Why VPAID’s growing pains are problematic for publishers

For every new ad standard, there is a new set of issues.

Video player ad-serving interface definition (VPAID) tags are having a moment due to the growing demand for video. But they still create problems for publishers such as lost revenue opportunities and latency.

A major cause of these headaches is that VPAID lets advertisers install arbitrary tags in the publisher’s webpage, and some advertisers that are pushing these tags still rely on outdated technology that’s not supported by most browsers or apps.

VPAID is code that runs within video players that gives ads interactivity (e.g., clickable overlays) and provides data to advertisers on how their ads are performing in areas like viewability and engagement. The standard is important because it helps video players and ad servers speak the same language, which helps publishers scale video ads. As video becomes a bigger part of digital advertising, protocols like VPAID will become more important.

Since VPAID facilitates interactivity, it has traditionally relied on Flash technology. But Flash doesn’t work on mobile, and its desktop death is near, too, since some browsers already block it. And come July, Google will refuse Flash ads within its DoubleClick Digital Marketing platform.

Advertisers can avoid Flash and build VPAID tags in JavaScript, but not everyone has done this. So when advertisers push their Flash-based VPAID tags through an exchange, the video ad usually gets blocked from loading, which results in wasted impressions and lost ad revenue for the publisher, said Cristina Calderin, Thought Catalog’s director of programmatic.

Another issue with VPAID tags is that they are heavy. Advertisers like VPAID because these tags give them a greater ability to track how users interact with their ads. For example, VPAID tags can tell advertisers the exact second that users muted an ad. But all that tracking code bogs down webpages, said Ryan Gauss, vp of product at mobile ad company AerServ.

VPAID also can’t load natively within an app since neither JavaScript nor Flash will load within apps. For ads with VPAID tags to properly run in an app, the article has to load from the web rather than from within the app itself. But loading articles this way causes latency. Mobile ad firm InMobi found that in-app articles with VPAID tags loaded in 2.6 seconds, on average, while articles without the tags loaded in 0.6 seconds, on average, said Anne Frisbie, InMobi svp and gm of global alliances.

Confusion also exists within the industry on what proper VPAID tags should look like, said Jana Meron, vp of programmatic and data strategy at Business Insider.

“We have had VPAID campaigns where the agency had to redo the tags two or three times before they were correct,” she said. “The reality is, it is just confusing and messy, and there aren’t clear guidelines on how you set this up to work correctly in all environments.”

For VPAID to overcome these issues, Interactive Advertising Bureau standards, advertisers’ specs and publishers’ app development will have to come in harmony with one another, said Amin Bandeali, CTO of ad measurement firm Pixalate. Although the IAB has incorporated VPAID into its mobile standard, mobile rich media ad interface definitions (MRAID), the adoption of the latest version of MRAID hasn’t taken off yet, he said. After all, VPAID is supposed to apply across channels, while MRAID requires app developers and advertisers to learn how to master a new set of code just for one type of channel.

Alanna Gombert, gm of the IAB Tech Lab, said that by the end of the year she hopes MRAID and VPAID are integrated to the point that advertisers and publishers can adopt a single set of tags regardless of which type of device the ads will appear on. The IAB Tech Lab is also working on cutting down the mobile latency problem by developing an open-source VPAID software development kit. This would allow third parties to integrate their VPAID tags into apps, which would lead to faster load times since SDKs condense code more efficiently than JavaScript, and SDKs allow for content to load natively within apps.

“The conversation is definitely ongoing,” she said in reference to ironing out VPAID’s issues. “But it takes a while for the ship to turn.”


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