Whether you’re a digital advertising expert, or just a person with a smartphone, there is no denying there has been a huge uptick in video advertising across all your devices. And while video remains the fastest-growing ad format, most people aren’t chomping at the bit to figure out how video works.
In this article, we’re going to walk through the new VAST 4.1+ update, explain why you should care, and arm you with some practical guidance to help agencies and publishers implement the new standard with as little headache as possible.
Before we jump into it, let’s review some VAST history. A few years ago, there was a lot of noise about the release of VAST 4.0 which, while splashy, wasn’t as impactful as we all hoped it would be. More recently, VAST 4.1 was released to even more fanfare, since that version closed the gaps left in VAST 4.0, making it possible for publishers to implement the standard. And, most recently, the IAB has announced VAST 4.2 and SIMID.
So why are these new releases important? Well, to start, the existing predominant video standards—VAST (Video Ad Serving Template) and VPAID (Video Player Ad Interface Definition)—were written roughly 10 years ago, before the rise of mobile advertising and way before the advent of OTT/CTV advertising. For a myriad of technical reasons, the existing standards do not work well in today’s multi-device video advertising ecosystem.
From a technical perspective, whether you are on the buy-side or sell-side there are a few things to understand that will help you navigate the transition from VAST 2.0 and VPAID (still dominant) to VAST 4.1+ and the combination of OMID and SIMID that is replacing VPAID.
Adopting the next version of VAST
Let’s break it down: VAST is a structured text (XML) file intended to provide a publisher’s video player with everything the publisher needs to playback and track video ads. As a result, the core contents of a VAST tag are references to the media file(s) for the video asset(s) and associated tracking pixels.
Every new version of VAST incrementally builds on the previous version by adding new text “nodes” to support additional functionality. This is important because, unlike other updates that require users to update the software in its entirety, a publisher only needs to upgrade to the new version number in the VAST file, update the required nodes, and then choose to add only the optional nodes that support the specific functionality needed. For example, many publishers when upgrading to VAST 3 opted to only add the “skip node” (to account for tracking of skips in skip ads) and support for the privacy icon, eschewing a lot of the other functionality.
Since most publishers have not upgraded the version of VAST they support for years, many of them look at the 150+ page VAST 4.1+ spec and assume support will be a lot of work, when in reality most of the spec overlap with prior versions and most of the newest functionality is optional.
In the video advertising arena, the well-known corollary to VAST tags is VPAID tags, which historically have been used whenever additional measurement or interactive functionality is needed. In reality, VPAID tags are just VAST tags, but instead of directly referencing a video asset, they reference a VPAID code asset. This 3rd party code takes video playback control away from the publisher, originally for the sake of implementing additional interactive functionality. Over time, the VPAID code layer was used for other things, including measurement.
However, having 3rd party code manage video playback can create issues for the publisher including latency (playback delays) and is not well-suited for mobile and CTV delivery. As such, VAST 4.1+ was introduced with the core promise of always allowing the video playback to be managed by the publisher, and VPAID was split into two different code components—OMID (for measurement) and SIMID (for interactivity).
Below are the simple steps to help buyers and publishers implement the new standard with as much ease as possible.
Michael Tuminello is VP of publisher products at Integral Ad Science.