Server-side ad insertion (SSAI): FAQs you need to know

Server-side ad insertion (SSAI): FAQs you need to know
By Jenny Thompson, Product Marketing
November 11, 2022

If you work in ad tech, you’ve probably heard the acronym SSAI thrown around. In fact, a recent report estimated that 40% of OTT ads are now served using SSAI. But a lot of people still have no idea what SSAI is or what it has to do with connected TV advertising.

The short answer is that, in the advertising world, SSAI stands for server side ad insertion (read on for the long version).

What is server side ad insertion (SSAI)?

SSAI is a process used to insert ads into a single, high-quality, long-form digital video stream. With SSAI, the server essentially stitches an ad directly into the video content. Server side ad insertion can also be called dynamic ad insertion (DAI) — they’re two different terms for the same process.

SSAI is a popular alternative to client-side ad insertion (CSAI), in which a third-party ad server fetches an ad when it reaches an ad break — a break in the content designated for ads.

Visualization of server side ad insertion (SSAI) versus client side ad insertion

What’s the point of SSAI?

We’ve all watched a video and waited far too long for an ad to download and buffer. A disruption in streaming content, even a delay of just a couple of seconds, can seriously impede the effectiveness of an ad. 

Server side ad insertion exists to create a better user experience for the viewer — and therefore better performance for the advertiser. By stitching the advertisement into the video itself to create one file, SSAI makes viewing more seamless.

What are the benefits of server side/dynamic ad insertion?

There are SSAI benefits for both the viewer and the advertiser.

The viewer gets a better viewing experience that is virtually identical to traditional broadcasting. There is no buffering or lag time between the content stream and the ads, which can happen in client side ad insertion. There are also fewer technical glitches in loading the ad, like when an ad downloads and the video itself does not.

For advertisers, SSAI offers the opportunity to dodge ad blocking and ensure more impressions are delivered to the end user. Ad requests come from the publisher’s server and not ad servers, which are often on blocked lists. This is significant for advertisers, since ad blockers are currently estimated to be used on 25% of connected TV devices.

Are there any downsides to SSAI?

Many ad serving platforms have difficulty accessing specific user information, such as IP addresses and device types. Because ad requests come from the supplier’s server and not individual users, there is the risk that you end up with less granular data for reporting and attribution.

More advanced solutions, however, use newer technology to glean just as much user information from the server as they would from individual users.

The inability to track individual IP addresses also opens the doors for spoofing and fraudulent apps by giving scammers the ability to mimic proxy servers. A recent study by Magna revealed that 26% of SSAI ads served were fraudulent. In response, many publishers have banned entire servers, flagging some ads as fraudulent when they are not.

How can advertisers tell when an ad request is real or fake?

It takes a highly skilled SSAI vendor to understand and validate a server’s credentials. They must log channel details, user agent details, and IP addresses. They must also closely observe tell-tale signs of fraudulent operational trends like: 

  • High video completion rates

  • Spikes in traffic

  • Number of devices

  • Bid prices

How does Madhive differentiate between legitimate and potentially fraudulent SSAI?

We prevent ad fraud in SSAI a few different ways.

First, we have direct relationships with premium publishers. This means that when we’re serving an ad, we benefit from knowing exactly who is on the other end of the line. With most other tech providers, the SSAI is feeding through an ad exchange first before getting served.

Second, we fingerprint every ad placement by assigning a numerical value at each step in the supply path. Because we are a full stack solution, we get billions of micro signals from all types of servers. All of this data translates into unique sequences that allow us to identify legitimate ad requests and filter out fraud. 

These obscure data points could include, for example, how a publisher fires pixels. Do they fire them all at once or sequentially? Scammers can guess correctly on some of these data points, but don’t have the data to get it right all the time. The real publisher is effortlessly consistent.

Third, as we serve more and more ads, our machine learning algorithms continue to get smarter and better at distinguishing between fraudulent and legitimate. Avoiding fraud not only saves brands from large-scale ad scams, it also gives you better control of your messaging by accurately optimizing campaign spend and fairly setting inventory pricing.

Related content: How to Prevent Ad Fraud in OTT (4 Methods We Use)

The bottom line on SSAI

Despite some drawbacks from a fraud and data perspective, server side ad insertion offers viewers a better streaming experience, which ultimately benefits the advertiser, too. 

But to keep your fraud risks to a minimum, consider working only with ad tech vendors that are TAG certified. These vendors adhere to a set of requirements defined by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to actively fight fraudulent activity in digital advertising — and you can count on them to be tough on fraud.