Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA meets SeenThis VP Gareth Holmes: “Cookieless video advertising is now very real”

New Digital Age recently spoke to Gareth Holmes, Vice President EMEA & APAC at SeenThis, on why adaptive streaming is presenting video advertising with “its Spotify moment”…

Einstein once said that if you can’t explain something to your grandmother, you don’t understand it well enough. What’s the grandmother-friendly version of what SeenThis is doing with streaming?

He is quoted as saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”, and the key there is simplicity; streaming enhances or improves every performance metric because it is fast – very fast. And if improving every performance metric is enough then that’s it explained, simply.

The less simple answer, for those more interested in the “how”, is we have built technology leveraging adaptive streaming that allows us to stream high-quality video or images into any medium with an ad server attached. The stream is via data packets each containing various bitrates, a streamed player weighing around 7kbs, and cookieless telemetry which allows us to tailor the bitrate to the user’s device and connectivity, or bandwidth.

If video ads don’t stream already, what do they do?

The simple answer is they are downloaded; the not-so-simple answer is they are sent to the media placement as a single file, which then begins downloading until the major parts of the file are downloaded and then starts playing. The difference in time taken to start playing is everything. Streamed is instant, downloaded is not.

You don’t need to drink the SeenThis Kool Aid to understand the power of streaming – everyone who uses Spotify instead of buying a download from iTunes like they used to already gets it. You tell iTunes you want to listen to Chiquitita by ABBA and you sit and you wait for it to download, and when most of it is there, you can play it, but when you stream the same song, it starts immediately, so that’s what most people choose to do.

Video advertising is making this same step-change – we are leaving the download epoch and entering the streaming epoch, seen across gaming, entertainment, and now advertising too.

So how does streaming work in this context, from a technology perspective?

When you open up a browser or an app and an ad is there, part of that ad-file has to get into your device, somehow. 

SeenThis’ streaming works by delivering that file, or data, as a series of small packets, rather than one big file coming down as a download. Each of those little data packets contains only a few seconds of video – and there’s loads of them lined up on our streaming server.

As the phone loads and the ad unit comes into view the first data packet streams. Each small packet contains various high-quality clips of the ad, and the very first one contains the streaming player.

We use telemetry to understand the environment, based on how our stream is reacting. Most technology needs cookies to do this, but we don’t – it’s just an information loop that tells us what the available bandwidth is for the end user, so we can serve the amount of data best suited to them.

If the user of the device goes from fibre-optic wi-fi to 3G, then they go from super-high quality to not-so super-high quality, but we’ll always deliver in high quality. Cookieless video advertising is now very real.

So this also expands the viability of video advertising to places where the speeds aren’t as good?

That’s one great advantage. Most people think that just means countries with poor infrastructure, but we have all had the experience of browsing apps or the mobile web and seen the empty advertising slots waiting for ads to load – and you see it in London, New York, Shanghai or Sydney. So yes, wherever speed is an issue, or there are buildings, or trees – you get the picture.

So the player is light, the data comes down in more manageable amounts – what difference does that make to the performance of the ads?

From an ad-performance perspective, all metrics go up – because it starts straight away. Click-through rate goes up, conversions go up, brand recall goes up – all the metrics. That’s because it’s streamed and it’s fast. As soon as somebody opens one of these it will start instantly.

We have dozens of case studies to share outlining all metrics improving, client metrics, so please do ask to see some evidence of what we are claiming.

You mentioned sustainability – what are the implications of streaming for the ad industry’s carbon footprint?

The internet is a major polluter and represents approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions – and a significant share of the media industry’s internet CO2 footprint stems from the large amount of data transferred through the internet infrastructure to ensure that digital ads are delivered to an end-user.

Our streaming solution is built to be smarter about if, what, and when data should be sent, allowing advertisers to reduce their overall data use and avoiding an unnecessary carbon footprint compared to legacy video ad serving. We are extremely serious about targeting data waste, and technology that adapts the delivery of data to devices, operating systems, browsers and available bandwidth can make a big dent in that.