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17 October 2019

Sports streamers stampede towards targeted ad insertion

Sports streaming is made for dynamic ad insertion (DAI) because personalized user data can be combined with contextual information about the unfolding event to target ads highly effectively. Pubcaster France Télévisions is the latest to deploy DAI for streaming within its France TV Sport application accessible via iOS, Android and HTML browsers, having evaluated targeted ad delivery during its OTT coverage of the French Open tennis championships at Roland Garros and Tour de France cycling championships early in the French summer of 2019. France Télévisions is rather late to the party given that BT Sport for example introduced DAI for its streaming services in 2016, but the broadcaster is really targeting 2024. In that year it has exclusive French rights to the Olympic Games with Paris hosting the event then.

France Télévisions Publicité, the broadcaster’s advertising sales house, is part of a growing throng adopting AWS Elemental MediaTailor to drive DAI in sports streaming, joining DAZN, Eurosport, and Formula 1, along with Australia’s Seven West Media whose content is delivered by pay TV operators in the country. This is all coming about with a shift from linear to online delivery of live sports, creating new opportunities for ad targeting, especially for those operators that never embraced equivalent technology on the broadcast side. The latter excludes one or two pioneers of linear addressable advertising, such as Comcast’s Sky, which started using its AdSmart platform to insert targeted ads in live sports after its launch in 2014.

France Télévisions said it will collaborate with AWS to enhance and test ad insertion into live sporting events, aiming to perfect the process well before that ultimate 2024 deadline and start making money from targeting. Even without the additional impetus of contextual targeting, DAI has already been proven to benefit all three parties, advertisers, video service providers or broadcasters, and consumers themselves. The latter hopefully see more relevant interesting ads and so take more notice as well as enjoying a better experience, which in turn helps improve outcomes for the other two parties. Operators obtain a higher total yield by splitting their spots into multiple slices selling at higher CPMs (Cost Per 1000 ads, the industry’s common currency), with ability to monetize exposures such as DVR playback for which they are not getting paid at present.

Then advertisers stop paying for impressions outside their target sent to consumers not interested at all in their products or services and deliver to their target audience at a reduced total cost even though the CPM is higher.

Such is the theory, but a recent analysis survey of 52,000 ad breaks by Sky AdSmart did confirm that addressable ads were 10% more likely to be spontaneously recalled compared to linear TV advertising. Combining linear with addressable TV advertising increases ad awareness by 22% and when the frequency of addressable ads is equal to or higher than linear exposure, ad recall is boosted by 49%. Sky also found that the increased engagement associated with addressability increased purchase intent by 7% overall and by as much as 20% for advertisers new to TV, which gain an additional lift from the first-time exposure and enhanced brand credibility.

Of course, the extent of such benefits depends on the degree of targeting and the attributes available for deciding which ads to show given users, depending on other factors such as time and content. France Télévisions noted that AWS had already demonstrated its DAI capability at other sites, such as Seven West Media, which had a similar requirement to enable insertion within multiple streams. According to Seven’s Video and Advertising Solutions Architect Jeremy Brown, its control panel was integrated with the AWS Elemental API, which in turn enabled the live streams to be viewed as they come out of the encoders so that an operator or distributor can independently control each channel. In that way ads can be inserted through the control panel at the right place.

A key property of the AWS Elemental MediaTailor is that the entire stream comprising payload video and the inserted ads is combined at the server end before transmission through a CDN, which AWS contends makes it easier to ensure broadcast quality with frame accuracy, determined by the SCTE-35 insertion cues.

Amazon also majors on automated reporting incorporating metrics derived from both the client and server side, aiming to improve monetization potential generated by unexpectedly high viewing levels for a streamed event.

There is also some flexibility to substitute third party components for AWS ones within the overall platform, which has four components. At the back is the Ad Decision Server (ADS), which responds to ad requests and determines which to send on the basis of personalized client and contextual information. This connects downstream to the AWS MediaTailor itself, which passes ad requests to the ADS, obtains the personalized ads back and then serves a unique manifest and content to the client. This content is sent through the third component, the Amazon CloudFront to the fourth component, the client, where the content is played out and from where the request originated. The Amazon CloudFront can be replaced by another CDN, while the ADS can also be substituted with a third-party equivalent.

Other sports broadcasters are at a more advanced stage of their DAI deployments, such as DAZN, which is based in the UK but whose service is only available in some other countries, currently Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the US, Canada and Japan. The operator in April 2019 scaled up its advertising platform with DAZN Dynamics, which exploits its real-time sports data to inject additional context into targeting decisions.

Previously with targeting or addressable systems, such as Sky AdSmart, decisions could take account of the event being shown, but not unfolding live developments on the ground which as DAZN had observed can determine the effectiveness of a targeted ad. An obvious example concerns ads featuring athletes taking part in the surrounding event, which has proved effective in general spot ads as well as addressable ones. But when the athlete shown is doing badly at the event, the ad gains less traction and so one possibility enabled by the DAZN platform is to produce multiple ads using different athletes taking part in the event being broadcast and select one of those ads on the fly featuring one athlete who is doing well at the time. In the case of a soccer match it could be an ad featuring a player who has just scored a goal, or a keeper who has made a great save.

DAZN launched the enhanced DAI platform in partnership with two ad platforms, Adform and Opta. Brands are now using this platform to select ads on the basis of real-time sports data, live scores and in-play visualizations, taking account of changing action on the ground. This has featured in various events depending on the rights DAZN holds in each territory, including the Cricket World Cup, Women’s FIFA World Cup and the ongoing Rugby World Cup, as well as Formula 1, UEFA Champions League, Wimbledon tennis, The Ashes cricket and The British Open Golf.

DAZN is also trying to remedy a shortcoming with targeting, the fragmentation into small segments. It has moved to consolidate ad buying across regions, different sports and formats, to increase the size of target slices. But the operator insists it is already working, with David Winstone, head of trading at DAZN Media saying, “We’ve seen from earlier testing that by making an ad creative contextually relevant and informative you can drive user engagement.”

Then ESPN+, the streaming version of Disney’s ESPN sports service launched in the US in April 2018, is taking a different line again by integrating advertising more with the content. The service, priced at $4.99 a month with a promise that users will see fewer ads, actually has traditional ad breaks delivered via DAI. But the difference is that the ads, shown during events such as Major League Baseball and international sports such as soccer, cricket and rugby, incorporate tailored content from sponsors delivering clear messaging, rather like the advertorial content featured in some print magazines and newspapers. American Express was the launch sponsor for and it is still unclear how successful this approach is or whether viewers prefer such content to traditional ads. But it does show that sports broadcasters are now experimenting around targeting to discover which approaches work best.