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Personalized Ad Stitching: The Advantage of SSAI and DAI in Bypassing Ad Blockers

September 6, 2022
9-Minute Read
Sr. Manager, OTT & IPTV Solutions

Ad blockers are the arch-nemesis of ad-supported content creators and OTT distributors everywhere. These pesky goalies are able to block the ads you are serving to connect with viewers and monetize your content. This lowers your ad view value, making your ad spots less attractive to marketers.

Ad-stitching using SSAI and DAI is like finding that goalie’s Achilles heel. You’ll be able to bypass ad blockers, deliver personalized ads that convert, and generate a significant boost in revenue and value (especially for high-viewership live content and popular VOD content).

If you want to learn the secrets to meeting your ad revenue goals with high-performing ads and impressions, then you need to understand SSAI and DAI. This guide covers all the basics, benefits, and best practices to get you started. Let’s get started:


What are Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) and Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI)? 

A traditional pay-TV broadcast includes commercials blankly rolled out to a general audience. However, consumer habits change. Impersonal ads no longer meet the expectations of viewers, and we see the need to evolve to a more personalized and customized viewing experience to get more viewer engagement. 

Modern audiences are captivated by live, episodic OTT content. Advertisers want to be on every screen, but in the right way, at the right time, to best appeal to the consumer. Data tracking now gives marketers a direct feedback loop to learn more about their target audience. The result? 

They can deliver more relevant ads, thus increasing impressions and conversions. With this kind of data as a selling point, you can then raise the value of your ad space. 


Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI)

Dynamic ad insertion (DAI) allows advertisers to customize ads for each individual user or viewer so they receive highly-targeted, personalized offers during live linear programming and VOD.

For example, you can swap outdated commercials for newer ones, and you can target your advertising at many levels leveraging information about geolocalization, socio-demographics, and behavioral profiles per device, per content, and per user.


Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI)

Server-side ad insertion (SSAI) is the technology that inserts the personalized ads and stitches them seamlessly into a single stream. Rather than on the client-side (like CSAI), this happens on the server-side.

Different users view different ads even if they’re watching the same content the same day. Viewers receive a continuous stream between fast-loading dynamic ads and content — without buffering or latency between transitions — and back again. That’s why SSAI is also known as server-side dynamic ad insertion.

Here’s the best news: since the video stream contains the stitched-in ads, ad blockers cannot tell the difference between video content and commercials. That’s how it bypasses ad blocking software. SSAI with DAI eliminates the ad request and response process and allows for seamless, all-in-one playback.

How Does SSAI with DAI Work?

A manifest is a set of instructions for how the video player locates and plays files. SSAI modifies the original streaming manifest for each viewer. Each ad decision will be made in the network and stitched into the content stream before it reaches the viewer’s playback client.

Because there are no rough transitions between ads and content, viewers never know the ads have replaced video content. And ad blockers can neither detect nor prevent commercial playback.


How Dynamic Ads Get In Content

With SSAI, stitching together ads and content happens on the server side during encoding. A manifest manipulator creates the spliced streams for each playback client. It then makes ad-decision requests, retrieves ads, and inserts them seamlessly in the stream, while streaming. The ads are part of the video stream and proxied from the same server and CDN.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The service provider feeds video content (either stored or live ingest) into a video encoder.
  2. Ad breaks with start and end times are identified in the content stream. Cues are inserted into the playlist at the appropriate points. 
  3. An encoder then also transcodes and conditions the video streams based on embedded protocol information, often SCTE-104 or SCTE-35).
  4. When the SSAI module detects an ad marker, it sends an ad request to the ad decision server in real-time. The request contains custom data about the viewer.
  5. The original manifest gets modified using this personalized information. Targeted ad file chunks are inserted in the stream and stitched together with the video content.
  6. The stream of relevant ad chunks gets pushed transparently to the viewing device during ad breaks. Ad-related data including views, impressions, and other information will be sent to tracking servers and ad partners from the viewer’s media player. 


Manifest Manipulation & the Cloud

To address the demand for targeted advertising, video providers need media processing platforms that are scalable and flexible. Let’s look at the benefits of cloud-based media processing for DAI to understand why finding a system that supports manifest manipulation is critical to success.

1. Substitute segments dynamically

With adaptive bitrate streaming, encoded content is delivered in different resolutions, bitrates and codecs using bite-sized delivery segments that include video, audio and other data, such as subtitles and timed metadata. These segments are referenced in the manifest, or playlist, used by the OTT player to access server resources.

