For the last several years, Pixalate has been releasing quarterly reports called Seller Trust Indexes. They’re meant to provide a publicly available ranking system to allow the advertising industry to assess the quality of each of the sell-side platforms available today, which, in theory, makes a lot of sense. There have been several attempts at this over the years, but this is one of the only efforts to be publicly released on a consistent basis.
In full disclosure, SpotX was ranked No. 1 in Pixalate’s first-ever release of their Video Seller Trust Index in 2016. However, we’ve never seen the top of the list since. We were surprised to see SpotX start to fall in the rankings, as access to premium inventory, transparent relationships, and a fraud-free guarantee are core to our offering. Naturally, we reached out to Pixalate to learn more about what changed, what data they are gathering, and what their methodology is.
This is when we quickly learned that these rankings lack any transparency. That, of course, could be changed if we were to engage in a commercial discussion to partner with Pixalate — they seemed willing to disclose some of their data sets and “help” SpotX get back on top. For a number of reasons, we decided it was not in SpotX’s best interest to engage in a commercial agreement with Pixalate at that time. Instead, we decided to invest in existing partnerships with inventory quality partners that aligned with our vision and the needs of our customers.
Fast forward, Pixalate has released their first-ever CTV rankings. We reached out to Pixalate to understand, once again, where they’re getting their data, and their team pointed us to the glossary included in the Index. We’ve included these definitions for the criteria noted below, but Pixalate still has not shared what data they are using to calculate the rankings or insights into their methodologies.
This is why we see the immediate need to provide context to Pixalate’s findings, since they do not add up with what we know about how CTV media owners transact their inventory and the platforms on which they make their inventory available. To be clear, we completely disagree with these findings.
The CTV rankings were released separately for three different platforms — Roku, Samsung, and Amazon — with SpotX ranking fifth, second, and eleventh, respectively. SpotX is the supply-side platform (SSP) for both Roku and Samsung. With most of the industry in agreement that a more direct relationship equates to more transparency and less risk, how would indirect partners on these platforms rank higher than a direct partner?
Pixalate scores platforms on, what appears to be, six different sets of criteria, including invalid traffic (IVT), household (HH) reach, channel share, server-side ad insertion (SSAI) transparency, channel integrity, and side-loaded apps. Here’s our take on each of these six criteria.
- IVT score: SpotX understands that everyone has their own methodologies and we respect that it’s ultimately up to the buyer to decide what their preferred approach is. SpotX has had a partnership with DoubleVerify for several years to pre-filter IVT before a transaction occurs and validate transparency and quality via post-impression tracking. This partnership is across all screens and all streams today, including CTV.
In a recent webinar, DoubleVerify publicly disclosed that SpotX’s IVT rankings are 96% lower than the rest of the programmatic ecosystem that they see today. DoubleVerify sees all impressions from SpotX, so their data set is complete.
- HH reach score: According to Pixalate’s glossary, this is “the percentage of households, and OTT/CTV devices within each household, reachable on the seller’s platform.” First and foremost, this stat cannot be accurately measured if Pixalate doesn’t have a comprehensive view of each of the selling platforms they’re measuring. If they’re only measuring a couple of campaigns within each platform, how can this truly be determined?
While we cannot disclose stats for other platforms, we can disclose that we reach 50MM CTV households in the US, which equates to 71% of the total CTV households and 89% of the ad-supported CTV households. SpotX reaches 4 out of 5 viewers of ad-supported CTV.
- Channel share score: This is defined by Pixalate as “based on each seller’s access to inventory and popular apps.” It’s important to note that SpotX only partners with reputable media owners to transact CTV impressions. This is largely due to fraud concerns and limitations with SSAI. By cutting out non-value-added middlemen, the chances of IVT transactions are drastically reduced. A list of our partners can be found via our sellers.json file at spotx.tv/sellers.json. Outside of ad-free experiences, SpotX has access to every distribution and content provider in the US, with the exception of Hulu.
