Developer blog series: video and user experience

Welcome back to our developer blog series where Kiosked engineers explore th

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Welcome back to our developer blog series where Kiosked engineers explore the user experience side of digital ad formats. This post is written by Perry Mitchell, Senior Software Engineer and Front-end Team Lead at Kiosked. If you missed the introductory blog post by Daniel Bailo, head over here.

By spending time online you already know how shaky an online video playback experience can be. Videos on web pages, especially those that are ads, just plain suck. Most videos that are served up to us are of a substantial size, quite slow to load and negatively affect the performance of the page you’re viewing. Your interest was to read an article, yet instead you spend your time waiting for the scroll to respond. Videos are, by far, the largest media format commonly consumed on the web – and it’s fighting for your bandwidth alongside the images, JavaScript, styling, and content that you’re also trying to load (maybe on your not-so-cheap mobile data plan).

A lot of the video fed to your browser is advertising; these videos can be of a variety of formats and playback styles. One such format is flash, the legacy platform for playing videos online. Besides its depreciation given its lack of mobile support and endless stream of security issues, flash is an inefficient way of delivering videos and ads. That said, many creative agencies continue to publish flash content, and many networks still use flash applications to perform client-side bidding.
Client bidders, which are also available in HTML5 video ads, perform ad mediation in the browser rather than on a server somewhere. Although this benefits the ad networks, it wreaks havoc in the browser by increasing load time and sabotaging client-side event accuracy. Many intelligent advertising platforms that integrate with video ads rely on “VAST events” to know when the video has loaded or started playing. These are used to help improve user experience by knowing when to display an ad. Client bidders can make this almost impossible, and the end result is a broken experience that leaves the ad platform embarrassed and the user frustrated.

There’s a lot of video content out there. It’s not going to go away (or get better in the short term unless we make an effort to improve it). There’s a number of ways we can improve the medium that will benefit both video playback and video ads simultaneously. One example is to use better streaming formats that are designed for feeding video content as efficiently as possible to a remote player somewhere.

Having multiple formats available of the same video allows for the player and device to decide which one is the most appropriate to play. HTML5 video already supports multiple formats for players. Having these formats available when publishing an ad or video is definitely an advantage to both the supplier and the user. There are a variety of new formats available that make streaming high quality video possible to even the poorer connections, such as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Codec – h.265). Yet due to prohibitively expensive licensing costs, these types of formats are unlikely to take off for web content.

Some larger online players, such as Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Cisco etc., have formed an alliance to create open video formats that are not restricted by paid licenses. Open video formats for online use is a win-win scenario for creators and viewers. Browser integration with these formats can occur almost immediately as there’s no cost involved.

Another area in need of improvement is the mobile landscape, where video playback is a nightmarish mix of disabled auto-playing and forced full screen viewing. Thankfully the larger mobile browser vendors have made great strides recently, such as Google enabling autoplay for Chrome when the video is muted. Videos are able to autoplay (necessary for video advertising) with the sound off until the user selects to turn the sound on. This was not particularly a surprise, coming from Google, yet it was for developers when Apple followed-suit with Safari:

< video muted > elements will also be allowed to autoplay without a user gesture.

Features as these allow us to build seamless ads that interrupt the user less. Having non-intrusive video advertisements on mobile is a bit of a holy grail, but it is achievable with a combination of auto-playing videos and more efficient streaming capabilities. Due to bandwidth being a limiting factor on handheld devices, providing multiple encode qualities could potentially help ad systems scale down bandwidth usage on limited devices like mobile phones.

Enforcing stricter video timeouts (when the video doesn’t load in a specified amount of time), detecting buffering starvation (slow transfer speed) and honoring industry standard advertising events are a few ways we can improve the experience of online video playback. Being in the front-end development team at Kiosked gives my team the chance to work on projects such as these and also become the voice of what’s wrong with common practice today. It’s our goal to lead by example and deliver the best experience possible to the end users and publishers.

Are you looking to incorporate user-friendly video ads into your content monetization mix? Get in touch!