In the video streaming world, SCTE-35 is a format-agnostic standard to signal an ad break. That ad break is your opportunity to insert a targeted ad within the incoming video stream. Thanks to SCTE-35, segment boundaries can be aligned exactly with the ad insertion points. Ad insertion is achieved by substituting delivery segments. Having a cloud-based server-side DAI solution will give you the most flexibility, allowing you to dynamically substitute ads within live, linear, catch-up TV and recorded content.

2. Sneak by ad blockers

By inserting advertising at the server level (also known as SSAI), advertising and content can be stitched together in the same stream prior to delivery. This helps you counteract ad blocking software, which is often installed on viewing devices. How? SSAI makes advertisements and content look the same to ad blocking software, making it difficult to detect ads. SSAI also guarantees a seamless transition and the same quality of experience for content and ads.

3. Create custom manifests

Besides enabling parallel workflows that are scalable, a cloud-centric DAI solution with manifest manipulation allows you to create custom manifests per content, user and device, in real time. You can support multiple targeting scenarios and deliver unique playlists containing hyper-targeted ads to smartphones, PCs, tablets and connected TVs, and any other device.

You can stretch the use cases for manifest manipulation beyond DAI to include blackout management and video content replacement. Using a cloud-based approach, your entire workflow becomes simpler. Content ABR transcoding, ad transcoding, packaging, manifest generation and manipulation all work together in an end-to-end seamless architecture, eliminating any deployment headaches.



SSAI-Supported Devices and Compatibility 

Viewers can access SSAI-supported content across all their devices in both web and app environments. They can stream SSAI content on desktop, mobile devices including smartphones and tablets, and also connected TVs (CTV). Cloud-based DAI solutions with manifest manipulation support multiple targeting scenarios. Viewers receive unique playlists with hyper-targeted ads that are based on their user data and that also adapt to their current device.


Is SSAI Beneficial for Live Inventory and Events?

Absolutely! Operators, broadcasters, OTT media owners, and more all use SSAI to replace traditional ad breaks with digital ads that provide higher value. This approach works great for live events and VOD content. SSAI also helps handle concurrency during large-scale broadcasts. Some SSAI vendors may even let you pre-cache ads.

To sum up, SSAI is beneficial for:

  • Broadcasters
  • Pay-TV providers
  • Telcos
  • Pure OTT providers
  • Gaming platforms
  • Social video networks
  • Rightsholders
  • Sport leagues


The Benefits of DAI, SSAI, and Ad-Stitching

The benefits of ad-stitching for OTT companies include:


Ad Block Prevention

A significant advantage of an SSAI model for DAI is that its seamless stitching makes advertisements and content look the same to ad-blocking software. Your ads are sure to play, which is the first step to raising brand awareness and converting passive viewers into active buyers.


Dynamic Adaptation 

Perfectly-timed, relevant ads are one of the best ways to boost customer engagement. Using DAI, ads are planned for a specific time slot but can be switched instantly and dynamically. You can base the DAI configuration on predefined data to best target the viewer. This dynamic adaptation helps deliver the right message at the right time to their target audience. Higher conversion rates result in higher ad value for your business and customers and offer exponential opportunities for revenue growth.


Ideal Broadcast Viewing Experience

Without awkward pauses, connectivity buffering, and annoying return latencies between content and ads, viewers score a high-quality viewing experience that’s as close to broadcast as possible.


High-Level Data and Analytics

OTT providers can offer advertisers laser-focused audience segments when they combine cloud-based video processing with big data and behavioral analytics. This target audience refinement process opens the door to smarter, more effective advertising.

Ads are stitched seamlessly into the channel’s theme and as a result have a higher chance of engagement. This increases your cost per mile (CPM) rate, or what advertisers pay per every 1,000 views of their ad. A brand with a lower CPM may need to run several ads between content, despite potentially upsetting viewers. However, a brand with a higher CPM may decide to limit ads, without reducing revenue, to become more appealing to subscribers.

Your business can use this information to address increasing demand for personalization to align with viewer expectations. This key insight will help you make more informed decisions regarding creating and testing thematic TV channels, subscription models and pricing tiers, and many other aspects of your business strategy to grow or evolve your video services.


Personalization and Multiscreen Advertising

New OTT video services from emerging brands and industry giants are popping up every day. All these choices create greater competition when seeking ad dollars. It’s become essential to differentiate your service offering if you want to attract subscribers. 

Personalized content is a solution to attract new audiences and retain existing subscribers. Personalization also includes more personalized ads. Over 60% of respondents in one survey admit that they’re highly annoyed when brands blast generic ad messages that don’t pertain to them. And research shows 67% of Millennials and Gen-Zers believe that offers from companies should “always be personalized.”

