Instream vs Outstream Video: What’s Right for You?

July 13, 2017 | Article written by Carly Morris

Over the next two years, online video is on track to drive 80% of all internet traffic and generate up to $15.4 billion in total spend.

In the world of advertising, video is growing at an equally rampant pace, with marketers from every arena looking for new ways to apply it to their own campaigns.

That’s because video can’t be beat when it comes to capturing attention across social, mobile web, in-app, and even desktop channels. And because users are so accustomed to consuming video content on their mobile devices, the right creative optimizations can also give your ads a uniquely native and noninvasive feel.

But, not all mobile video is created equal.

In addition to your creative, messaging, length, and targeting options, there are a few additional factors that can also have a make-or-break impact on your video performance.

One of these is the battle of instream vs outstream.

Until recently, the standard for digital video ads was instream – that is, within an existing video. But, this system created a serious imbalance within the ecosystem.

On the sell-side, publishers without video inventory couldn’t cash in on its rise to the top. On the buy-side, advertisers were stuck competing to pay top dollar for scant placement options.

The rift was unsustainable, and a push for equal opportunity from both sides gave rise to the world of outstream.

So, what exactly is outstream video? And how does it square up to instream?

Let’s break it down.



Instream is what most people are familiar with. Picture the classic pre-roll, mid-roll, or post-roll ad placements within your favorite videos on YouTube.

Although susceptible to ad blockers, instream is the tried and true system for placing a video ad within a relevant video context.

Instream ads can be extremely effective because your audience it attentive dedicated to watching the desired video content that lays just beyond your ad. They’re in the mindset of consuming video content, and that’s exactly what your ad provides.

And, if you’ve done due diligence on targeting strategy, your ad should feel like a natural segue based on the viewer’s interest.

Instream video can be limiting in that you’re only able to run ads on channels with a video you can join in on. If those channels aren’t where your audience is active, or if those videos aren’t popular, then this can be a real setback.

With instream ads, you’ll also need to be cautious about matching the look and feel of the surrounding video so that your content feels natural and unobtrusive.

Imagine being served an intense RPG ad in the middle of your summer fashion rundown… probably not a great fit. The last thing you want is for your ad to feel intrusive or upsetting to the user experience.



Outstream is a form of video that appears in otherwise non-video environments, such as text-based editorial content or social feeds. As the user scrolls, their content opens up and gives way to the video.

Because outstream still relatively new, it’s often less familiar. Teads recently found that 2/3 of brand professionals only discovered its potential within the last 12 months.

The biggest advantage of outstream video is that your ads can appear anywhere and everywhere. You’re no longer limited to placements within existing video content, and it’s easier to secure hyper-relevant audiences based on surrounding content.

You can also worry less about whether users are actually seeing your videos, since outstream ads will pause when users scroll away and start up again when they’re back in range.

Finally, this format can be especially effective in capturing users’ attention, as videos tend to stand out more when set among non-video content. In fact, research shows that users watch outstream video up to 25% longer than instream.

Even more so than instream, you’ll need to be particularly cautious about your placements and creative strategy. That’s because your videos run a higher risk of appearing out of place or intrusive among text-based content.

Be sure to carefully align your strategy in a way that will enhance the overall user experience, or otherwise risk video blindness or negative brand perception.

Outstream video can also be more susceptible to scammy publisher activity, in that the new system still lacks sufficient safeguards for accurate placement. This means that untrustworthy publishers can claim to sell outstream video placements, only to drop ads in standard banner inventory.


Which is Right for You?

As always, the answer depends on your audience and your objectives. What do you want to accomplish, who are you trying to reach, and where are they most actively engaged?

We can’t answer these questions for you, but we can break down the typical user response to each format:

In a study of video ad reception, IPG Media Lab & YuMe found that instream pre-roll was the most preferred format by a landslide, with less than 1/5 of viewers perceiving these ads as intrusive.

On the opposite end, 72% found mid-roll least favorable – despite the fact that these had higher completion rates than pre-roll.

Outstream came out somewhere in the middle, where just under half (46%) of smartphone users considered them interruptive to the online experience.


The Proof is in the Multivariate Pudding:

It’s great to know what you’re getting into before diving in head first, but remember that general findings can only take you so far. Every industry, brand, product, and user is different.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start by A/B testing for your best video creative, messaging, length, and targeting. Once you know what resonates with your users, start experimenting with instream and outstream placements.

You never know what untapped resource is just below the surface.