Cynopsis Special Report: Ad-Insertion in a VOD Universe

Helping monetize VOD advertising to the fullest.



Canoe Service Assurance provides integration, monitoring, resolution, and analysis, resulting in a quality TV experience for viewers on all of our MVPD VOD platforms, and successful ad delivery for programmer clients.
90+ Billion Ad Impressions Served | 150 DMAs | 36 Million Households
Cynopsis Presents:
Cynopsis Special Report: Ad-Insertion in a VOD Universe

Cathy Applefeld Olson

If the 2019 Upfronts were a Hot list, ad-supported video on-demand would be somewhere near the top of the IN column. As traditional programmers expand into VOD to swim with the onslaught of competing services, it’s clear the welcome mat is out and polished for advertisers in today’s new media ecosystem.
Which is great, but potentially confusing, news for advertisers. Brand and agency execs this season are navigating a Ven diagram of premium services that’s more complex than ever before, and is only poised to become more so with the impending launches of Disney+, WarnerMedia and NBCU’s direct-to-consumer services. With the spectacle of last week’s parties, concerts and talent displays in the rear view mirror, the hard work around the negotiating table now begins.
Recent stats from Canoe, a supplier of VOD ad tech services founded in 2012 and backed by Charter, Comcast and Cox, signal clearly shifting viewing trends. Of Canoe-activated ad impressions—which numbered 26 billion-plus in 2018—81 percent of viewing occurs via traditional set-top boxes, while 19 percent of its distributor clients’ VOD product is being viewed on other devices including IP set-top boxes, tablets, laptops and mobile phones.
To help both media companies and Madison Avenue frame their conversations around ad-insertion in an increasingly VOD universe, Cynopsis sat down with Chris Pizzurro, Canoe VP of global sales, to highlight the toplines.
Cynopsis: You’ve been at the ad insertion game for a long time. What are the key evolutions since 2012?
Chris Pizzurro: The most important evolution is the realization by advertisers, agencies and TV networks that nonlinear ad insertion, VOD, is not a fad, and is here to stay. For years there was denial that linear viewing was being challenged, then it was Nielsen’s fault in measurement that linear was down, and now everyone realizes consumer behavior has changed. It is fragmented, and we need to use that fragmentation to our advantage. Included in that evolution of thinking is that ad-supported VOD can offer an exceptional reach extension to advertisers, and with the help of diligent service assurance practices, can also offer a quality viewing experience for the consumer. 
Cynopsis: There doesn’t exist today a broad industry standard for dynamic ad insertion. What are your thoughts on this? 
CP: When Canoe launched its ad insertion product for cable set-top-box VOD in 2012, there were no VOD standards, just technical standards including SCTE-130 and VAST that Canoe based our architecture and product guides on. Just like Ford established that to build cars at scale you needed standards for a body, engine and tires, we established that to build VOD at scale you needed standards for ad opportunities, ad insertions and ad impressions. We thought the work we were doing might just lead the way for all VOD premium video platforms. Fast forward to 2019 and in one way or another, our unofficial standards that we operate Canoe Service Assurance under, are being utilized by many VOD platforms. And because they were adjusted in real-time over the years, they just simply work.
Cynopsis: What do advertisers need to keep in mind in such a crowded market for premium video?
CP: Although consumer premium video choices are now plentiful, the viewing experience can often be inconsistent. The same ad running too many times, choppy transitions in and out of an ad break, missing episodes in the guide and long buffering times all contribute to an inferior consumer experience. These unfortunately also create forecasting, planning and delivery challenges for advertisers, agencies and programmers. 
Cynopsis: Where are the opportunities, where are the pitfalls and what conversations should be happening in advance of a service rollout?
CP: Over the past seven years, Canoe has helped our programmers create a more consistent consumer experience and a more manageable advertising business across our footprint of 36 million households. When choosing the platforms and devices on which to run a VOD ad campaign, we recommend that people should ask: Does the platform have mechanisms in place to deliver to the stated campaign impression goals, provide low ad frequency, have consistent ad transitions, show complete title catalogs, have low ad loads and reduced buffering delays?
Cynopsis: Programmers, AVOD included, increasingly are touting integrated ad content, sponsorships and other ways for brands to have a presence within their content without looking like an ad. What are your recommendations in these scenarios?
CP: Ad integration has been around for a long time. A main concern has always been, because these take time and money to make, can you make  the investment have a high enough reach to make the ROI work? You may have had a premiere linear airing with an integration and ads for reach, then a few reruns for frequency, and your exposure was done. Now with VOD and dynamic ad insertion, you can integrate your brand into the content, then have fresh spots inserted into your episode on multiple VOD platforms for unique reach and frequency, and have it available for viewing for months and months. The programmer can set their VOD ad server to do this. Here is where an advertiser can make fragmentation work for them by using the changing consumer viewer patterns and ad technology to their advantage.
Cynopsis: Along those lines, “traditional” ads are getting shorter. Broadcast networks are evolving the pod concept, selling premium preroll spots, to name a few evolutions. How does this inform the AVOD ecosystem?
CP: This is where using the data is key. Everyone talks about big data, but if you have it, you should mine it in a consumer-private way. We dig into our set-top-box data for our TV networks and look at viewing patterns that then inform things like ad load and ad frequency. A few years ago our customers challenged us and said we need to find the right ad load for VOD. Since VOD serves every spot, we could look at what ad the consumer watched up to before trying to fast forward or bail out of the episode. That, on average, four ads per midroll break has been the norm in VOD for years now is no accident. We worked with our TV networks to figure that out. Mining the data is also how we came to the recommendation that a frequency cap max of two ads per episode is optimum for reach and frequency. There are many more examples, but that’s a few ways of actually using the data to your advantage.
Cynopsis: Canoe has recommendations for best practices when it comes to ad insertion. Let’s break some of those down, starting with ad frequency.
CP: Many TV networks’ campaign management tools include an ad frequency-cap setting. The problem is many advertisers and even salespeople at the TV network may not be aware of this feature. Canoe recommends that both parties include frequency capping terms in their transactions to alleviate consumer overexposure.
Cynopsis: How about recommendations around ad transitions?
CP:  The problem of choppy transitions in and out of an ad break can be solved by proper break-point insertion and distribution. TV networks should make sure that the start point of any break is properly marked and distributed, and that those breaks be adjusted for the nuances of each MVPD platform.
Cynopsis: Canoe also has suggestions regarding missing shows and/or ads.
CP: Often assets are made available to an MVPD distributor, but for a host of reasons they may not play out. This situation can be solved by the TV network confirming that the episode and ad assets have been successfully distributed throughout the platform.
Cynopsis: And inconsistent ad loads…
CP: It is important to create consistent ad loads across all platforms. This provides reliable inventory management and enables accurate forecasting and delivery. TV networks should have a process in place that allow ad loads to easily scale up or scale down based on viewing behavior including network, series, episode, and fast-forward functionality.
Cynopsis: What does Canoe recommend advertisers and providers keep top of mind regarding those cumbersome potential buffering delays?
CP: This can occur whenever some of the above best practices and others are not followed.  Anytime the AVOD platform needs to spend even a millisecond to solve for friction in the platform, a delay in the video start can occur resulting in a poor consumer experience.
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