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Monetizing Your Video Streaming App: What’s the Difference Between Ad Servers & Ad Networks?

January 17, 2017

Whether you’re on Facebook, watching YouTube, or playing Candy Crush, you’ll no doubt see ads. They pop up everywhere, from every major web site to any personal blog. In fact, you’ll find that advertising has spread into just about every single facet of the digital realm, no matter what device you happen to be using.


But have you ever paused for a minute and considered how these ads are so personalized? And how they pop up just when you want to see them? How a product you were recently researching on Amazon suddenly finds its way onto another site you’re browsing? The timing is remarkable, right?

Welcome to the age of Intelligent Marketing. New technologies are being utilized in order to analyze the type of things you’re interested in. This software then relays this information to its business partners so that they can market directly to you. The precise way this happens is down to the fact that these various sites, apps, and streaming services use what you would call an ad server in order to keep a pulse on you while you use their site or service. This allows them to figure out how to aim a specially selected ad directly at you, and serve it up to you under the pretense of just another ad.

Now, let’s peg down exactly what these ad servers are, shall we?

Ad servers are basically a form of technological splicing between your more typical ad software and a server which is used to track your activity and then select specific ads (which you’ll find popping up in a wide variety of formats across the sites and apps you frequent on your PC, tablet or smartphone).

The advertisers who help to make a website profitable are able to see the ads that are currently functioning on a site and manage them accordingly via an interface located in the ad server itself. These servers are able to keep an eye on a few other things as well, such as:

  • where you’re located (city, state, country),
  • what sort of devices you’re using,
  • your choice of browser, or
  • which operating system you are on – are you a Mac, Windows or Linux user?

The following statistics are computed and communicated via a report:

  • how many clicks,
  • how many views, and
  • whether an ad is being viewed (and for how long)

This way, the ads can be further designed to suit a specific consumer even more accurately, benefiting both the publisher and the advertiser.

These ad servers can also offer a different set of ads depending on where in the world the user happens to be. For example, whether you visit a site from Canada or Australia, the type of ads you see can vary. Of course, regardless of where you’re browsing from, ad servers will still serve the same function. The only difference is that they can now be classified into one of two types: remote or local. A remote server comes from one main source in order to allow an advertiser or publisher to track and cycle the ads from a single location. Conversely, a local ad server is run by the publisher themselves, and allows them to dial down exactly how they want to display ads on their own platform.

But, wait, how exactly does ad serving work?

Once the advertiser has purchased a certain amount of space from the publisher, they can then add visible page features like banner ads and links. They can also add functions like rules that will change how the ad server operates. If you’ve ever heard of “tags”, this is where they come in. A publisher will add tags to their page, not just for the benefit of a visitor but also to help the advertiser market to them more directly. Once the ad is up and running, the advertiser then has the ability to swap out which ad will be displayed without having to check in or make adjustments with the publisher. This actually benefits the publisher too, as they don’t need to go into the back end of the site to alter the ad codes for each different advertiser. Instead they can just make any changes or alterations through the ad server.

Next, let’s cover ad networks…

Ad networks are entities that can show different ads from a variety of advertisers over a wide selection of publishers who might wish to generate revenue from their platform by hosting ads. They are sort of like an extension of the function an ad server performs. In this way, a collective of advertisers can each upload their differing ad campaigns as they pertain to the available list of publishers and their recent levels of performance.

Subversive though they might seem, ad networks are helpful to each of the three parties involved in the digital landscape: the publisher, the ad network, and the advertiser. To break it down, let’s say an advertiser offers $2.00 for each click. In that scenario, every click gives the publisher $1.50, while the ad network walks away with $0.50. Meanwhile, the advertiser knows that even if they don’t make a sale, brand awareness is increased, and their name benefits.

Ad networks are otherwise broken down into other categories as well. For instance display, text, and rich media ad networks are comprised of companies like Google AdSense, Infolinks, and Tribal Fusion. Next comes the mobile-based ad network. This is basically in-app advertising, with companies like InMobi and AdMob taking the helm. Finally, we have video-based ad networks like VidRoll, Vdopia and BrightRoll.

Another way to classify ad networks is based on the kind of monetization that a publisher is hoping to achieve.

Now let’s look at the difference between an ad server and an ad network:

As mentioned previously, an ad server uses tech to allow publishers and advertisers to carefully curate their ads for a designated audience, even down to a specific person. On the other hand, ad networks help a company to find the right place to put their ads in the digital world. They analyze and track, then feed the information to the publishers and advertisers on the other end.

But what should you use? How should your balance be adjusted?

Regardless of whether you’re a publisher or an advertiser, ad servers inevitably offer more customization in how your ads are shown on the platform. They also allow you to keep an eye on the parameters for ease of use.

Another benefit of using ad servers is that they allow the publisher to work with more than one advertiser without forcing them to modify any aspect of their respective site or app. If you’ve got the know-how, it’s generally better to create your own ad server before going to an advertiser or ad network. In this way, you can have more control over how the advertising actually functions, while benefiting from the expertise of advertisers and ad networks.

Should you want to avoid the stress of putting together and taking care of an ad server, you could alternatively go to an ad network from the get-go. The downside to this, however, is that an ad network isn’t really giving you the best bang for your buck. With that said, if you’d rather avoid the trouble of managing an ad server, this is ultimately the best choice for you.

So whether you go for an ad server or an ad network for your needs is up to you, but we hope that this information serves as a resource to help you decide.

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