There is growing interest in a hybrid broadcast-IP linear addressable advertising model that dynamically substitutes streamed ads into broadcast signals. As we reported in 2015, the German channel Sport1 was one of the first to use the concept, working with Smartclip and Gillette/Procter & Gamble – and harnessing the HbbTV standard – to overlay IP ads onto a temporarily reduced broadcast picture as soon as someone tuned into a channel. (More details here).
Since then, ProSiebenSat.1 Media has built a meaningful market for its ‘SwitchIn’ product, which also uses the HbbTV standard (versions 1.0 and 1.5) to serve static graphical ads that are visible for a few seconds after someone changes broadcast channels into a ProSiebenSat.1 owned service. The ads either overlay the broadcast signal (like a partial screen take-over) or appear as a wrapper around a reduced broadcast content window. (Original story here). As with the Sport1 implementation, viewers see non-interruptive interactive advertisements.
RTL Deutschland has taken the concept an important stage further with its proof-of-concept – also working with Smartclip (now a technology subsidiary of RTL) and others (see the full list here) – to fully substitute broadcast ads with streamed advertising replacements. This used the HbbTV 2.0 specification, which told compatible connected TV sets to switch from the broadcast channel into an IP stream for 20 seconds and then back again.
TDF in France, which runs the DTT network, has also developed a prototype using this approach to dynamic ad insertion. The company is hopeful it can run a commercial trial this year. Meanwhile, in the UK, ITV is working with Sorenson Media to enable linear broadcast addressable advertising using IP advertisements streamed to Smart TVs. These ads can be inserted into any broadcast signal – whether it arrives over terrestrial, satellite, cable or traditional IPTV sources (story here).
Now the DVB (the body that develops specifications and drives standards work for the TV industry in Europe) has decided that IP-into-broadcast DAI (dynamic ad insertion) – or ad substitution as they call it – is the future for household-level addressable linear advertising in the DTT broadcast market. The hybrid approach that HbbTV has developed will form the technology basis for the new DVB-TA (Targeted Advertising) specification that will be developed to try to standardise certain processes for addressable advertising.
You can read elsewhere how the DVB thinks addressable advertising is essential to the future of the digital terrestrial broadcast market in Europe. Once it has finalised the commercial requirements for a specification, it will work closely with HbbTV to get an agreed technical framework into the market. The commercial requirements should be settled this summer and standards-based solutions could be in the market by 2020, based on the current schedule (and maybe some pre-standards solutions before that, the DVB thinks).
DVB wants to build on the existing HbbTV work, as harnessed by ProSiebenSat and RTL, because it works, up to a point. As you can read below, a large part of the specification work will be to improve on what exists today, especially in relation to DAI frame accuracy and reliability. The organisation also believes that HbbTV has the initial scale to interest device makers, with HbbTV-based services deployed in 32 counties (and 300 interactive applications harnessing the spec).
There is nothing that inherently stops HbbTV being used beyond digital terrestrial for addressable advertising, either. An HbbTV-based DVB specification could encompass satellite, cable and IPTV (although initial work is focused on the DTT market).
The DVB’s CM-TA-SMG (Commercial Module – Targeted Advertising – Study Mission Group) has identified several areas where the work of HbbTV must be improved to enable broadcast-grade DAI for linear/live television. The first is to get the insertion to higher standards of (perfect) frame accuracy.
Secondly, ‘Stream events’, which are part of the HbbTV specs, provide the mechanism to create a very precise triggering clock in the broadcast signal but there is currently no standardisation of the message that goes in its container. That is a limitation, the DVB study group concluded. There is also no guarantee that the clock will be ‘propagated’ within television sets in a predictable manner. The DVB spec (building on the HbbTV work, with HbbTV) will look to remedy this.
Another important part of the technical work will be to enable pre-loading of ad content into the receivers – either televisions or set-top boxes. The DVB is concerned that if 15 million homes made simultaneous ad-calls for an addressable ad, and these are streamed, it would overwhelm broadband networks and many ads would arrive late. Pre-caching is needed for a guaranteed quality user experience (and nobody is going to pay for ads that are not delivered). HbbTV can pre-load today but, once again, the technology is not considered satisfactory.
Meanwhile, the DVB (or the broadcast industry it serves) is going to have to convince TV set and retail STB manufacturers that they should support a high-spec version of HbbTV across multiple markets. It is not a foregone conclusion that they will want to. HbbTV is sometimes omitted from markets, or only earlier iterations are supported, depending on local commercial conditions, the DVB says. If addressable advertising is to work, the highest spec will need to deployed and consistently supported.
The top-level objective for the technical specification is to provide the ‘connector’ between the TV set or STB and existing advertising systems. It will deal with:
- End-to-end in-band signalling
- Seamless and frame-accurate switching within the receiver
- Receiver storage and buffering (e.g. 30 seconds)
- Reliable and accurate reporting (of ad delivery)
- Control and management of addressable advertising (for broadcasters)
- A standardised interface with ad-tech workflows
- Ensuring there is scope for last-minute ad decisions
- Device reach – making sure the spec can be used across legacy devices going back a few years.
The DVB specification will not touch ad-decisioning (deciding which targeted ad should be served to whom), audience profiling (creating a picture of what a household looks like, in terms of interests, lifestyle and what they might need to buy) or segmentation (splitting the population into different profile groups that will appeal to different advertisers).
The existing HbbTV specifications can contribute some client-side information that will be useful to the companies who do take care of the segmentation and decisioning process, however. With HbbTV, devices can provide almost instant and continuous reporting of what is being watched, plus receiver ID and an IP address.