The growth in streaming video consumption is well documented and it is expected that advertising will play a greater role in monetising premium digital video services moving forwards. Attention is therefore turning to the advertising workflow and logistics associated with advertising assets that are being prepared for and then delivered to digital publishers and platforms. Perhaps surprisingly, this is an area where the digital ecosystem has some catching up to do.
According to Simon Cox, CEO at Peach, whose company is adapting its broadcast advertising asset workflow expertise to the digital marketplace, there is a real problem that needs to be solved. Removing broadcaster VOD from the conversation (for reasons explained later), he says of the remaining digital video advertising environment: “The consumer experience is relatively seamless but behind the scenes it is a mess.”
His company has previously called the digital video ad workflow “a curiously archaic and manual process” that is a drain on time and manpower. It is neither automated nor joined up in the way that it is in the broadcast industry.
Peach, which is the name given to IMD and Honeycomb after a recent rebrand, runs a collaborative workflow hub through which two-thirds of all broadcast TV advertising in the UK flows. This system is presented as a textbook example of how to manage advertising logistics effectively, and the company wants to bring the same efficiencies to the non-broadcaster digital landscape.
Peach commissioned independent research earlier this year that revealed that, in the digital space, 85% of the agency respondents are still checking advertising assets manually, and two-thirds use manual processes to resolve ad delivery problems. The research is based on interviews with four of the six major advertising holding groups (who between them represent more than half of all digital media spend in Europe) plus over 30 independent agencies.
The study (focused on the digital advertising supply chain) revealed that people struggle to find the right ads to load into advertising platforms or send to media owners. “People waste time getting the right content and sometimes it is wrong anyway, and then campaigns get delayed,” Peach noted when the study results were published. Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that sourcing ads is slow and complex and prone to inaccuracies.
Ninety four per cent of those who submit high volumes of content said that issues associated with sourcing assets lead to campaigns starting late. According to Peach: “Media agencies are drowning in emails and spreadsheets, spending valuable time and energy trying to locate the latest file and match the correct requirements to an ever-growing list of destinations.”
Simon Cox added, when the survey results were published: “Almost everyone we surveyed regularly had trouble with sending or receiving files and tags, for example, because they are to the wrong specification. They agreed or strongly agreed that this results in campaign delays. Around 80% of those sending high volumes of ads said that these delays have a direct media or creative cost.”
Peach wants to ease these troubles by bringing the kind of collaboration, automation, and sophisticated asset management and tracking that is currently found in broadcast TV to the whole digital video market. Automated quality control (QC) is viewed as a game-changer in its own right for agencies that want to distribute high volumes of targeted advertising across different media, for example.
The Peach platform, as used in broadcast and as it is being applied across non-broadcaster digital video, is described by Cox as a ‘universal adapter’. It acts as a single point of integration, and then a single source of content, for the different stakeholders who use the system. These stakeholders include brands, creative agencies, media agencies, production and post-production houses (who make the creative) and publishers (ranging from media owners to social media and user-generated video platforms).
Each company needs to make just one connection – into the Peach platform – to be immediately linked with the rest. Thus, a media agency can provide copy once to Peach for it to be played out by dozens of media owners. In effect it is a shared, collaborative asset management and workflow, file preparation and delivery hub for video advertising. As Peach is a privately owned company, this hub is also independent of any media owner or agency group.
The broadcast industry has long enjoyed the benefits of the Peach workflow model and technology. These include:
- Ecosystem stakeholders – like media agencies and online publishers and platforms – can be set up as ‘destinations’ for where advertising assets can be delivered. The system provides secure distribution to unlimited destinations and files can easily be sent to multiple destinations at once. A creative can deliver a file to a media agency with one click, for instance. Peach handles all hosting and back-ups.
- As all files are sent from a central hub, there is clear visibility about where the ads are. Relevant users know the status and location of ads before, during and after campaigns go live. Status updates are provided as campaigns are processed and files updated. (The problems with digital video advertising workflows related to not knowing where the right files are, and wasting time hunting for them, are eliminated).
- Just as the advertising ‘uploaders’ can deal with one system whilst achieving vast distributor reach, the media owners receive advertising files from this one system, too. They do not have to find, check and manage files coming from different locations.
- Ads are chased automatically. The system matches media schedules to the creative material available to the media owner and will seek out what is missing.
- Broadcast-grade transcoding from original master files into all necessary formats so they are ready to play anywhere, supporting every aspect ratio and screen type. (This is increasingly important in the digital world, of course, and means you can scale delivery to more online platforms, ad servers and social media outlets without trepidation).
