Targeted ad insertion

September 1, 2001


A recent collective bargaining agreement by AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, now requires that union talent are paid additional fees when their on-air ad spots are also broadcast on the Web. These fees can increase the cost of a single ad by up to 300 percent, so the original question of “How can I make money Webcasting?” has taken on the new twist of “How can I afford it?” Ad insertion systems, which were originally an evolutionary step toward creating new revenue sources, are now in the spotlight as a means to manage these new fees.

Many vendors sell ad insertion systems, and each one works differently. The basic principal of operation is that advertisements from your on-air signal are replaced with a separate set of ads for your webcast audience. systems take ad replacement one step further, in that a separate set of ads can be sent to each individual listener. The ads are tailored to each listener based on their demographic. Because the system has information on each listener, both the broadcaster and advertisers have more detailed feedback on listening habits, which isn't available with non-targeted ad insertion systems. Also, because the advertisements are tailored to each listener's specific demographic, they are more effective.



delivers specific ads to individual listeners.


Unfortunately, targeted ad insertion systems require more effort on the part of the listener. The Web is inherently anonymous, and while this is good for privacy, it means the only way to get meaningful information about your listeners is to have them give it to you. The IP address of their network connection and the browser they are using are the only things a Web server knows for certain about a listener. While websites commonly use cookies to track browsing habits, cookies only store information on what someone does when they visit that site.

At some point you must ask your listeners for information. This extra step usually happens the first time a listener clicks the listen link on your website. From there, they are prompted to enter information about themselves. Usually this is limited to their gender, age group, and zip code or other geographic information. In some vendor's systems, this initial step may also install additional client software.

Because ad insertion systems must interrupt the station audio with the inserted ads, the systems need additional mechanisms to make transitions as smooth as possible. Players always buffer a small amount of the audio before playing it to smooth over the bursty nature of the Internet. When a player switches between a live stream and an ad file somewhere on the network, there is normally some dead air while the ad file is buffered and before it starts playing. To address this problem, some vendor's systems include client software that pre-buffers ads while the live station audio is playing. In some systems, all the ads are downloaded and stored on the listener's computer entirely in advance. When the ad insertion system instructs the player to disconnect from the live stream and play the ad, the locally cached or pre-buffered ad starts playing immediately. In this way, the user suffers no interruption in audio when the inserted ad plays.


Ken Nosé is chief software architect of NeoSonic Industries, Cleveland.



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