means you’ll likely have to change significant components of your workflow and choose new partners. Some providers, like Brightcove and Verizon, provide all the pieces of the puzzle, while others involve premium providers like Ooyala and Elemental combining technologies to provide a complete system.

Though ad personalization is a valued feature, it can present challenges when it comes to caching, since every stream is essentially unique. Less caching translates directly to higher bandwidth costs, so find out how all candidate systems handle this issue, as well as their plans for handling it in the future. Also ask if ads inserted into live events can be swapped for VOD distribution.

Obviously, consider how the service supports the devices that you target with your service, particularly thin clients like consumer OTT devices, gaming platforms, and smart TVs. Other factors include the availability of features like blocking the scrubber bar during ad playback, and the loudness management between your content and advertisements. Some systems offer a hybrid solution, with client-side insertion to viewers without ad blockers, with server-side ad insertion for those with ad blockers.

At a high level, server-side ad blocking delivers a more reliable technique for avoiding ad blockers, though it offers less of the information that advertisers want to more effectively target their ads and control and monitor the ad playback experience. That’s where client-side advertising insertion really shines, though it has the potential costs of degrading the user experience and vulnerability to ad blockers. Ultimately, the market may evolve into a combined solution that combines server-side advertising insertion and a light client-side library. Complicating all these solutions are the different metrics and reporting required by different groups of advertisers.

Killing the Golden Goose

For decades, advertisers lived with nontargeted national and regional ads delivered via linear TV. With the internet, advertisers have become addicted to the ability to collect data and target their advertisements down to the individual level. Like all addicts, they demand more and more. On their side, publishers seeking to optimize the value of their eyeballs have become addicted to the premium revenue these highly targeted ads deliver.

In the middle is the consumer, the proverbial golden goose, about whose user experience both sides clearly forgot. While most people understand and support the advertising/free content tradeoff, no one likes the delays and intrusion caused by 70 points of data collected and responded to each time they visit a website. To paraphrase the IAB’s Cunningham, both the advertisers and the publishers need to stop “messing up” and present a more tolerable user experience. Otherwise, the current crop of ad blockers will be only the first salvo adopted by those seeking to reclaim a secure and relatively private internet experience.

This article was published in the Spring 2017 European edition of Streaming Media magazine. 

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