DPAA digital signage video standards: Good or bad?

November 9, 2010 by Dave Haynes

At the Digital Place-based Advertising Association’s recent media summit, the organization started talking about standardizing video formats and encoding.

The background to that is a simple quest to minimize the production requirements of creative shops and remove another buyer objection, as in, “If I buy DOOH for my client, we’ll have to make 12 versions of the same damn spot to line up with all the different formats these networks insist on.”

Increased understanding of the media business, and lots of rejection, has taught much of the industry already that it was not going to have much luck ramming proprietary formats down the throats of media buyers. There are nowhere near as many screwball formats out there now as was the case even a couple of years ago.

So when the DPAA announced its guidelines, there was a little bit of a “That’s it???” reaction. As in, “You needed  a committee and a report to lay down the obvious?”

That’s where my head started, but in actually thinking about it, I concluded these are needed. Stuff that’s readily apparent to established companies is brand new to many others. So standards, no matter how basic and obvious, make sense. They are also the building blocks for more, better detail.

Here’s what the DPAA lays out in a draft document released this week:

This document establishes a prescribed standard video ad format that all networks are able to accept. Each network should be able to run the unit “as is” or “down-converted” to optimize quality playback across their network. While this document does outline Standard Advertising Units and defines the nomenclature of other partial screen ad units, it will be up to each network to convey the unique benefits they offer in addition to the Standard Advertising Unit.

Common Nomenclature:

Consumer Experience is the way the Primary ad unit is experienced by a person watching the screen.

Primary Ad unit orientation should be referred to as either Landscape or Portrait.

Primary ad unit – refers to the dominant area of advertising displayed on the screen. The primary ad unit should be described as either Full screen or Partial screen.

“Full Screen” means the ad unit is the only visible asset running on the screen.

“Partial Screen” means the primary ad unit is accompanied by content and/or a companion ad unit or some other visual enhancement (such as ticker, clock, or logo). Companion ads may be text, static display ads or rich media. A companion ad will run adjacent to an ad unit and/or programmed content. Companion ad unit orientation should be referred to as either Companion Landscape or Companion Portrait

“Audio” means consumers will be able to both see and hear the advertisement.

The DPAA lays down that the videos should be produced in h.264 MPEG4 and encoded at a recommended bit rate of 20 mbps. The standard formats are 1080P HD video:

If all those numbers and letters make little sense to you, then you’ll probably never have to worry about that. However, you may be in charge of people who do.

What’s an h.264?

In a nutshell,  h.264 is video compression technology that spits out crisp, very high quality video with substantially smaller file sizes than possible with older compression technology. The 1920-1080 refers to the resolution, the 1080 being your clue about the quality of the HD.

There are also recommendations on what networks should include in their spec sheets, such as file delivery method and naming conventions.

It’s a start, say experts

I canvassed around a little to friends who understand this stuff far better than I, and the general feeling is that the guidelines are skimpy and more is needed … but also that it’s a start.

The encoding rate is very high, and will produce really nice video. But it is substantially higher than what some platforms ask for and recommend. What it would mean is an expectation that a vendor’s software and the playback hardware’s graphic capabilities need to support that. For legacy networks – some that have been in the field for several years – there may be boxes being used that won’t be able to handle that, and that could mean extra work.

There are also questions about technical stuff like frame rates and audio being floated.

Them’s big files

I wonder about a couple of things, which are kinda related. Given where a lot of displays are positioned, 720P HD is just fine. When you are looking at these screens at any distance, even video nerds will struggle to tell the difference between 720 and 1080. That matters for one real reason – file size. A 1080 file is waaaay bigger than a 720 file, and encoded at the recommended 20 mbps, it is really, really big.

On a busy network that refreshes a lot of ads or has variations of the same spot moving around to targeted players, that’s a lot of data traffic. More data traffic typically means more cost, and on a network using cellular wireless, that could really, really have cost implications.

SaaS companies all set up a little differently, but there are likely caps on data transfer and storage, and after those are exceeded, you pay more. Again, the risk of more cost.

Have your say

So, stuff to think about as these standards get scrutinized. To the credit of the DPAA, it clearly states these are draft guidelines. If you have objections, or additional thoughts, the DPAA wants them in by Dec. 10, and then a final version will be released in the new year.

My suggestion – if you have concerns, raise them. If you don’t, and the guidelines continue as proposed, you’ve got nothing to whine about come the new year.

Comments should be directed to Ryan.Pogy [at] dp-aa.org

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