The AdPlayer.Pro team takes a closer look at the current challenges in the outstream vs. instream video advertising labeling, and its future perspectives. 

Until the 2020s there used to be somewhat a consensus in the digital ad industry on how to differentiate outstream video ads from the instream ad units. Namely, the actual video content environment used to be the key factor, defining whether a specific ad placement should be referred to as an in- or an out-stream one. 

However, with the years passing, the lines have blurred. 

IAB’s Instream vs. Outstream Labeling Rollercoaster

In many ways aiming to minimize discrepancies in the inventory labeling (hence, pricing), in 2022 IAB Tech Lab came forward with the initiative to introduce a new categorization criteria, suggesting that instream ad units are those, which don’t autoplay, and launch with sound on. Logically, if a video ad unit launches muted by default, and often in the autoplay mode, it will be labeled as an outsteam ad. 

Peculiarly enough, even though IAB encouraged the industry (particularly, publishers) to adopt the new guidelines as quickly as possible in order to help resolve mislabeling issues, especially frequent in the programmatic video advertising segment, the market didn’t seem to rush into this, as was expected. 

The companies’ reasoning was rather justified: if the new categorization guidelines were to be applied, premium video advertisers & agencies would face the somewhat artificial scarcity of instream inventory. The situation could turn even worse for publishers, who would just need to switch the sound on automatically in video ads on their digital properties (which is, by the way, blocked in Google Chrome for quite some time now), regardless of their audience preferences, in order to have their inventory qualified as instream. 

Non-surprisingly, in March 2023 Mediavine publicly reported to become the first (and only) publisher to end labeling of muted video ads as instream. 

Anyway, whoever could have come up next we will never know, because it didn’t take long for the IAB team to change their labeling guidelines again. 

Blame it on the industry backlash, or just common sense, but in the beginning of April 2023 IAB Tech Lab officially released a detailed explanation of the newer changes in their labeling guidelines for the industry. 

What are Instream and Outstream Video Ads in 2023?

Well, first, according to IAB, “a clear, explicit intent to watch a video” should be considered just as a valuable reason to label the placement as instream, along with its automatically playing sound, even though the latter element remains mandatory.

As for the outstream ad units, these will encompass placements, which only stream video advertising content in the player, without any editorial video content environment, hence fall under the category “Standalone/No content.”

The latest IAB’s guidelines also introduce a new category, “Accompanying content”, which implies a video ad is playing in the player in-article or in-feed along with the accompanying video content, when it enters the viewport, and may change to the floating/sticky mode on page scroll. 

This new type of placement apparently has a relatively higher value for a viewer, compared to “Standalone”, hence will come at the higher price for the bidders. 

And, of course, there are the full-screen interstitial video ads, which should also be labeled separately. 

Actionable Plan for Publishers Still Pending

First and foremost, in its detailed outline of the new video ad labeling standards, IAB explicitly mentions that at this point publishers may find it “operationally difficult” to adopt the new classification prior to their partner SSPs, which need to take the lead, in terms of tech implementation.

In particular, among the required changes, IAB Tech Lab has introduced the new “video.plcmt” attribute in the Object: Video, which should supposedly replace the previously used “video.placement” field, even though both attributes are promised to work in parallel for a significant amount of time during the transition period. 

Quite predictably, the values in the new “plcmt” attribute are also different from those in the existing one (i.e. “placement”).

Tip! For more information, please refer to IAB Tech Lab’s technical implementation instructions. 

In the long run, it’s still hard to predict whether the global online video advertising industry will act upon the new labeling guidelines fast. 

In view of this, the primary importance for all businesses working in the industry is still to ensure their ad-enabled video player vendors are, just like the AdPlayer.Pro’ tech solutions, compliant with the latest OpenRTB standards and other industry-wide tech requirements in order to achieve their best revenue results.