The rising tide of digital video

08/31 By Amy Shriber

When the 2016 Rio Olympics ended earlier this month, a trove of data was left behind about how we watched the games, revealing that audiences are moving more swiftly to mobile and connected devices to watch video than anticipated.

NBC Sports reported that more than 100 million unique visitors watched a total of 3.3 billion minutes of video. 2.7 billion of those minutes were live-streamed. Digital viewing was up 29% from the 2012 London Olympics; linear viewing was down nearly 20%. Videos created for Facebook earned 140 million unique viewers; 32 million unique viewers watched the videos created for Snapchat.

What can we learn from this?

Video consumption is migrating from traditional television to Internet-connected devices. We already knew that, but the Olympics numbers clearly highlight the shift in viewing to myriad platforms, not just iOS and Android. Looking at NBC Sports’ digital distribution for the 2016 Rio games, in addition to the web browser there were 9 unique platforms: the NBC Sports app on iOS, Android, and Windows phones; Apple TV; Android TV; Roku; Amazon Fire TV; Xbox; and Samsung TV. 6 of these platforms are connected TV devices.

Recently streamed events delivered at scale offer macro-level trends from which we can start to predict where audiences are choosing to watch digital video, and for how long. As audiences shift to new platforms, advertising will follow.

It makes sense for publishers to meet consumers where they want to watch by widely distributing video to multiple popular platforms. As the total audience for an individual video becomes fragmented across multiple distribution platforms, advertisers will have a choice to make about how they want to target their ad campaigns. Should an ad campaign align with a targeted audience on a specific platform, or to the video content itself?

Newer technology like server-side ad insertion makes it possible for an advertiser to place a campaign with the content itself, regardless of the platform where it’s watched. Server-side ad insertion (also known as ad stitching) employs an origin server to stitch together video content and the ad creative into a single video stream that can be delivered to any platform. This method opens up an opportunity for an advertiser to achieve greater scale, by reaching an aggregated audience for content distributed across multiple platforms. Ad stitching is also a terrific thwart to ad blocking, as it’s virtually undetectable from the video content.

Including an origin server in the ad delivery chain can also enable more personalized ad experiences. By also leveraging just-in-time packaging from the content delivery network, the origin server can handle a near real-time ad decision for a specific viewer, stitch in the ad, and deliver a uniquely packaged content stream with a more targeted ad placement.

Despite some obvious benefits, publishers aren’t widely adopting ad stitching yet. For one thing, it doesn’t support ad formats such as VPAID that are currently leveraged to provide measurement and verification of an ad placement. Measuring viewability, for example, requires capturing client-side signals to qualify whether an ad was actually seen. Although there are methods for exchanging data between a client-side application and an origin server, there aren’t widely adopted standards in the market yet. (The IAB’s VAST 4.0 specification takes ad stitching into consideration, though it remains to be seen if it will provide the standard needed for all platforms.)

Meanwhile, video consumption continues to grow at a rapid pace.

The shift in consumer viewing from linear to digital platforms isn’t the only reason why. New video inventory is being created for original exploitation on digital platforms. Meredith, the magazine publisher of Better Homes & Gardens and Martha Stewart Living, creates 500 original videos per month that get attract 80 million monthly views. Conde Nast, Hearst and Time Inc. are also deeply invested in creating digital original video content. Traditional television show production has begun to create digital-first video content by including social media companion programming as part of a show runner’s role. This fall, NBC will have Snapchat original videos for “The Voice” and other shows.

As video consumption continues to grow and move to new platforms, new technology – and new innovations – follow. A rising tide lifts all boats. It’s an exciting time.