What Are In-Stream Video Ads

5 min read·Oct 05, 2023

Defining In-Stream ads has reemerged as a source for debate since the staggering growth of video’s newest digital delivery system - Connected TV. As television advertising enters the digital landscape, what do we call, and how do we codify, emerging video formats? Late last year, the IAB released updated ad format guidelines to help marketers do just that. Let’s dive in.

A New Kind of In-Stream Video

There are still only two main types of video: in-stream and out-stream, but they are now defined by their usage as well as their formats. 

For example, in-stream ads used to simply be understood as videos played before, during, or after streaming content, but the viewer - and not just the format - now determines whether or not the video is in-stream. As of 2022, videos only qualify as in-stream if they run before content the viewer actively requested. That probably means a user has to actually click on a video in order for its accompanying ads to be considered in-stream (although some publishers are questioning what “requested” really means in a digital context). 

Beyond having to be requested by the viewer, that same ad needs to have sound on by default in order to qualify as in-stream. In this scenario, CTV ads are still always in-stream, but a lot of web display videos are being recategorized since they play automatically or are muted, especially on social media.

Conversely, out-stream ads are ads in a video format, served alone for display, usually on a webpage. The key difference here is that they are served on their own player, separate from any native or on-demand content. They are often called a variety of other names like: 

  • In-banner video
  • In-page video
  • Rich media
  • Video interstitial
  • Incentivized video
  • In-feed video

As of last year, the term out-stream now also encompasses video ads that play automatically or are muted by default. 

In-Stream Ads and CTV

In the context of Connected TV advertising, all ads qualify as in-stream, with different types of in-stream ads depending on the types of platforms, publishers, and tech stacks advertisers are working with. 

Most programmatic CTV ad platforms offer pre and mid roll positions, because those are the most commonly available on streaming services, with only about 1% of traffic going to post-roll. What does that mean? Simply that most CTV ads run in the middle of premium streaming content, while around 20% runs right before the start of a show or program, and the rest runs after, with no real effect on cost either way. 

Regardless of a video ad’s placement, if it runs on streaming TV - even on a tablet or mobile device - that ad will always be unskippable and unmuted, which explains why CTV ads boast an average VTR (View Through Rate) of 98+%. It’s the most engaging video format out there!

Add to that granular targeting capabilities, and Connected TV advertising can direct customers to trackable landing and product pages at an exponential rate. A CTV platform like Vibe, for example, offers hundreds of targeting audiences to choose from, so your unskippable ads will only reach the most engaged viewers

In-Stream CTV Ad Best Practices

Although there is much discussion - and dissension - around the most valuable ad positions (pre vs. mid vs. post roll), it’s really more useful to think of them in terms of your campaign goals. 

Pre-roll ads, for example, most closely mirror traditional TV ad formats, and will probably be the least jarring for viewers, eager not to miss the beginning of their on-demand premium content right after the ad.  According to some recent studies, pre-roll ads have the highest rate of recall, but the jury is still out on how reliable that sampling is, especially as the streaming landscape continues to evolve rapidly.

Mid-roll ads, the most common in a streaming environment, have lately shown higher engagement rates, with audiences clicking through and out of the content they’re watching to engage with the brand. One thing is for sure: no matter when your ads run, over 75% of CTV viewers watch content with a second device in hand, ready to act on compelling CTAs, further consecrating CTV as a performance channel as well as a brand awareness vehicle. 

Meanwhile ad formatting is changing too! The vast majority of CTV ads run between 15 and 30 seconds, with the occasional minute-long outlier, but interactivity is slowly transforming the medium. Though still in its infancy, most marketers can already appeal to viewers with ever-more sophisticated QR code promotions embedded in their ads, while some platforms are experimenting with clickable pause ads (that only appear when content is paused) or shoppable ads that connect directly to interactive brand landing pages. 

Interactive ads, across the spectrum, are slowly gaining ground, claiming a 3.5% higher engagement rate and captivating viewer attention for 85 more seconds than traditional streaming advertisements. 

Regardless of ad position or formatting, advertisers need to remember that CTV advertising allows for the most engaging video viewing experience with the pinpoint targeting precision of digital media, and deliver performance marketing results. 

Stay tuned for more CTV industry updates with Vibe!

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