The pivot to slow page loads: Latency is a major headache for video-crazy publishers

With publishers frantically chasing video ad dollars, the simple act of getting videos to load promptly is emerging as a thorny issue.

Pages with a lot of clutter, heavy ad creative and multiple tracking tags have trouble loading their videos. Another issue is that publishers still rely on outdated technology when selling their video inventory. Frank Sinton, CEO of video platform Beachfront Media, said latency alone can reduce a publisher’s video ad revenue by up to 30 percent.

Here are the main reasons why many publishers have slow-loading videos and what they can do to fix it.

Page design
Because publishers want to load more ads to gain revenue and advertisers want to add analytics pixels to ensure their KPIs are being met, many publishers have sites that load painstakingly slow. And if the site is loading slowly overall, that affects how quickly the video player can load content since all the code on page is getting processed simultaneously, said Brian Rifkin, co-founder of video vendor JW Player.

Since video CPMs are much greater than display CPMs, the revenue gains of adding extra display units are canceled out if they delay the serving of video ads, Rifkin said. Removing ad clutter has helped publishers like LittleThings and Dotdash generate more revenue per visit.

Heavy creative
Advertisers want high-resolution imagery that makes their ads pop, but getting these ads to load can be a pain for publishers. Video vendors can advise publishers on what file sizes they should accept, but it is ultimately up to publishers to impose size limits themselves, said Matt Smith, media evangelist of video player Brightcove.

The adoption of video player ad-serving interface definition tags also makes video ads heavy. VPAID tags provide data to advertisers on how their video ads are performing in areas like viewability and engagement. But all that tracking code slows load times. Since a single ad can have multiple VPAID tags, publishers can expect some latency if advertisers demand lots of reporting via VPAID.

Ad serving
Display ads make their ad calls as a page loads. But aside from autoplay ads, most video ads do not make ad calls until a user clicks the play button, said Justin Festa, chief digital officer at LittleThings. This creates latency because after clicking the play button, the user (who already sat through the loading of the webpage) then has to wait for all the ad calls to process before viewing the video.

Because video ads sold programmatically still primarily rely on the waterfall method — where publishers move their inventory from one market to the next — the user has to wait while the ad calls get passed from exchange to another, which can take several seconds, said Cristina Calderin, director of programmatic at Thought Catalog.

Tim Wolfe, vp of revenue operations at the USA Today Network, said video header bidding could reduce this latency since it makes ad calls simultaneously rather than in succession. But for now, it’s more hype than reality for most publishers.

Sponsored video
Since video ad serving slows down page loads, the only way to quickly load monetizable videos is to forgo serving an ad and embed sponsorships directly into the video, said Salah Zalatimo, head of product and tech at Forbes. This can be done through branded content, product placement or slapping an advertiser’s logo onto the video.

But sponsorships are limited to direct deals with advertisers that give their permission to this branding. Meanwhile, serving ads in front of a video can be done at scale since programmatic selling opens the door to a plethora of advertisers that seek scarce quality video inventory.

“The problem is there is no one at the moment who can take an end-to-end approach that gives advertisers the tracking they want, publishers the targeting and campaign management they want and users the speed they want,” Zalatimo said.

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