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Lewis Sherlock 

Programmatic TV and ad fraud: the reality

Programmatic TV and ad fraud: the reality

If TV advertising goes down the programmatic path, how might the industry deal with ad fraud?'s Lewis Sherlock investigates.

The by-product of any evolving and successful industry is that it becomes very attractive to illegal operators, keen to divert funds to their own purses. The online advertising space is no different, and no one working in it would deny that fraud is an issue.

The sector thrives on partnerships and third-party relationships; respectable publishers, for example, regularly extend their reach via third party websites in order to enhance campaigns for their advertisers and increase their own revenue.

The risk here is that, while a site may appear premium, it is fraudulent and deploys tactics including botnets, iFrame stuffing (when an ad is made non-viewable by stuffing it into a 1x1 pixel), or ad stacking (multiple ads are played at the same time but only the top one is viewable).

There is no substitute for the human element when it comes to fighting fraud."

But here, two key factors come into play. One, the issue of fraud is widely known about; and two, the industry understands it must do everything it can to ensure that the bad guys do not derail all that it has achieved to date.

For these reasons, there is a general commitment by industry players to develop technology that addresses the issue of fraud, along with viewability and ad placement accuracy. The need for open technology platforms is also acknowledged, because these ensure that third-party solutions, which play a key role in staying ahead of the fraudsters, are easily deployed.

Overall, advertising technology continues to evolve at speed; enabling the ability to block ads in real-time - so that any illegal or fraudulent ads are not served, or viewability detection is deployed at run-time - is now a reality.

Also key are initiatives by industry bodies. For example, earlier this year the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) introduced its Good Practice Principles to bring greater transparency into the UK digital display market. Some players have already been awarded its seal of compliance, thereby reassuring brands that their advertising is likely to meet the right audience.

But, while the talk is of automation and programmatic, the ad tech industry recognises that there is no substitute for the human element when it comes to fighting fraud. Often this is as straightforward as real people performing in-depth checks on websites to ensure they are genuine before they are allowed into ad trading marketplaces.

Ad buyers can also take a good amount of responsibility in protecting themselves. Those that invest time and resource into ensuring that they understand the digital trading world considerably reduce the likelihood of being a victim of ad fraud. Seen from another perspective, it is important that advertising technology providers ensure they are clear and transparent when communicating about a complex business that relies heavily on acronyms.

So how does this relate to the current discussions about programmatic ad fraud in TV?

It seems unlikely that programmatic TV will eclipse the enduring linear model."

For ad fraud to take place, there needs to be a fraudulent impression and these cannot be created on TV airtime. Programmatic TV can be about delivering an ad in real-time down a live broadcast stream, but it is not limited to that.

The broader definition includes enabling audience addressable advertising in linear television, taking it beyond just ratings. In other words, programmatic TV activates more defined audiences against a TV schedule by matching viewing habits and subscription data with user profiles or other attributes.

Advertisers can combine the much-loved medium of TV with the benefits of a highly targeted audience, making it even more effective because they have the opportunity to accurately pinpoint their key audiences. For example, rather than specifying that they want to reach females aged between 18 and 35, brands can target females between 18 and 35 that like a particular brand of car.

On the sell-side, programmatic TV enables broadcasters to better monetise some currently undervalued daytime or late night programming. These niche channels and programmes may not even show up in a BARB panel, for example, and are therefore undervalued from an audience perspective, despite being an effective way of reaching a specific group of people.

It seems unlikely that programmatic TV will eclipse the enduring linear model. There are certain brands that need to be associated with appointment to view programming on primetime TV that creates mass conversation in workplaces across the country the next day.

But there are others for whom it is more important to know that their ad is reaching a high proportion of their core audience, which is where data-focused programmatic trading steps in.

As a result, we are seeing that, as both channels grow in revenue, they are increasingly being planned together as advertisers choose to connect with a captive audience in sight sound and motion.

This does not magically remove the problem of ad fraud. However, all parties can be confident that the ad tech industry will continue its ongoing vigilance in protecting the interests of every bona fide player.

Lewis Sherlock is senior director, strategic accounts, EMEA, - a division of AOL Platforms

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