This week’s Product Pulse is brought to you by the SpotX Brand Safety team. Brand safety is one of our core competencies, and we believe in doing everything we can to keep supply chains as clean as possible. To learn more about brand safety and what you can do to protect your brand, please check out our online brand safety course.
CTV is the next frontier of digital advertising. For the last six years — and especially the last six months — the ad tech industry has been abuzz about the potential opportunities that CTV represents. As CTV continues to gain traction with buyers and more inventory becomes available, we felt it would be prudent to address quality issues in CTV and how they differ from desktop and mobile environments, along with some best practices.
How is CTV different from desktop and mobile?
CTV maintains several differences from desktop and mobile, which impact key advertiser needs like ad verification and brand safety. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Connected devices do not support VPAID, which is relied upon and required for many third-party verification vendors. VAST 4.0 was introduced by the IAB in early 2016 and was meant to close the gap between VAST and VPAID, enabling viewability and other measurement tracking functionality. However, VAST 4.0 has not seen wide industry adoption yet, and VAST 4.1 was released in June 2018 to further close the feature gap between VAST and VPAID.
- Not all devices have a standard for passing information that is expected in historical programmatic executions, such as a bundle ID or domain. This can make it hard to validate the inventory being purchased at times.
- Device authentication services don’t always recognize user agents of connected devices. When these new or custom user agents are introduced, they can go unrecognized at times or cause issues in understanding the device on which an impression is served. A couple examples include user agents that are non-descriptive or are derived from similar operating systems (i.e., an Xbox user agent looks like a Windows Phone).
- Server-side ad insertion (SSAI) vendors are often used in CTV/OTT environments. When this type of integration, it’s difficult to independently validate the user information, such as IP addresses and user agents.
Outside some of the considerations noted above, history has also proven that ad fraud and quality issues follow the money. While industry initiatives — such as the various Trustworthy Accountability Group programs, the IAB’s ads.txt program and an increased focused on supply path optimization — have made it harder for “bad actors” to siphon money via fraudulent practices on desktop and mobile web, CTV/OTT is still in its infancy and has some issues in regard to validation and verification.
This opens up the doors for bad actors to enter and replicate their tricks from desktop video. For example, user- and device-level information can easily be spoofed and go undetected by traditional verification services. As such, the best way to protect media dollars and ensure money is flowing to legitimate supply sources is simply by ensuring you’re buying directly from trusted media owners or device manufacturers. By cutting out any resold CTV/OTT inventory, you’re significantly reducing your risk of becoming victim to fraudsters.
CTV brand safety best practices for buyers
While CTV transactions do have some unique considerations, below are some best practices we recommend to maximize spend and ensure your budget does not fall victim to fraud practices:
- Cut out resellers. Only accessing CTV/OTT directly from media owners, distributors and device manufactures reduces the chances of any quality related issues and allows you to have a direct conversation should any concerns arise. When resellers are introduced in this landscape, it’s difficult to validate impression quality and ensure ads are being seen by a human audience.
- Look for red flags, such as obscure apps sending high impression volumes, low CPMs — particularly if it’s a well-known app — or clicks in a “clickless” environment.
- Verify IP addresses and user agents. If possible, validate the IP and user agent via header information. Verifying IPs and user agents against the bidstream allows you to surface red flags. Mismatches don’t always indicate fraud, but they do usually indicate some sort of problem.
If you’re a buyer or advertiser working with a third-party verification partner in connected environments, we also encourage you to work with them and use their data as an additional datapoint when deciding to bid on or purchase inventory.
CTV is a new and exciting arena for digital advertisers, and we have high hopes for it as it continues to evolve and new technologies arise. At SpotX, we only work directly with trusted media owners and device manufacturers to make sure that all inventory running through our platform is high quality and brand safe. In addition to partnering with DoubleVerify, a leading fraud prevention technology provider, we maintain multiple in-house teams dedicated to keeping our supply path clean.
To learn more about SpotX and how we can help with your future CTV buys, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Frizzell, Sr. Director of Brand Safety and Inventory Operations
Nick Frizzell has been with SpotX since 2011 and has always been dedicated to ad fraud, quality and industry initiatives to create a better ecosystem.