Quickplay - Dynamic Ad Insertion in Live Sports Telecasts


Categories Streaming - Automation

As television has evolved from broadcast to unicast, Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI) has emerged as a way for the industry to increase audience engagement and monetization with relevant, personalized ads that are targeted to individual viewers. A real breakthrough occurred in 2022 when Quickplay solved key technical issues and powered the industry’s first secure and scalable use of DAI in live sports telecasts using DASH streaming. Working with a large-scale, national North American sports streaming service, Quickplay created and deployed a solution that enables insertion of dynamic ads from the server side to support targeted advertising across every device. This solution enables delivery of targeted ads based on multiple factors, including location, device type, the event being watched, and –ultimately – stated preferences and viewing behavior. A recent study showed that ads delivered to addressable audiences are more likely to elicit positive reactions and generate superior business impact compared to broadcast ads. Another study forecast that the DAI/addressable category will experience robust growth through the end of the current decade, with a projected CAGR of 10+%. As early as 2018, Sling TV credited DAI with tripling ad revenues.Until last year, sports streaming services operating at scale had been limited by technology that prevented full extraction of the value of DAI. Quickplay’s innovation unleashed a new revenue stream for its sports network customer by overcoming the two biggest DAI obstacles: 1. the need to concurrently deliver dynamically inserted ads to hundreds of thousands of viewers during an ad break during a live game and 2. lack of DAI support for the DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) that included DRM-protected streams. Furthermore, the system also needed to be compatible with unplanned and dynamic CUE-IN / CUE-OUT SCTE 35 ad triggers in the live stream inserted by the game production room, and to preserve them when doing a live-to-VOD recording. The streaming industry has long recognized that the start of any marquee live event – such as a Premier League match, a Major League baseball game or a Stanley Cup final – represents a technical challenge as massive numbers of viewers simultaneously flood servers with requests for streams. Rapid scaling is needed to accommodate the surge of sign-ins without compromise to the viewer experience. DAI requires the same capability not just at the start of the telecast, but every time a commercial break occurs. Replacing a single broadcast ad with dynamically inserted ads means that systems need to be architected to deliver a unique advertising stream to every device on which the event is being streamed. Attempts to have ads loaded and inserted dynamically at the end user device (Client Side Ad Insertion) resulted in unsatisfactory viewer experiences due to device side player switching; Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI), in which unicast ads are delivered like any other video stream, meant that servers needed to be able to accommodate high concurrency during every ad break.Other obstacles have included:Lack of support for DAI for the DASH protocol that enables high quality live streaming on many Android devices, web browsers, streaming boxes and Smart TVs. ●The need for SSAI implementation to be compatible with unplanned and dynamic CUE-IN / CUE-OUT SCTE 35 ad triggers in the live stream inserted by the game production room, and to preserve them when doing a live-to-VOD recording. ●The need to address smaller segment lengths of HLS/DASH streams that introduce delay and complexity with the process of seamlessly stitching an ad creative into the main video stream.The inability to address both HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) and DASH devices meant that it was unlikely a provider would be able to deploy DAI efficiently across their entire subscriber base. Leveraging its expertise in delivering high-concurrency live events, its partner ecosystem and the strength of its cloud-native platform, Quickplay devised and launched a live sports DAI solution that supports DASH and overcomes concurrency concerns through two primary mechanisms: 1. the ability to automatically scale server capacity when it is needed; and 2. Pre-fetching, processing and caching ads in anticipation of upcoming breaks. Specifically: ●Quickplay worked with its cloud and SSAI partners to devise and fine-tune a dynamic ad stitching solution that would support DAI workflows using single-period DASH streams as input. This includes seamless insertion of ad segments within short media segment sizes using DASH and HLS. The resulting product supports both HLS and DASH and is highly-performant, with low latency and low error rates and full DRM capability.●Because Quickplay’s platform is based entirely in the cloud, it scales horizontally based on load. Rather than anticipate and invest in resources that may prove to be unnecessary or, worse, inadequate, the system automatically adds capacity on the back-end when needed so that the provider can optimize the ability to fill ad inventory and monetize telecasts.●Quickplay’s other innovative mechanism, pre-fetching of ad content, has been devised to minimize the impact on servers of hundreds of thousands of simultaneous commercial requests. When possible, such as at the end of a quarter or during a scheduled time-out, the Quickplay system senses when breaks will occur and pre-fetches content several minutes earlier. This ensures delivery of ad inventory to all households, increasing revenue for the streaming provider, brand visibility for the advertiser, and uncompromised viewing experiences for the subscriber. In addition, Quickplay had to support a robust design to handle various unplanned scenarios involving early CUE-IN messages if the upstream production house switched back to the live game before the announced ad break duration. Typically, these scenarios are not well handled by off-the-shelf solutions available in-market.How it works Described below are the various steps involved in serving a targeted, dynamic advertisement when an ad break occurs in the live stream:●Requests for ad creatives are sent from the SSAI module , on behalf of each streaming device, to an ad decision server such as Google Ad Manager. The SSAI module provides additional context to the ad server to help make an optimal decision on the ad to be inserted for the device making the request●The ad decision server selects an ad based on geo location, device type, event type, and individual and viewing preferences. In some cases the ad management platform might have been configured to pre-fetch an ad to expedite delivery during an anticipated break.●The ad creative is delivered back to the SSAI module, for stitching into the live stream playlist at the point where SCTE 35 CUE-OUT signals appear in the playlist. CUE-OUT messages are inserted by the production team upstream. ●The modified live playlist is then delivered to the end-user device and the player continues playing the playlist, including interspersed ad and main video segments source.To the viewer, the result is an absolutely seamless watching experience, making advertisements a more integrated part of the viewing experience rather than intrusions. Deployment and results Quickplay launched DAI with an existing customer in Q4 2022, beginning with a single event. During 1H 2023 the innovation was expanded – first to one 24x7 channel, then to others. Today DAI is available on every one of the provider’s channels and on every live event carried by those channels. The following data provided illustrates of the robustness and performance of the DAI technology:•4.2 stars in app store•Multiple millions of ad dollarsIt's great to hear from one of our sports network customers that dynamic ad insertions have been effective in keeping their sports network customers engaged and satisfied. This aligns with the idea that when ads are relevant and add value to the user's experience, they can enhance the overall customer experience.The stats above suggest a positive correlation between dynamic ad insertions and customer satisfaction, translating into more viewing hours and, in turn, more Ad dollars. This indicates that this approach is working well for sports broadcasters. A high app store rating suggests that your customers are generally happy with your sports network, further supporting the idea that your ads are well-received. Benefits to the sports network provider have been:●Availability of relevant advertising that engages viewers even during commercial breaks;●Development of a new revenue stream within what previously had been a subscription service; and●A path toward near-term availability of advanced audience targeting capabilities for the service. Quickplay anticipates that the technology can be leveraged further to help live sports providers create personalized inventory around other technologically advanced advertising vehicles, including picture-in-picture squeeze backs and ad placement opportunities during game situations that command high levels of viewer engagement, such as home runs, goals, or touchdowns.