Targeted advertising is better received and makes a stronger impression, which in turn raises ad value. In fact, 72% of OTT viewers can recall seeing a specific OTT ad that sticks out to them. DAI solutions can help brands deliver that custom touch that appeals to viewers on a personal level. 


SSAI Requirements and DAI Best Practices

Although SSAI and DAI offer many benefits, there are some requirements to know before getting started. To ensure your premium content gets matched up with premium video ads you’ll want to implement these best-practices:


Normalize Ad Triggers

Providers implement in-stream ad triggers in many different ways. So if you’re ingesting live channels from multiple providers, you must process these triggers as they enter the platform. This allows them to be normalized and sometimes enriched with external data.


Ingest Ads ASAP

Brands must encode as fast as possible to maximize every opportunity for ad revenue. This means the DAI platform must ingest ads almost instantly. Once ingested, the ad will be transcoded to match the live transcoding profiles to ensure a seamless stitching operation. 

However, if your ad transcoding process takes too long, you’ll miss the first opportunities to insert that particular ad. The ad won’t be ingested in time, and you’ll lose the chance to generate impressions.


Accurately Report Ad Performance 

Digital advertisers require accurate reporting of ad impressions, including live, catchup, and VOD DAI. Brands must count impressions of each ad and report accurately to the ad server.


DAI Scalability Requires Cloud Implementation 

In the SSAI framework, a manifest is calculated and delivered to each user. This enables different ads to display to different viewers. However, it’s up to the DAI service to process and serve the manifest to each user because the CDN will no longer distribute it. Here’s where the elasticity of a cloud implementation ensures the scalability necessary for deploying DAI.


The Role Of The Vendor In SSAI and DAI: What To Look For In a DAI Solution

An SSAI vendor sits between your viewers’ online video players and an ad server. The SSAI vendor is responsible for stitching the ads into the video content. It will:

  • Identify ad breaks in your stream.
  • Transcode content and ads into low, medium, and high-quality versions to allow playback sans buffering at any connectivity level.
  • Transcode ads into the right adaptive bit rate (ABR) formats.
  • Insert dynamic ads and stitch them and your video content together.
  • Relay communication between the video player and the manifest to play the right files at the correct times.


Use this checklist when comparing SSAI/DAI solutions:

Powerful End-to-End Capabilities 

Solutions that streamline processes are the most efficient for your bottom line. Your team will benefit from a complete DAI solution for live and file-based content from playout to OTT packaging and origin.


Efficient Manifest Manipulation

Intuitive, easy-to-use feature sets will create fewer headaches for your team. Solutions that interface with ad decision servers and provide a targeted manifest based on user location, device, or more advanced criteria can really help streamline your operational activities.


Simple Blackout Management

Since OTT content can be distributed to any device, anywhere in the world, you must guarantee compliance with viewing policies. End-to-end video processing and delivery solutions handle event scheduling and offer a notification interface service for smooth blackout management. Check whether your choice can accurately ingest substitute content and slates, while providing an updated manifest to ensure legal commitments are fulfilled.


VAST Compliance 

Despite SSAI popularly used in OTT/CTV transactions, the Media Rating Council (MRC) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) say SSAI is prone to looking similar to “faked traffic fraud.” So they designed the Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) video format to standardize communication between video players and servers. This makes it easier for traffic across different publishing platforms.

Since all video ads used with DAI must be VAST-compliant, it’s important that your service partners are knowledgeable in these best practices and following these guidelines.


Personalized Ad Stitching and Ad Blocking With Harmonic Streaming Platforms

DAI is best deployed with a cloud-based approach. Your team’s entire workflow can become simpler in the cloud. Content ABR transcoding, ad transcoding, packaging, manifest generation, and manipulation all happen together in a seamless end-to-end architecture to eliminate deployment headaches.

While these types of cloud-based approaches are a new trend and in their early phases of adoption, the progression of these technologies mirror appliance products for CiaB (channel in a box). The difference is that cloud-based is 100% software by nature, and offers all of the above-mentioned workflows which could radically reduce the need for dedicated appliances.


Better Optimize Advertising Market Share Today

SSAI and DAI enable ad replacement in live streams while providing a seamless, less disruptive experience for your viewers. This advanced video ad stitching on the server side also reduces potential threats from ad-blocking tools, as video ads appear just like regular content. The end result leads to greater ad value, higher ad revenue, and a better viewing experience.

Do you have questions about the best DAI solution for your business? Let us know, and we’ll be happy to start a discussion.

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