VAST or VPAID? How to Select the Right Tools for Your Online Video Advertising

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If you want to run video ads — and you do; videos are an effective advertising medium — then you need to know the basics.

In order to make informed decisions, advertisers need to understand VAST and VPAID, the capabilities and limitations of each, and how these ad formats interact with the video content and video players.

In order to monetize video content, publishers need to select the video player that will play back your content and choose the ad server (or ad network) that will deliver your video ads.

So what is the difference between VAST and VPAID? And how does it affect your ad operations?

Standardizing Online Video Ads

In 2008, digital video advertising was just gaining strength. More publishers were accepting new types of video ads, but the industry came up against a stumbling block: There were so many video player types and ad response formats that advertisers never knew whether the ad would be compatible with a publisher’s website. As a result, advertisers had to custom-code each ad to interact correctly with different players, which was time-consuming and expensive.

To simplify the ad serving process, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) introduced a standard for video players. Common in-stream advertising protocol provided a standardized ad response format so advertisers wouldn’t have to worry about video ads failing to run on certain players and publishers didn’t have problems with limited compatible demand. The template was called VAST (Video Ad-Serving Template).

A few years later, the digital advertising industry faced another challenge: Video ads were shifting toward more interactive format couldn’t be handled by VAST alone. Therefore, in 2012, the IAB developed VPAID (Video Player Ad-Serving Interface Definition), which was equipped to deal with complicated ad formats that required on-page logic. VPAID overlays VAST to facilitate rich ad experiences and enhance viewer analytics.

VAST or “Video Ad Serving Template”

The Video Ad Serving Template is a common communication protocol that allows video players and ad servers to speak a common language, enabling ad servers to use a single ad response format across multiple video players. VAST consists of a unified XML-based ad response for in-stream videos and an XML schema definition (XSD) for developers. The goal of VAST is to be compatible with any scriptable media player framework. VAST is the foundational protocol for a wide distribution of ads and videos in players on publishers’ websites and mobile apps.

VAST employs an XML script for the video ad, which contains instructions about how the video player must handle the ad, including:

  • Which advertisement to play;
  • How the ad must appear;
  • What is the duration of the ad;
  • Whether it is skippable or not;
  • What is the location of the video content (URL); and
  • Which metrics must be tracked.

Since its launch in 2008, VAST has been evolving quickly, gaining new features and functionality.
In July 2012, VAST 3.0 was released, offering nonlinear wrapper changes, compliance formats, support for ad pods, support for skippable linear ads, in-ads privacy notices and more tracking events. In January 2016, VAST 4.0 was released, addressing challenges of previous versions and ensuring smoother operation. The most important updates included the introduction of video files separate from the application programming interface (API), server-side support and mezzanine file. New versions of VAST support full backward compatibility. For more updates, check out the IAB’s releases.

VPAID or “Video Player-Ad Interface Definition”

The Video Player Ad-Serving Interface Definition is a common interface between ad units and video players that empowers rich interactive user experience within in-stream video ads.

VPAID is an industry standard in a form of API, a set of protocols that define how a player handles video content from the server. The API contains video instructions on how to play, close, pause, expand, hide or execute other actions. VPAID was developed to:

  • Increase levels of interaction by adding such features as overlays, buttons for sharing the ad through social networks, links that redirect the user to another website, buttons for signing up, and completing online surveys;
  • Trigger direct response from the viewers; and
  • Measure ad performance through the engagement tracking.

The majority of advertisers prefer the VPAID format to VAST because of its interactivity, viewability and verification. Advertisers also have more control over the display experience of the video advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, publishers expect to improve the liquidity of video ad supply and sell more in-stream video inventory.

Selecting the Right Tools

Both VAST and VPAID serve simple, in-stream video ads across all compliant video players. However, VPAID is more complex because it enables video players to accept more ads, which is beneficial for both advertisers and publishers. VAST is regarded as just a script that instructs the video player on how to manage the ad, while VPAID offers a more interactive, robust experience for users. VPAID also allows users to interact with the ad, click on it, expand it, follow the link and trigger direct response and tracks granular viewer engagement. Additionally, VPAID permits the video player to preload the ad before delivering it. VAST doesn’t anything comparable. Finally, VAST uses XML format while VPAID uses SWF.

What’s Next?

Both VAST and VPAID were developed in the pre-mobile era, so the IAB’s Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence launched a project to design a common API for mobile rich media ads that will run smoothly in mobile applications. That’s how Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definition (MRAID) appeared. But that’s a different story.

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