- Automatic and early quality checks on files when they have been uploaded or further processed. This ensures that when advertising copy reaches its end destination, like a broadcaster (and now digital video service providers) they will be in the right formats and resolutions, with the expected quality levels and there will be no rejections. (Peach says early QC is one of the key elements that has been missing from the non-broadcaster online video advertising workflow). If issues are detected during QC, the ‘uploader’ is told immediately so they can adjust the file and upload again. Peach says its automated QC takes seconds and is more reliable than humans, accurately identifying over 95% of content rejections. Automated QC also allows the industry to cope with greater volumes of ad copy, versions and end locations or devices.
This kind of sophisticated workflow is ‘bread and butter’ in the broadcast industry, as Peach puts it. “The sort of problems we have solved in broadcast TV are largely unsolved in digital, except with the BVOD services,” says Cox.
Broadcaster streaming services are an exception because they grew out of broadcast sales operations and the advertising came from the same creative agencies that were making the broadcast ads – so these have also been routed via Peach. “Someone at an agency can forward an ad to ITV by clicking one button and into ITV Hub by clicking another,” Cox offers as an example.
Beyond BVOD, the digital video advertising landscape is far more fragmented. “Nobody [in this part of the market] is used to a service like ours. Some people do not know it even exists,” Cox admits.
His company has previously said the online video workflow will have to ‘grow up’ as more money moves in its direction, following the viewers who are already there. And two of the very biggest digital players have just been integrated with Peach technologies – namely YouTube and Facebook (the latter including Instagram).
Advertisers can now deliver files using Peach directly into their YouTube brand channel to activate campaigns across YouTube and other Google products. They can also deliver files to Facebook Ad Manager library for video campaigns across Facebook and Instagram. They simply select these channels alongside any other destinations when uploading files.
As ever, a key part of the service for ads heading to these companies is automatic transcoding and QC. The Peach system supports a choice of portrait aspect ratios (so ads look better on small screens) as well as a square and landscape aspect ratio.
As Peach told advertisers in May: “When scrolling through social media feeds, mobile devices are typically in portrait mode. 16:9 landscape format videos look small when the phone is held in portrait. As a result, 16:9 content is often edited into and, increasingly created in, these new portrait-friendly aspect ratios.
“Until now the process of getting this ad content to social channels has been standalone, without the benefits of collaborative sourcing, auto QC, and centralised file delivery. Now, we can ingest, automatically quality check and deliver video ads in the aspect ratios you need.”
Peach added: “You know where your final assets are. You keep control over approvals. You know files are in the right spec for each destination. You know your social ads are delivered ready to publish, on time, every time. No more insecure emails or password sharing. No more multiple log-ins to download and then upload files. No more last-minute quality panics or campaign delays.”
Simon Cox says the upgraded workflow enabled by Peach technology will help reduce cost in the digital video advertising ecosystem, not least because it will eliminate the wasted effort currently associated with errors and late campaigns. Everyone in the value-chain pays the price for inefficiencies, as they become wrapped up in fees that ultimately eat either brand marketing budget or the margins at agencies and media owners.
Cox says workflow logistics were not a priority for the digital video market until recently, with companies instead throwing people at the problem. “That is one of the reasons why the cost of digital advertising is high – because problems have been solved with people rather than automation.”
As we have seen in other parts of the industry (like preparing programming, rather than ads, for digital destinations and post-broadcast on-demand viewing) manually-intensive workflows and a lack of scalability also limit innovation opportunities. In digital advertising this could mean less granular targeting unless the workflow is improved.
The kind of workflow that Peach offers provides a foundation for delivering dozens or hundreds of versions of advertising copy – which is one of the options that becomes available with targeting and addressable TV. So far, few advertisers have exploited this opportunity, though a typical example is providing separate ads based on where your nearest car dealer is.
In a sophisticated, data-driven environment, messages could be adapted based on where someone is in the ‘path to purchase’. This multi-versioning of creative is relevant to both digital video and broadcast television (with addressable TV).
Creative proliferation can happen even without addressable advertising. Cox gives the example of a television campaign in Argentina that was not targeted, but where Tweets were integrated into the ad creative and updated twice a day for 11 days in order to keep the message fresh. This meant a total of 22 creative assets that were each distributed to 40+ television stations – which themselves had a mix of format requirements.
Cox refuses to be drawn on whether making the advertising workflow dramatically easier in digital video will attract more budget from brands and agencies. It will certainly remove some of the barriers to doing business they already planned, at least. And with all marketers keen that complexity and cost is minimised across the advanced advertising value-chain, a greater focus on the plumbing will be welcomed.