Server-side ad insertion (SSAI) is a technique that allows broadcasters and publishers to seamlessly insert ads into their video streams. SSAI works by manipulating the manifest file, which is a document that tells the video player how to play the content. By modifying the manifest file on the server side, SSAI can replace segments of the original content with ads that are tailored to the viewer’s preferences and device capabilities.
SSAI is different from client-side ad insertion (CSAI), which is another technique that inserts ads into video streams. CSAI works by using ad standards, such as VAST and MAP, to communicate between the video player and the ad server. The video player requests an ad from the ad server, pauses the content stream, plays the ad, and resumes the content stream.
One of the main benefits of SSAI over CSAI is that it enables ad delivery on connected TV (CTV) devices, such as smart TVs, streaming boxes and gaming consoles. CTV devices often have limited support for ad standards, such as VAST and MAP, which are used by CSAI. SSAI bypasses this limitation by delivering ads as part of the content stream, without requiring any client-side interaction.
Another advantage of SSAI over CSAI is that it can improve the user experience by providing ad personalisation and normalisation. Ad personalisation means that SSAI can use data from various sources, such as cookies, device IDs and geolocation, to serve ads that are relevant and engaging for each viewer. Ad normalisation means that SSAI can adjust the bitrate and resolution of the ads to match the quality of the content, avoiding abrupt changes in video quality that can disrupt the viewing experience.
SSAI also has some challenges, however. One of the main challenges is to ensure accurate measurement and reporting of ad impressions and interactions. Because SSAI delivers ads as part of the content stream, it can be difficult to track whether the ads were actually played and viewed by the audience. To address this issue, SSAI solutions need to implement mechanisms to send signals back to the ad server, such as pixel tracking, beacon calls or server-to-server communication.
Another challenge is to ensure compliance with ad regulations and policies, such as frequency capping, ad blocking and privacy protection. Because SSAI modifies the manifest file on the server side, it can be harder for third-party verification tools and ad blockers to detect and control the ad delivery. To overcome this challenge, SSAI solutions need to adopt industry standards and best practices, such as SCTE-35 markers, OM SDK integration and GDPR consent management.
SSAI is a powerful technique that can enhance the monetisation and user experience of video streaming on CTV devices. By leveraging SSAI, broadcasters and publishers can deliver personalised and seamless ads to their viewers, while overcoming the technical and operational challenges of ad insertion on CTV platforms.