Programmatic Panel: Getting To The Nitty-Gritty of RTB And Viewability Challenges

ViewabilityA panel covering RTB and “viewability” played to a packed room atop the Gansevoort Park Hotel in New York last night.

What commenced was a (congenially heated, at times) meeting of the minds between James Green, CEO of Magnetic; Anne Hunter, SVP of global marketing strategy at comScore; Brian Gleason, managing director, North America, Xaxis; David Hahn, SVP of product management, Integral Ad Science; and Walter Knapp, COO of Federated Media Publishing. Magnetic hosted the event.

According to recent figures published by eMarketer, marketers will spend some $3.34 billion on real-time bidded ads this year. With 65 million websites in the world, the ability to buy inventory programmatically “gives marketers the ability to take the guesswork” out of the equation, Gleason said. However, “understanding who the user is and what the end action we want out of that interaction is key.”

To increase the performance of RTB, understanding viewable ad impressions and the inherent obstacles – from weeding out nonhuman traffic and botnets to uncovering hidden or otherwise obfuscated ad impressions – is the challenge at hand for both buyers and sellers.

The wide-ranging panel, called “The Attribution Revolution 2.0,” touched on viewable ad accreditation and instating data quality measures as a buffer against fraud, among other things.

Here are some highlights:

Thoughts on progress in the video viewability realm.

Anne Hunter: The technology measuring viewability for video is here. It’s not as easy as display, but the technology is here. We’ve been running some [custom] things with clients and we’ve work with VideoHub, Tremor, which are Media Rating Council (MRC)-accredited, which is really important to us. There is no video viewability standard that everybody has really rallied around yet.

I know there’s no display standard either that’s 100% codified, but there’s a lot more progress in that area. You can measure video in a lot of different ways, but some marketers only want to pay if [a video] is 100% played all the way through to the end. Then, other publishers say, ‘It’s there. It’s a great environment. I should get credit. If the video or ad is boring, it’s not my fault and I shouldn’t get penalized.’ There’s a pretty big gap between buyer and seller right now, which is why it hasn’t moved as far ahead as what we see with display, but the technology is there and we do these as one-off [customizations for] clients around specific goals. You won’t see the universal trading that you’re seeing with display until there’s some agreed upon standard and it’s all about duration right now. Everyone agrees it should show up, they just don’t know for how long.

David Hahn: I certainly agree. … The technology exists. The complexities are different, but they’re solvable. There is a difference of opinion on the standard. Ultimately, if we continue to provide the data, it’s up to advertisers to use that data, evaluate that data and determine what’s best for them – the same as we do with publishers. We support standards and we feel standards will emerge for video, but in my mind, sometimes the industry moves quicker than standards and I think giving the advertisers opportunities to mull over data and giving publishers those same options potentially accelerates those standards. Right now, they’re sort of polar opposites.

What buyers can do to ensure they’re at the cutting edge of new technology in an, at times, obscure and fast-moving space where some claim to “do it all.”

Brian Gleason: Know that you can’t do it all. The best thing about our industry is, there are centers of gravity and excellence that we all have, whether that be the agency or the publisher. It’s important to know what you do well and articulate that message. Even within our organization, we have distinct groups who focus on a very laser-like task, whether it be the technology or the planning. But, know that you can’t do all those things, but as an organization you have to articulate the values each one has. Holistically, if we want to relate back to that strategy, it all has to work in tandem. … Where there’s money, there’s fraud. Until we do bring standards, the reality is that there will be fraud.

David Hahn: As the industry continues to evolve, I think standards will continue to get better and represent the industry better and better. The other thing is, 30-40 years ago, marketing was like an episode of Mad Men. There was a [three-hour] lunch with martinis and handshake deals. Marketing has become technology-driven. In order to make decisions and keep abreast, you need to have technology experts in your organization. Marketing organizations and agencies and people who represent advertisers are evolving into technology companies. If you look at Google and Facebook, those are the guys, by and large, who are making huge progress because of their ability to leverage technology to get results.

Brian Gleason: I would add to that, humans matter. RTB is a mechanism in which we buy and sell. Humans matter. How do we think about the individuals who look at it, think about it, analyze it and report on it? That matters. A lot of times, I think we get caught up in thinking, ‘OK, it’s just RTB.’ ‘It’s just machines.’ It’s got to be more than that for us all to do well.

Thoughts on fraud and suspicious traffic across the ad ecosystem. 

Brian Gleason: We’re talking about how we buy. How we buy doesn’t necessarily matter as much as what we buy. If I’m not paying attention to what I’m buying programmatically, it can be wrought with fraud. It’s up to me to be able to put the mechanisms in place to prevent it. Xaxis, as an audience-based company, to be able to put as many data and protection layers on top of that gives me the maximum amount of protection. [Having the capability to] measure if something spikes and a team to analyze it [and take action] in real time [is much different] than in traditional media buying, where there would be a lag for me to be able to get that information. I wouldn’t have the real-time levers to be able to pull.

Walter Knapp: There’s a degree of fraudulent traffic on [premium publisher] sites (ESPN and The New York Times were two examples the moderator chose for reference purposes). But it’s not like someone goes out intentionally at ESPN to buy fraudulent traffic. There’s a legitimate strategy to buy search engine marketing and there’s a legitimate strategy to go ask for somebody to generate traffic from our site. Almost every large site does that and some of those people work with other brokers that help drive traffic and one of those guys is incented on driving traffic to a site and therefore buys traffic from some dude in Kazakhstan. It happens. The way we think is, ‘What’s guaranteed, and nonpreemptable’ so that’s a segment of inventory – guaranteed, nonpreemptable and it goes all the way down to a remnant, open market and it has every layer in there. We slot in private marketplaces [and] layers of traffic where people have different comfort levels with that set of inventory. It’s wrong to conflate the segment of traffic with, ‘It’s fraudulent or suspicious.’

David Hahn: I agree that every site has, to some degree, evidence of fraud. It might be fractions of a percent, or it might be 70 or 80%. I think what we see from our data, in millions of impressions every month, is typically sites like ESPN or The New York Times have much lower degrees of fraud. They don’t need to buy as much traffic or do these audience extension networks. The point is, there are people on the open RTB who are purposefully trying to defraud advertisers and to me, that’s a very big difference. It’s a very different mindset than somebody who is a byproduct of an ecosystem. Both opportunities exist for exchanges and people responsible for managing those exchanges to [clean up fraud] and publishers have the opportunity to work with technology [and providers] to make sure wherever they’re buying extensions from don’t broker deals with [the wrong, or unsafe] sources.

I don’t want to say The New York Times or ESPN are riddled with fraud. It’s a fraction of traffic and it happens rarely. Less than 3% [of those who] typically sell their media have instances of fraud, whereas in the exchange world, sometimes see as high as 30%.

Anne Hunter: We have data working with premium publishers and data working with networks and exchanges. Fraud happens to premium publishers, usually not by them. They want to be in the comScore 100 and they come to us and say, ‘We have all this real traffic,’ and we work with them to understand how they’re being frauded and getting traffic they don’t want or intend to get. It’s often a surprise, but very quickly resolved. When you look at overall data across premium numbers and those sent through exchanges and networks, there is an overall difference in viewability percentages. Viewability percentages on direct-purchased inventory are higher. When you look at exchanges down to the lowest tier, the guys who are intentionally obfuscating their URLs so they cannot be seen or they’re falsifying their URLs, e.g. some little guy who wants to look like a Yahoo, those guys have 13% viewability — so there [are ways] you can flag it.

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