Video: Harness SSAI’s Superpowers

Server-side Ad Insertion (SSAI) is a great option for streaming services delivering video to a wide variety of devices and for those who need to avoid ad blockers. Whilst ad insertion can happen in the player, this mechanism can be interfered with allowing users to avoid ads. Whilst client-side ad insertion can much more easily create a unique stream for each client, dynamic SSAI can now do the same with a better user experience.

This panel from the OTT Leadership Summit at Streaming Media West 2019 brings together Disney, WarnerMerdia and Crunchyroll to share their experiences with SSAI. They discuss beaconing, ad standards, scaling, SCTE and more.

Beaconing goes hand in hand with ad playback providing metrics on what happened. When you perform certain actions, the player will reach out to a URL. This can be used to indicate such things as users skipping or pausing a video. The beacon information can then be used to verify how much of which ads were seen by whom and charge advertisers accordingly.

The panel moves on to discussing scaling using live sports as an example and cover questions to ask vendors to ensure you and they are ready for maximum scale. Bandwidth, is declared the biggest challenge, but a less obvious problem is that your upstream ad providers can’t always scale well. If you rely on calls from your server to others, then it’s vital to understand their scaling capacity and strategy. They discuss issues with losing beacons when operating at scale and the need for detailed logging and debugging in order to spot errors and reconcile the results.

Some time is next spent on VPAID and VAST 4 which are both messaging specifications to allow ad servers to tell applications which ads to play. The panel discusses the pros and cons in their use for SSAI where the stitcher needs to reach out to and ad server in real time to find out which ads to play.

At the end of the discussion, the panel takes questions from the floor but not before discussing SCTE Markers and ‘content conditioning’ which surrounds taking care of your source videos and encoder such that the two assets fit together properly at I-frame boundaries.

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Robert Jameson Robert Jameson
Technical Director, Media Enablement
Turner | WarnerMedia
Stephen Gray Stephen Gray
Director, Ad Tech Systems
Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International
Michael Dale Michael Dale
VP Engineering,
Nadine Krefetz Nadine Krefetz
Consultant, Reality Software
Contributing Editor, Streaming Media

Video: Doing Server-Side Ad Insertion on Live Sports for 25.3M Concurrent Users

Delivering ads successfully is done by some services by having the client insert the different ads, and some by inserting the ads at the server end. The choice of which to use requires knowing your customers and how they are most likely to receive your streams. With the prevalence of ad blockers, businesses find the many customers never see the client-side inserted ads. Inserting ads at the server, therefore allows you to get around this as even the ads look like they are a continuation of the same video feed.

The downside of server-side ad insertion (SSAI), whilst rendering the ads unblockable, restricts the ads you can place. Theoretically, in client-side ad insertion, each user can have their own advert. With SSAI, to do that you would need to create a new stream per user which becomes much more computationally hungry. So the sweet spot comes in between the two where viewers are grouped into categories so that only a few tens of streams, for example, are needed to match ten demographics identified to advertisers. This is known as ‘dynamic SSAI’.

Ashutosh Agrawal took to the stage at the Demuxed SF 2019 conference to explain how Hotstar used dynamic SSAI to deliver targeted ads to their 25 million viewers. As an example of your understanding of your viewers driving your choice of ad-delivery technology, Ashutosh explains that close to 85% of their viewing is on mobile and much of that has marginal reception. In hostile network conditions, the requirement for the player to be downloading ads in the background doesn’t work well since the network can only just about support the live video, so a background download pushes the ABR quality down and could even create pausing and rebuffering. It’s for this reason that Hotstar decided that server-side was the way to go.

Ashutosh takes us through how Hotstar approached this large event. In India, cricket is a very popular game which lasts for up to 8 hours a day. This gives rise to a large number of breaks, over 100, which add up to over an hour’s advertising in total so it’s clear to see why this is a massive opportunity for optimisation. Static ad insertion reacts to SCTE 35 markers inserted. This can work well in the sense that for a 40 seconds SCTE marker, the platform can ad an approx 40-second ad or two 20 second ads. However, it isn’t flexible enough to deal with the times when there are far more people watching than that ad agency has paid for which means that Hotstar would end up delivering more viewers than necessary. It would be better for those viewers to see a different ad, triggered by SCTE 35.

As discussed above, doing SSAI for each person is a scalability and cost nightmare, so we quickly see that Targeted SSAI is the way forward. This allows different cohorts of users to be identified. Each cohort will receive its own virtual feed with their own adverts. We then see the architecture of the system showing how the CDN is used. For scaling, we see that they use a cache rather than a database.

Nginx then gets a namecheck as Ashutosh explains how they provide caching, including an nginx memory cache, to deal with up to 50% of the overall load, shared with the CDN if necessary. He then finishes with a look at the best practices they have learnt and what Ashutosh sees is the future for this technique.

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Ashutosh Agrawal Ashutosh Agrawal
Evangelist/Architect – CTO’s Office,

Webinar: Video Ad Optimisation

Date: 24th October, 2019 Time: 10am PST / 1pm EDT / 18:00 GMT

If there’s one thing that’s been clear throughout all the years of streaming video on the internet, it’s that if the viewer doesn’t have a good time, it’s literally a big turn-off. If you’re going to show ads, show them well otherwise it can make for a terrible experience. Problems with ads undermine trust in an otherwise great service.

This is the topic under the spotlight in this webinar from the Streaming Video Alliance which brings together CommScope (previously ARRIS), IAB Tech Labs, Adobe and Conviva to discuss the best practices for getting ads right examining how to deliver them and ways to insert them.

Register now!


Dave Romrell Dave Romrell
Engineering Fellow, Advance Research Group,
CommScope (previously ARRIS)
Chris Hock Chris Hock
Head of Business Strategy and Development, Media & Entertainment, Adobe
Advertising Working Group Co-Chair, Streaming Video Alliance
Sean Wilkinson Sean Wilkinson
Head of Corporate Development,
Amit Shetty Amit Shetty
Senior Director, Video & Audio Products,
Jason Thibeault Jason Thibeault
Executive Director,
Streaming Video Alliance

Video: The Future of SSAI on OTT Devices

Whether it’s to thwart ad blockers or to compensate for unreliable players, server-side ad insertion (SSAI) has an important role for many ad-based services. Phil Cluff is here to look at today’s difficulties and to look into the future.

Talking at the August Seattle Video Tech meet up, Phil looks at how we got where we are and why SSAI came about in the first place. He then looks at the manifest-manipulation method of doing this before seeing how well OTT devices actually support it showing inconsistent support for DRM in DASH and HLS. Smart TVs are a big problem delivering consistent viewing with all being different and even the new ones being delivered into the market now are few compared to the older, 5+ year-old TVs.

One solution to levelling the playing field is to distribute Chromecasts which works fairly well in allowing any device to be come a streaming device. Another option is to use server-side sitting SSAI meaning the video stream itself has the advert in it. One problem with this approach is the impracticality to target individual users. HbbTV and ATSC 3.0 are other ways to deliver adverts to the television.

Beacons are a way of players singling back to the ad networks that adverts were actually shown so Phil takes a look at how these will change as time moves on before opening up to questions from the floor.

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Phil Cuff Phil Cluff
Streaming Specialist,