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18 August 2022

Penthera completes ad stitcher integration, sees multiple PoCs by Fall

Faultline’s chance encounter with downloadable content veteran Penthera at the OTT.X Fronts in May this year provided a first look at the new 2nd Look product – marking the US company’s foray into advertising. Three months later, we circled back for an update on 2nd Look’s progress – perhaps too soon, it seems, as some of the assurances passed our way in Los Angeles have still not manifested.

“I’m yet to hear any negatives,” kicked off Penthera’s President and COO, Brian Kline – describing how the 2nd Look technology integrates directly with ad stitchers to disrupt the ad decisioning space. Deployed in the cloud, it sits between the ad stitcher and player, where it defers ad decisions to immediately before ads are served – reducing time-out failures, low render rates, and other common errors in server-side ad insertion (SSAI) systems.

We counter Kline’s confidence with a negative of our own – observing that 2nd Look doesn’t have any customers. In fact, 2nd Look was supposed to be running its first PoC by now, with a mid-sized AVoD provider (a downgrade from the “top-three” AVoD mentioned previously). We learn that this elusive PoC is now “a few weeks away” after recently completing the milestone of integrating with a major ad stitcher – which again sounded like a done deal last time we spoke.

It’s a shame we get off on the wrong foot, because the technology itself is neat, as is the idea behind it.

The upcoming PoC has come about after over a year of development. “This is all working now,” says Kline, referring to the the major ad stitcher with which 2nd Look is now integrated. Unfortunately, Kline does not allow Faultline’s probing to penetrate the NDA with this major ad stitcher, which now allows Penthera to get to work with the existing client base of its new integration partner where it can set-up PoCs within a week or two.

Kline is hoping this will springboard 2nd Look into multiple PoCs by this Fall, although we know better than to take this as gospel. Kline cites Yospace, Edgio, Google DAI, and Amazon’s Elemental MediaTailor as some of the major ad stitchers out there on the market – so Penthera’s integration is likely with one of these, if the stitcher is as major as we are led to believe.

It is encouraging how the ad stitchers are on board (well, just the one for now), as Penthera went into this project believing that ad stitchers would be uncomfortable integrating the technology. Instead, the vendor is finding that ad stitchers are attracted to the proposition, as it addresses common problems of their own clients.

“Take Crackle or Peacock, for example, we integrate with the ad stitcher, then come back to you, and do a small integration with the player,” explains Kline. “The ad stitcher is the face of the player.” Then, once 2nd Look is integrated with the existing ad stitcher, it sounds too simple to be true – requiring just one URL call change on the publisher side. Publishers can keep their existing SSAI stack, with a system ready to make real-time ad requests to generate higher yield and increased revenue.

2nd Look sounds almost liberating compared to the laborious world of deploying SDKs on client devices in Penthera’s historical product lines – including solving video start-up delays, reducing buffering, and driving mobile video downloads.

That said, we learn that Penthera has a patent pending in the wings for pre-caching ads on client devices, to improve both the quality and targeting of ads. We understand Penthera doesn’t currently offer caching of ads today, but has the capacity to do so from its roots in downloading content for offline playback and refreshing ads over time, but is waiting for more demand.

This reminded us of the recent tests conducted by Canadian perceptual quality firm SSIMwave, which found that video quality during ad breaks as being hammered during MLB matches being shown by five prominent US streaming platforms. Caching ads would be one of several possible salves here, although Penthera and its 2nd Look product are in the game of VoD, not live sports.

That said, Kline expressed disdain for the VoD to live market. Companies like Verizon Digital Media Services – which became Edgecast and was recently acquired by Edgio (née Limelight Networks) – have tried to build ways of solving start-ups delays for VoD to live content, which allows VoD manifest files to be converted into linear video.

When you are taking say 3 or 4 hours of sports content and putting that on-demand, all ad decisions take forever, Kline claims.

2nd Look’s first patent has just been approved for the basic concept of 2nd Look in non-DRM environments. It has another patent pending for DRM-protected content in a typical situation.

Penthera will be showing a demo at IBC 2022 of two frames side-by-side, one showing ad decisioning being done upfront, causing delays, and another with the ad stitcher handing off the video without ads, where 2nd Look makes the ad insertion decisioning without ads. Faultline is booked in.