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Liberty Global explains how it achieves a ‘real TV experience’ within IP dynamic ad insertion

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Liberty Global has been explaining how it achieves a ‘real TV experience’ for consumers when conducting advertising insertion into adaptive bit rate IP video streams – something that requires service providers and broadcasters to overcome a range of technical challenges, not least the need to perfectly match advertising streams to the content they are being inserted into and the devices they are being played on. Liberty Global has spent years mastering ad insertion in the IP domain and avoiding audio discrepancies and language errors, as well as buffering, when transitioning between either linear TV or VOD content and advertising breaks.

The company was speaking during the recent Videonet webcast titled ‘Overcoming the Top 5 challenges in server-side IP ad insertion’ and Keith Wigmore, Director, Technology Division at Liberty Global, explained how his team has architected a solution that, among other things, transcodes ads to create a super-set of ad video profiles covering SD up to UHD that are matched to the content stream being requested by a client device.

Liberty Global is using the Manifest Delivery Controller (MDC) from CommScope as the basis for its IP dynamic ad insertion and this technology recognises devices, understands their video requirements and selects the optimal advertising ABR profile for the content. “If the entertainment content is in UHD you are not going to get an advertisement that is in SD,” Wigmore pointed out.

Matching the video resolution and quality of the entertainment content with its advertising is just one of many challenges. Ensuring the audio standards used in the ads match the audio in the programming is another. During an hour long discussion, which you can hear on-demand, Wigmore also explained how the MDC helps to avoid language mismatches between programming and the ads inserted into it. This is important for Liberty Global, working across multiple European territories.

“Smooth language transition [between programming and ads] is another key part of delivering a real TV experience,” he commented. “You may have English language programming with ads in local language like Dutch or Belgian and we have seen instances where the player falls over and stops streaming because of language switching.”

He is referring to some specific HLS environments and a problem that is overcome by MDC, which manipulates the language on-the-fly to ensure the streams play properly and languages are always consistent.

Dave Romrell, Engineering Fellow, Advance Research Group at CommScope, picked up on this point. “We have seen some clients [devices] that have selected Dutch language [for the programming], then switch to English [for the ads] and then, when they come out of the ad break, they keep playing English audio on the programming. We can solve this. Even though the ads may not have Dutch language audio, we can make them appear as Dutch language to the client, so the client does not ‘see’ a language transition [and so the programme continues in Dutch after the break].

This was one of many practical considerations outlined during the webcast, which you can listen to (with accompanying slides) here.

Matt Bailey, Senior Analyst, Advertising & Games at Omdia, the research company that is part of Informa, also provided insights on the macro trends that are driving the industry towards more IP based advertising and therefore more server-side ad insertion. He pointed out that spend on digital advertising (driven by search and display) has already surpassed television advertising spend, but there is another big milestone ahead.

“We anticipate that online video advertising [revenue] will pass linear TV advertising by 2024 globally, and in the USA that milestone will be reached even earlier.” Omdia is forecasting that in the U.S., linear TV’s share of total video advertising dips below 50% in 2022. Another slide demonstrated how a big driving force for this transition to IP is the proliferation of connected devices, including connected TV devices, in consumer homes.

Omdia is forecasting that 340 million new connected TV devices, including Smart TVs, dedicated streaming devices and IP-enabled set-top boxes, will be added to homes globally in the next four years. And Romrell at CommScope (which has been supplying server-side ad insertion solutions since the middle of last decade and claims a 70+% share of the North American Pay TV market for DAI) reckons this proliferation of IP connected devices contributes to what is a very dynamic marketplace and one that creates a lot of challenges for service providers or broadcasters trying to create a real television experience in the IP video advertising space.

“The number of devices is constantly expanding, and the types of devices are always changing, and the types of content being offered are always changing,” he observes. Returning to the challenge of matching content to advertising to devices to ensure seamless playout, he argues that server-side ad insertion is the way to manage this, and his company’s MDC makes it possible to harness workflows that were created for previous combinations as new ones are added, minimising the need for manual set-ups and customisations and helping media companies stay on top of change.

The Videonet webcast goes through the list of top five challenges in server-side IP ad insertion, which are: matching devices, content and ads; supporting a range of business models; scaling and resiliency; monitoring and analysis; and maintaining precise timing.

Keith Wigmore at Liberty Global provides insights and best practices based on his company’s implementation of addressable advertising in its IP video services, and explains how it architected a solution to overcome the challenges of server-side advertising at scale. This webcast is a rare opportunity to hear one of the world’s leading Pay TV providers go into this subject in such detail.

Wigmore’s team looks after the technical aspects of an end-to-end architecture for advertising that covers all Liberty Global operating companies in Europe. MDC, which is a manifest manipulator and stream splicer that determines the video segments that client devices receive, sits at the heart of this implementation and provides a way to unify QAM and IP advertising insertion for Liberty Global.

The server-side IP ad insertion is applied to a range of inventory at Liberty Global including on set-top boxes as well as mobiles, and the webcast provides a full breakdown of where SSAI is being used. This is a cloud/network implementation that avoids the need for Liberty Global to update devices, something that has become increasingly important as it moved from using ad insertion on a single STB model to multiple set-top boxes plus various connected TV devices including Android TVs and Apple TVs.

As you can hear during the webcast, Liberty Global is working with inhouse ad decisioning systems and is receiving more requests from broadcasters that the system works with the broadcaster decisioning systems.

Omdia provides data on the growing advertising market share of Google and Facebook, and connected TV advertising revenue for the 2010-2025 period. Romrell at CommScope provides detailed insights on how to successfully align advertising, content and devices, and considers SSAI challenges associated with particular use-cases like live, VOD and timeshift-TV. He also talks about how server-side advertising insertion can help broadcasters to adapt to the growing competition from tech platforms (like Facebook) in the advertising space.

This webcast is free. You can read more about the content, and listen on-demand, here.

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