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3 December 2020

Velocix cooks up stream personalization mess, allow us to digest it

CDN technology vendor Velocix has announced the launch of two different yet interconnected technologies – cloud-native video advertising and stream personalization. Upon first read, we were close to concluding that the Nokia spin off had made a complete pig’s ear out of its ad tech foray.

After a bit of digging, followed by some clarification from the company’s product team, it soon became clear that the new SaaS offering, called Cloud VPP (Velocix personalization platform), is less about Velocix walking blind into addressable advertising and more about guiding customers into addressable ad insertion through its CDN expertise to meet stringent operator-defined business rules. At the same time, its experience in multicast ABR brings a level of intelligent bandwidth control not typically associated with addressable advertising technology.

Despite this technically being a first for the company, Velocix has long been delivering addressable video advertising for clients on a regular basis – so the launch of VPP essentially marks Velocix taking monetizable control of this piece of the delivery equation. The key question though is whether VPP can work over any CDN infrastructure, or if the technology is exclusive to Velocix CDN? Velocix confirmed our suspicions that the Cloud VPP is designed to integrate with any CDN using open interface standards, likely with a few added benefits if you opt for a Velocix.

Pay TV operators, streaming service providers and broadcasters are the VPP target customers – allowing support for multiple stream personalization workflows, including digital and programmatic video advertising, alternate content insertion, and content blackout for live, VoD, and time-shifted content.

VPP inserts addressable ads into active video streams by integrating with ad serving platforms to establish where the best opportunities for insertion or replacement reside, deciding the most relevant ads to insert into each stream based on consumer data.

Following up our queries as to why Velocix decided to blend cloud-native ad insertion and stream personalization in one product, the vendor’s CPO and CMO Jim Brickmeier told Faultline, “Our Cloud VPP software is a scalable manifest manipulation and server side ad insertion solution, which we brand as a stream personalization platform. It can adjust individual video streams on-the-fly to support a variety of business needs. Addressable and programmatic advertising, alternate content insertion, and blackout all involve stream personalization, which is why all of these use cases are supported in one product. Merging these together also resolves the challenges of managing competing workflows by nesting them together and managing any potential conflicts.” These are the grizzly details you won’t find in the press release.

As the diagram below shows, there is a seven-step process to addressable ad insertion with VPP. Firstly, content is ingested into the origin platform with SCTE-35 markers identifying ad break points, which VPP then detects with the CDN as content is streamed to decide where to insert ads. The third step is obtaining contextual data from the consumer along with relevant stream data, before VPP interfaces with ad decision servers to fetch relevant ad content using SCTE/VAST standards. Heading into the final stages with step five, ad content is then stitched into the active video stream ahead of delivery of these personalized streams. Finally, VPP collects detailed analytics using delivery logs and manifest beaconing.

That’s the cloud-native advertising part covered, so what about stream personalization and bandwidth control?

Part of the stream personalization element effectively comes from enabling programmatic ads across more than one form of content (live, near-live, VoD, cloud DVR, time-shift TV), which any comprehensive programmatic advertising technology should. But something we are seeing more of is personalized streams being used interchangeably with adaptive bitrate (ABR) technology, which VPP employs. This uses manifest manipulation to dynamically modify individual ABR video streams. Before streams reach end users, Velocix can adjust content based on contextual information such as device type, location, and time, or tailored to meet individual tastes.

By applying multiple manifest manipulations simultaneously, VPP simplifies complex cascading workflows – which it says is key to meeting needs of different business stakeholders.

VPP can reduce congestion, define quality tiers, and increase quality, while improving margins. Bandwidth controls can be applied to active video streams to proactively manage network constraints and improve QoE – integrating with CDN and policy control platforms to determine when and how to apply controls to individual sessions.

VPP’s bandwidth controls come with six-step process. ABR content containing multiple video quality profiles is ingested into the origin server platform and made accessible via the CDN. Business rules are then entered into a policy control system to specify how and when to apply session bandwidth controls. VPP then keeps track of traffic to pinpoint optimization opportunities, then interfacing with the CDN to implement controls once network conditions and stream attributes align with the defined rules. Coming into land, VPP reduces network traffic demands by constraining ABR quality by working with the CDN, then dynamically applies adjustments throughout the session to account for any change in conditions.

Brickmeier also told us that Velocix has been in the manifest manipulation space for several years, but has been driven to new advertising use cases as the market is just heating up. “It is safe to say ad tech is a relatively new area for us and one where we see significant opportunities. We have several customers who have expressed interest in fully managed cloud-hosted solutions, which is why we developed a new cloud-native platform that can run in private and public cloud environments. We use our managed services organization, which is well established, to operate and maintain the cloud-hosted software,” he added.

We feel Velocix might run into some issues by bundling cloud-native ad tech and stream personalization into the same bag, as it takes some further reading before clear water can be poured between the two as we have attempted to do.

When Faultline recently described Kaltura as looking more like Synamedia, following an intriguing partnership deal with CommScope, we did not expect another video technology vendor to change its stripes to a similar effect so soon, as Velocix has done.

Synamedia only made its debut into ad tech in August with the new Iris product, following nine months of development with clients, although the Cisco spin off has a long history in addressable advertising behind the scenes, as Velocix does on the delivery side.

The trends are clear – with vendors flocking towards addressable advertising while emphasizing minimal network bandwidth burdens.