- SSAI transparency score: SpotX goes through a certification process when SSAI is used to ensure proper pieces of information are being forwarded in the headers. This data — including client-side IP address, user-agent, and advertising identifiers — is sometimes obfuscated within our Audience Lock environment to protect the data and adhere to strict privacy rules. The audience protection we take on behalf of our most premium partners gives buyers the ability to buy premium inventory that wouldn’t be available programmatically otherwise, but would make it hard for a company like Pixalate to measure SSAI transparency since they do not have a holistic view into the impression served. Nearly all transactions with Audience Lock enabled occur through private marketplaces where the buyer understands the settings enabled. For this reason, we believe Pixalate may be measuring a small subset of CTV transactions, primarily open marketplace, which represents less than 9% of available inventory within SpotX. We monitor this activity on a daily basis and reach out anytime we see corrective action is needed. SpotX is hyper-aware of all the nuances with SSAI and how these transactions need to be represented in programmatic environments, and our partners know us to be the most trustworthy and fraud-free SSP.
- Channel integrity score: Defined by Pixalate as “based on each seller’s inventory that originates from the declared apps and not spoofed by another app or via third-party infrastructure(s) (e.g., data centers, etc.).” This seems to be closely in line with SSAI. However, without the IAB Tech Lab’s Guidance for CTV/OTT Device and App Identification, we’re curious to understand how they’re measuring this today.
- Side-loaded app store score: Since SpotX only works with direct and well-recognized media owners, side-loaded app store impressions are not a concern for us. All apps available are well-known and available within reputable CTV app stores.
SpotX provides several pieces of information to both educate the industry and provide actionable insights with best practices. We encourage you to subscribe to our quarterly inventory quality newsletter, The Guardian, for the most up-to-date information. Outside of this, SpotX takes the following actions to not only protect the transactions on our platform, but also help move the industry forward:
- Distribute blocklists and disabled partner lists, shining the light on pockets of inventory we’ve had issues with or have concerns around. Many of the partners on these lists have been top-ranking companies according to Pixalate’s indexes over the years.
- Employ a full-time, in-house, Inventory Quality team with 50+ years of industry experience. We understand that automation is key in ad tech, but there is no replacement for the human touch. Our in-house team takes a common-sense approach to inventory quality. If inventory seems too good to be true, it’s not allowed within SpotX. Our team only approves 1% of the media owners requesting access to our platform.
- Participate in several industry initiatives to push forward in the fight against bad actors and to increase transparency.
- We are active members of the IAB Tech Lab to help develop and support initiatives such as ads.txt, app-ads.txt, sellers.json, the oRTB supply-chain object, and guidance for CTV/OTT device and app identification.
- We are independently validated under the Trustworthy Accountability Group for fraud, transparency, piracy, and malware.
- Maintain always-on inventory quality partnerships, including DoubleVerify, Oracle’s MOAT, Similarweb, and Zvelo.
- Provide fraud-free guarantees, as nobody should pay for media that never has the opportunity to be seen. It’s not tangible to be 100% fraud-free, but we strive to get as close as we can. Buyers don’t pay for anything that slips through the cracks.
Ultimately, it is up to buyers to decide which criteria they use to evaluate the quality of SSPs. We support the idea of an industry-wide evaluation to help in that assessment, but only if it is publicly clear which data is collected and how scores are calculated. We do not believe entering into a commercial relationship should be mandated, which influences the rankings. Buyers deserve a full, transparent picture of any rankings.
About the author
Nick Frizzell is the Vice President of Inventory Quality & Planning at SpotX. During his nearly decade-long tenure at SpotX, Nick has focused on ensuring marketers have full transparency into the supply chain and can only access high quality, fraud-free, and brand-safe inventory, while protecting media owners from becoming victims of bad actors. He and his team are also responsible for ensuring compliance with industry standards such as the IAB Tech Lab, TAG, and others. Nick is a recognized leader in the industry and provides education, tools, and resources to ensure bad actors are not only banned from SpotX, but removed across the industry. Nick is a native of Colorado and graduated from Fort Lewis College. Outside of the office, Nick spends most of his time with his wife, daughters, and two dogs enjoying all that Colorado has to offer.