BT Sport announces success of Yospace dynamic ad insertion in 2017 UEFA Champions League

The 2017 UEFA Champions League was the first full sporting season in which dynamic ad insertion (DAI) had been used to monetise live channels online. BT Sport deployed Yospace’s DAI platform in August 2016, before the first round of Premier League matches.  Most of BT Sport’s programming is live, and with viewers increasingly watching online or on mobile devices when outside the home, it was essential that BT Sport was able to advertise, with accurate measurement, across its channels on digital platforms.

BT Sport showcased an HD HDR live broadcast direct to mobile at a UEFA Champions League game at Wembley earlier this year

As viewers increasingly migrate to online platforms, it was essential that an advertising system be found that not only matched the user experience of television, but allowed it to be enhanced for today’s feature-hungry audience with the latest advances in digital tech. BT Sport also had to set a precedent for the industry by building a new business case around the considerable value of addressable advertising.

BT Sport ended up choosing Yospace to deliver its DAI to viewers. On what is exciting about Yospace’s  DAI versus competing products, Tim Sewell, CEO at Yospace, told SVG Europe: “There are two key differentiators. The first one is because we’ve been doing this longer than any other vendors in the marketplace, we have a relatively unique understanding of all the integration and interaction points; that’s everything from broadcast headend and signalling, through to what’s quite often a fairly diverse ad tech ecosystem, ad servers, ad networks, as well as some of the analytics and measurement platforms as well.”

With viewers increasingly watching online or on mobile devices when outside the home, it was essential that BT Sport was able to advertise, with accurate measurement, across its channels on digital platforms.  It also needed to make the most of the considerable value of addressable advertising.

BT Sport was adamant that ad stitching must be consistent with ad breaks on television; seamless and frame-accurate, with no discernible alteration in the live channel for the viewer; the young, tech-savvy profile of BT’s audience meant they would be quick to switch off if there were any technical issues.

The solution also had to integrate with BT Sport’s ambitious plans to allow viewers to scrub back to key moments during a live match using Deltatre’s Diva Player, a feat that had never been successfully implemented before.

Serve ads at massive scale

Sewell noted that his company’s ability to serve ads at massive scale is vital when talking about live sports events. He explained: “It’s one thing being able to demonstrate the ability to modify a stream at a trade show or to a relatively small audience, where you’re just talking to a first party ad server. It’s very different being able to demonstrate that you can do that where the entire audience joins in as little as a couple of minutes immediately prior to kick off at a major sports event, so your system is ramping up in terms of the concurrency and the traffic it is supporting just at the point that the broadcaster is going to an ad break; that’s potentially the most valuable ad break in the entire match, that break just prior to kick off.

“So it’s the ability to demonstrate that for the past four years we’ve been doing this at real scale, which means that major sports rights holders can have confidence that not only are they going to maximise their potential to montise their audience, but also they aren’t going to be risking the user experience.”

Viewers now have high expectations of live sports streaming, added Sewell: “Where five or six years ago if you were internet streaming you were perhaps more accepting of a viewing experience that was slightly degraded versus watching on a large screen terrestrial broadcast TV, the reality is now most viewers expect exactly the same experience if it’s a digitally delivered viewing experience as they would get if it’s a satellite or terrestrial broadcast experience, and the fact it’s being montised through delivering of more relevant adverts shouldn’t have any impact on the viewing experience.”

BT chose Yospace’s system as it provides a link between broadcast playout systems and ad platforms, enabling server-side, frame-accurate replacement of ad breaks in a broadcast feed when viewed online.  The solution supports full one-to-one personalisation and provides a true broadcast-quality user experience.

Sewell explained further: “A lot of what we’ve been doing is working on is how to we take the signalling information we get from broadcast playout and use that to more intelligently schedule, for want of a better word, calls to the ad server, which allows us both to give the ad server more time to respond, which means we can guarantee much, much higher fill rates, but it also means the ad server doesn’t get swamped by the number of ad requests.

