Why VAST Is Important

This is the second in a series of articles on video advertising.  I'll be writing about what VAST is, why this standard is so important, and what's happening with VAST 2.

VAST is the standardized way to deliver an ad response to a video player.  This is done with XML which contains information about the type of ad, where the ad creative (also known as the ad video file or other asset) is located, events to fire when certain things happen, and much more.  The specification explains in detail what all can be done.

Having this standard ad response allows for ad servers to work very differently.  Instead of spending a lot of time worrying about the differences between different video players and the types and formats of responses they are expecting, the ad server can ideally return the same ad XML to all places.  More importantly, ad servers often talk to each other, grabbing ads from different places as needed and requested.  This is the real power of VAST, which is that it allows 3rd-party ad serving to happen easily, allowing ad servers to talk to each other.  This makes things like the real-time bartering of video ads possible.

I'm personally excited by VAST because I've seen the changes that a standard can bring.  About ten years ago, I helped implement the J2EE specification in JRun at Allaire.  J2EE, now referred to as Java EE, consolidated a lot of different ideas going on in the Java world at the time and allowed people to choose the application server that was the best for them.  I see similar parallels in VAST and VPAID (another important standard which I'll talk about in a future article).  The consolidation of ideas can be seen by looking at the Brightcove ad XML formats which can now all be described in VAST.

My experience with standards gives me one thing to worry about in this time period, when VAST is still being adopted, which is this: standards must be completely implemented and widely used for them to be successful.  J2EE solved this with a Compatibility Test Suite and a market that insisted on products that were J2EE.  There's different ways to get to completely implemented and widely used standards, and I hope in short time we will see VAST become this type of standard.

VAST was created by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (the IAB).  The IAB put together this specification by talking with a lot of ad server companies, video platforms, ad agencies, and other people interested in getting a standard format.  Brightcove was one of the companies who helped with this specification, and we used our knowledge from the Brightcove ad XML that I previously mentioned to suggest changes to the specification.  The VAST specification, XSD and some samples can all be found on the IAB website.

You'll notice on the IAB website that the current version is 2.  VAST 1 had some support in the industry, but VAST 2 has completely overtaken it.  Many ad servers, like DoubleClick's platform have announced supported for VAST 2.  And a growing number of video players, including Brightcove's player, allow its use.  Besides the wider support, VAST 2 also has a lot more of the elements and attributes that are needed for ad responses.  There are a numbers of limitations in the VAST 1 specification, which does not allow ad creatives in certain places, misses some events that people wanted to know about, and has elements that need to be clarified.  If you'd like to read more, Eyeblaster's blog has an excellent article on the advantages of VAST 2.

While VAST 2 is now recommended, Brightcove implements both VAST 1 and VAST 2 specifications.  We are also continuously adding new features to the player to allow for more of the VAST 2 elements to be used.