Programmatic Video #WoTW: What is VAST?

Programmatic video is the fastest-growing category of programmatic buying, but a lot of marketers are still struggling to get to grips with the basics.

A recent study by the Association of National Advertisers and Forrester found that only 23% of marketers said they understood programmatic and were using it to execute their campaigns.

This is despite the fact that more than half of US publishers reported selling their premium video ad inventory programmatically in August 2014 (Adap.tv), while mega-brands like American Express and P&G vowed to shift the majority of their ad spend to programmatic by the end of 2014.

There’s clearly a knowledge gap between the programmatic front lines and everyday marketers, making 2015 a key year for programmatic education. As with any burgeoning new trend, one of the main causes of confusion is vocabulary.

Any discussion of the topic produces a web of jargon and acronyms that’s enough to send anyone running to Google. But fear not, this is easily solved.

Each week we’ll be serving up handy guides to the most important programmatic video terms, courtesy of Unruly co-founder and CTO, Matthew Cooke. Last week we looked at what user matching/cookie matching is. This week, Matthew explains what VAST means. Stick around and see how quickly you can master the art of programmatic.

What is VAST?

VAST is a format designed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) for trafficking in-stream videos ads. The acronym stands for “Video Ad Serving Template“. By creating a common template, it enables ad servers from different companies to use a standard tag across multiple publishers/video players enabling any ad server to deliver a video ad into any compatible player.

A typical VAST tag will contain all the details needed to run an in-stream ad, including any video files and tracking URLs needed. If you are interested what VAST looks like, here is an example from Tremor.

The latest version (VAST 3) can support many different types of in-stream advertising in addition to pre-roll. The types of ads supported fall into two main categories “Linear”, which means advertising in the main video stream such as pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll, and “Non-Linear” ads, such as companion banners that appear over or along side the main video stream.

VAST can also contain entire executable ad formats using a standard called “VPAID“. If this is used then it takes over the entire video player and provides the whole ad format. VPAID (Video Player Ad-Serving Interface Definition) is another IAB standard which can be placed inside the VAST, so is often referred to as VAST/VPAID.

VAST without VPAID can be used across mobile, tablets and modern desktops’ inventory. VAST with VPAID almost always uses an old technology called “Flash”, which is not available on mobile devices. Therefore VPAID generally only works in older desktop-based video players that are Flash-based, not on mobile, tablets or modern HTML5 desktop players.

Most of the In-stream ecosystem is still desktop and based around VAST/VPAID in Flash.