Evolving Standards to Improve Video Delivery

In November 2017, the IAB Tech Lab announced that the Video Player-Ad Interface Definition (VPAID) standard will be retired, eight years after it was introduced, to make way for updated standards that address new challenges in the video ecosystem impacting publishers, advertisers, and technology vendors. VPAID revolutionized the evolution of the video market and solved for many of the industry’s problems—though also creating an environment where new problems have become a reality.

VPAID’s Rapid Rise and Decline

In April 2009, the IAB’s Digital Video Committee introduced the VPAID standard – a universal specification for how video players, video ad servers, and video advertisements interact with each other. The standard was introduced to solve for scalability and market liquidity issues that plagued the industry.

When the standard was introduced, video ads created with a specific platform could only run on pre-integrated players, and any interactivity components needed to be integrated with the ad servers as well. With no predefined standard in place, each platform created their own standards which resulted in difficulties for tech vendors to release and scale innovative ad formats. This also made it difficult for advertisers to justify investing in these formats when the scale was limited. This created difficulties for publishers who constantly had to invest in custom integrations to support their various buyers’ preferred vendors. With the new VPAID format, publishers would provide playback control to the VPAID ad unit that could then independently execute against any third party needs as long as they were developed into the spec.

Three years after the initial VPAID standard release, the IAB updated the standard to VPAID 2.0. The standard was getting traction from all sides of the industry and everyone wanted more of it. More unification of technologies, more verification tracking, and more control of the user experience. With VPAID almost anything was possible, and to a predictable fault, that’s where things started to take a turn for the worst.

Over the last half-decade, the floodgates have opened and iterations, or supposed innovations, have introduced unintended negative set-backs including poor ad quality in the form of heavy file weight, excessive latency, data leakage, inventory arbitrage, malware, and the unintended introduction of risk due to non-compliance of business rules. The standard that was created to make it easier for buyers and sellers to work together created an environment of distrust on both sides of the market. Publishers are now hesitant to give up control of their consumer experience to buyers, and buyers are hesitant to purchase inventory without receiving the control necessary to verify the experience is real.  In some markets, publishers have taken the stance to block VPAID creatives entirely on their inventory.

The Next Generation of Standards

The solutions being presented by the IAB are to simplify and segment the current VPAID standard into multiple streamlined standards that can handle components of the transaction while maintaining swim lanes of control. Splitting up the transaction into three broad categories of delivery, verification, and interactivity would enable publishers to open up ad placements to third-party verification while retaining control of delivery.

Benefits of the streamlined standards include:

  • Delivery: With the introduction of the IAB’s Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) 4.0 standard, the IAB recommends that VPAID no longer be utilized for delivery control. Separating media file delivery from executable code allows publishers to retain control of what media to serve and what code to render in separate decisions.
  • Verification: IAB recommends that the future Open Measurement standard is utilized to centralize measurement of viewability, Invalid Traffic (IVT), and brand safety. The verification scripts would be delivered via VAST 4.0 in a transparent format. The first version of the mobile Software Development Kit (SDK) was released in October with a desktop version expected in the coming months.
  • Interactivity: Arguably this is the most important layer of the transaction. The IAB is recommending two avenues for implementations, either via VAST Interactive Templates which would allow the publisher’s player to own playback control and simply execute predefined extensions or utilizing “VPAID-I”, an advanced interactive experience that gives limited playback control to a standalone ad unit.

While the standards being proposed are evolving, it’s clear that the overall mission is still the same. The IAB Tech Lab is taking a forward-looking approach to developing a path of transparency, trust, and market liquidity that will make the video marketplace a friendlier place to transact and scale. In the months ahead there is lots of work to be done to solidify these standards, the IAB will be leading the charge with representation from across our industry to create a solution that meets the needs of our evolving marketplace.