Ad Platform Advances Overcome Barriers to Multiscreen Campaigns

John Gee, VP, sales, advanced advertising technology, NAGRA

John Gee, VP, sales, advanced advertising technology, NAGRA

December 22, 2011 –Several recent steps taken by leading ad technology suppliers to enable efficient management of multiscreen campaigns in the cable space have put the onus on the advertising community to come up with business models that can exploit these new capabilities.
While many of these advances are vendor specific and require implementations of new processing platforms, they all leverage an expanding base of standardized interfaces and messaging architecture developed under auspices of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers and CableLabs to allow multiple vendor solutions to interoperate. In essence, for the first time it’s possible for ad campaign management systems to interact with MSO databases to instantaneously draw up target audience profiles and to deliver ads on linear and on-demand content to whatever devices those audiences are using to access programming.

In one dramatic display of how all this comes together, ARRIS, combining technology from its recent acquisition of BigBand Networks and a new ad management system, has basically created an end-to-end solution that allows a single campaign to leverage ad management and placement techniques used in both the traditional TV and IP domains to deliver ads through a single point of insertion into the video streams for all devices.

The new ARRIS AdManager allows providers to extend advertising campaigns across addressable, IP-capable devices like tablets, connected TVs, game stations, laptops and smart phones while supporting legacy TV advertising in linear and VOD. New functionalities in the multifaceted edge Media Services Platform (MSP) developed by BigBand provide a means by which ads can be prepared and transcoded for specific devices and then spliced on the fly into encrypted linear MPEG-2 and IP streams on a targeted basis in response to commands from the ad management system.

In a demonstration of these capabilities at the SCTE Expo in Atlanta last month, Jay Chambers, vice president of business development for edge media processing at ARRIS, explained how the MSP executed delivery of three different BMW ads associated with a traditional broadcast channel – one splicing into the HD stream to the set-top with support for an EBIF-enabled interactive offering and two targeted individually to two subscribers viewing the same TV program on different iPads.

“Today the iPad is treated simply as an additional outlet,” Chambers said. “You want to be able to implement this service as a new revenue stream, but you don’t want to have to maintain three different advertising support infrastructures to achieve the level of monetization we’re showing with the MSP.”

For the advertising over IP streams to work in concert with traditional linear advertising insertion over MPEG-2 requires real-time implementation of a different set of processes, including the ability to respond to the manifest commands in the IP stream and to create the adaptive streaming segments that are part of the HTTP Live Streaming mode used with Apple devices. “We’re bridging the gap to multiscreen advertising by leveraging the existing ad campaign and delivery infrastructure,” Chambers explains. “I can ingest the campaign schedule on MSP, which will use information about which ads are to be directed to which streams to splice them in the right format, and I’ll return you the numbers as a run file showing the ads were spliced into the MPEG-2 stream to the set-top and into the H.264 service on the iPads.”

Breaking new ground in another key area, NAGRA, through its recent acquisition of the subscriber information system (SIS) developed by Sigma Systems, is helping a number of MSO customers utilize the first SCTE 130-certfied SIS to create audience qualifications (AQs) from multiple proprietary databases to facilitate targeted ad campaigns. This is a complex task where a lot of information about households residing in MSO databases must be pulled together and compiled into categories fitting various approaches to describing AQs that are intrinsic to definitions used by agencies and market monitoring entities such as Arbitron’s Scarboroug system.

The SIS gives service providers the ability to aggregate disparate sources of customer information – such as location, subscriber demographics, services and usage trends – into a single view for audience qualification, explains John Gee, vice president of sales for advanced advertising technologies at NAGRA. This in turn allows service providers to match relevant advertising with the appropriate audience on both linear and on-demand streams across multiple device platforms.

“SIS is a recently approved specification,” Gee notes. “This is the only SCTE 130 certified SIS on the market at this point.”

The functions performed by SIS are vital to the emerging addressable advertising market, which has prompted wide engagement with the NAGRA system, Gee says. “We’re working with several major clients on features implementations,” he says.

“Every advertiser wants to use their own descriptions to define target audiences,” he continues. “The menu SIS uses to create AQs specific to advertisers’ needs is quite long with hundreds of categories.”

An essential role of the SIS is to report from an MSO’s data base the number of subscribers associated with categories of interest to an advertiser, allowing choices to be quickly made as to the extent and variety of targeting that might be undertaken with any given campaign. “It’s really a tool for agencies and advertises to understand audiences,” Gee says, noting that NAGRA is issuing a new advanced version of the system it purchased from Sigma Systems.

The system allows advertisers to define which audience profiles they want to target by assembling multiple categories into an AQ for each profile. The interaction between SIS and devices, including set-tops and IP devices, reports the characteristics that determine the AQ for each device and therefor which ad should be sent to that device in just 17 milliseconds, well under the 20 milliseconds set by the SCTE standard, Gee notes.

“This has to be a very robust, fast platform,” he says. “With many campaigns running across a big MSO’s footprint you could have 40 million or more subscriber devices interacting with the SIS.”