“Specifically, what I mean by that, is ad servers were traditionally designed with a VoD use case in mind, in that VoD consumption predated live simulcast streaming,” continued Sewell. “Even if a very popular episode of something like Game of Thrones was made available on a VoD service at the same time as it goes to air, users don’t all start watching that programme at exactly the same time, so the calls to the ad server in a traditional VoD world, even if it’s a very large number of users watching the same programme, the ad calls will still be spread out over a period of time by virtue of when people started watching the VoD programme.

“In a major live sports scenario, because it is a live steam, unless you architect to avoid this the standard profile you’ll see in the 10 seconds or so immediately prior to an ad break is if you’ve got two million users you’ll be making two million ad calls to the ad server in a very short period of time, typically five or six seconds. While that may sound like a problem the ad servers should be able to deal with, the reality is for the most part that’s not how they were architected or how they scale,” Sewell concluded.

The key integrations forthe project were: Playout – Taking the output from BT Sport’s Elemental Delta encoder/packager, Yospace detect SCTE-35 markers that bookend ad breaks.  These are placed by the same automation system as TV, ensuring that ad stitching is frame-accurate; Ad Server (1) – Yospace poll BT Sport’s third-party ad server (ADS) for new ads, then transcodes them to precisely match the adaptive bit-rate stream from Elemental, ensuring transitions to/from ad breaks are seamless; Ad Server (2) – When an ad break is detected, Yospace makes a call to the ADS for each streaming session.  The ADS responds with which ads to stitch into each stream; Player – Yospace’s analytics SDKs across BT Sport’s iOS, Android and HTML5 platforms enable real-time ad-tracking information to be sent to the ADS; Diva Player – BT Sport allows its viewers to navigate to key moments of the match via Deltatre’s Diva player. Yospace’s successful integration ensured that viewers continued to enjoy this enhanced experience.

Huge success of project

The 2016-17 season was a huge success for BT Sport and Yospace, both in terms of viewer experience and the realisation of ad revenues. Jeremy Rosenberg, head of advertising partnerships for TV at BT, said: “BT Sport DAI generates 100s of millions of premium broadcast video ad impressions across a season with the ability to monetise. Introducing DAI on BT Sport has provided additional reach for advertisers seeking young, male, technically savvy audiences. The key benefits for advertisers are that the ads are unskippable and clickable.”

While Greg McCall, managing director TV, BT TSO, said: “BT Sport continues to bring the best of the action to sports fans throughout the UK across a wide range of platforms. For this season the live streams on and on the BT Sport iOS and Android Apps have been powered by Yospace’s market-leading Dynamic Ad Insertion technology which has allowed BT to monetise the online services whilst continuing to enhance customer experience.”

For live sports, Yospace typically see average ad view-through rates of over 96%, significantly higher than any other broadcast medium.  This fact, coupled with the level of audience engagement achieved by BT Sport’s viewer-first approach, generated fully addressable audiences at a scale never previously achieved.  BT Sport reported an audience of 6.5 million for this year’s UEFA Champions League Final, a 5000,000  year on year increase.  Also, 2.1 million of those views were on digital platforms, a figure that is set to grow.

Following the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, BT Sport agreed a long term extension to its contract with Yospace.  The announcement followed a successful season during which time Yospace enabled advert placement in over 700 major sporting events for the broadcaster.

Further to the DAI integration, in January 2018 it was announced that BT Sport had become the first customer of Channel 4’s new digital ad sales house. Having launched dynamic ad insertion with Channel 4 in 2015, Yospace sat in this relationship as a common technology and crucial enabler.

Yospace were the first to demonstrate DAI technology with ITV in 2012; first to launch a live service in Europe, with STV in 2014.  Launching with Channel 4 in 2015 and Sky in 2016, each marked an incremental step forward for DAI technology.

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