Home Online Advertising Your Ad Server, My Ad Server: Trends With Discrepancies Today

Your Ad Server, My Ad Server: Trends With Discrepancies Today


DiscrepanciesFor many years, the deliver of display media impressions through ad serving on a single media buy had resulted in a disconnect between what two different parties said was delivered in the ad serving food chain – think advertisers/agencies, ad networks and publishers .. they’re are all in this mix.  Industry initiatives and innovation has continued to drive at solving the discrepancy issue. So, where are we today?

We asked several industry executives to chime in with their views on the following question:

“What’s your take on trends you’re seeing with discrepancies in ad delivery reporting today?”

Click below or scroll down for more:

Mitchell Weinstein, SVP, Director of Ad Operations at Universal McCann

“Discrepancies have not been a major issue for the past couple of years at our agency, ever since the revised IAB/AAAA T&C document was released. As long as we are using an industry accredited ad server, we have been able to use our agency ad server counts for billing. That’s not to say discrepancies don’t exist between agency and publisher counts, because they do. But the back and forth over how to handle billing has been greatly reduced.

One area where discrepancies still cause some issues is between the different agency ad servers. We will often use multiple ad servers for a single campaign (standard, dynamic, rich media, video, etc.), and those ad servers will never agree 100% on the impression counts. So it’s important to identify up front where the billing numbers will come from. Complete and open communication with our media partners is key to making this work properly.”

Jay Wright, Yield Management Group Leader, Cars.com

“For Cars.com, the trend has gotten better. But that’s only because we switched to DFP and most of our advertisers use DFA. Interestingly, this fact brings up a whole different issue. I find that the advertiser’s choice of agency side server makes a huge difference. For a while, we were tracking discrepancies by 3rd party system. Probably not surprisingly, different 3rd party servers have discrepancies with completely independent (and predictable) means and standard deviations. Some are normally distributed around 3%, but others are predictably 5% or 7%.

I’m completely in favor of accountability and I’m more than willing to have my site be held responsible if we don’t deliver on a contract. However, I’m not willing to lose 5% extra revenue because of the agency’s choice of ad server. The short term fix is to simply pad the impression goal up by the estimated loss from a particularly wasteful server. But often, those padded 5% or 7% of impressions are in valuable content areas that could be monetized by other campaigns. I understand there are different business reasons for agencies to choose different 3rd party systems, but it seems very unfair to push the cost of that decision onto the publisher.

In the long run, there are only two ways I see to be fair to the publisher (assuming the publisher is reputable and they are using reputable technology too). The first is to pay on first-party numbers. The second is to have a rate card based on the agencies choice of ad server.


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For the time being, this doesn’t seem pervasive enough to take either of those actions. But, if we continue to see agencies running increasingly elaborate creative on new platforms and technology, the variable pricing is something that I’d strongly consider implementing at our company.”

Bart Boughton, VP, Advertising Operations, TheStreet.com

“Unfortunately, discrepancies between publishers and 3rd party delivery systems continue to be a problem despite advances in reporting and various efforts to bring greater transparency to the numbers. This becomes magnified as publishers’ inventory mix extends beyond standard banner units to rich media, video, mobile, and tablet inventory. Currently, publishers must manually aggregate reports to compare primary (internal) delivery numbers with 3rd party delivery. This can be a tedious process that is difficult to maintain and publishers with small teams often find themselves discovering large discrepancies and other issues well into a campaign rather than at launch.

One way we combat these issues at TheStreet is by creating an identifier for each ad/placement in our primary system that gets tied to a placement or placements in the 3rd party system. The 2 are linked in each report shortly after a campaign launches, then going forward the comparison can be analyzed on a regular basis. There is an effort required to create and maintain the initial association, but the benefits far outweigh the investment of time. Publishers can detect and address discrepancy issues early on, view placements that are not live that should be, and perform accurate revenue forecasting using billable numbers rather than internal estimates.”

Mike Lewis, CEO, Ad-Juster

“Discrepancies have not and are not going away. While display discrepancy rates have come down some in the past few years, the reality is there is still a reasonably large average discrepancy that varies by adserver and depends on an array of other factors including creative size, 3rd party ad vendor, number of total files, and number of trackers and cookies. A common strategy to compensate for these discrepancies is to use complex rules based on loosely correlated factors to set local campaign buffers. Unfortunately, the significant variance from ad placement to ad placement often defeats these static approaches. This failure leads to either over or under delivery which eats directly into publishing margins. Our initial analysis with several publishers has produced some eye opening numbers about exactly how many impressions are effectively “thrown away” each month using similar schemes, and exactly how much potential revenue they represent. The only real solution remains active, preferably automated, buffer management by the ad operations team. Video, rich media, and ultimately mobile increase this imperative due to their significantly larger average discrepancy rates.”

Daniel Davies, Director, US Ad Operations, Adnetik

“The disparity between reporting touch points (e.g., ad server, exchange, DSP) seems to be showing some improvement over the last year, after some very discrepant times.  However, there still exists a fundamental difference in who’s counting an impression when.  Few veterans of the digital industry would deny that things have gotten much more complex over the last five years, if measured only by the  amount of activity occurring within that split second before an ad is served.  Data providers, ad servers, DSPs, exchanges, aggregators, resellers, each recording and interpreting the same event a little differently.  What we sometimes end up with is a handful of varying snapshots, all taken of the same thing, but at slightly different times.  And,  it seems as if the number of entities involved in a single impression rendering is only getting larger with each year.  So, one would assume that the discrepancy in reporting would, likewise, be growing.  But the computing muscle and stamina backing digital advertising is bulking up, as well.  Larger tech stacks, lower latency, and greater overall industry know-how are all helping to keep the tremendous potential for discrepancy somewhat at bay.  This is a trend I think we all hope persists into 2012.”

Manu Warikoo, SVP of Solutions, Operative

“Discrepancies in ad delivery reporting are a persistent problem that impacts all publishers in the United States today. Publishers are spending a lot of time and money trying to reconcile the data and are looking for easier, simpler ways to address the problem.

We see several trends that indicate this is still a major challenge for publishers. For example, while the percentage of total line items billed as third party is roughly the same from 2010 to 2011, the percentage of contracted spend that this represents has significantly increased YOY. What this suggests is that larger agencies are influencing publishers to bill on third party ad servers.

Publishers of all sizes are affected by these billing terms with many billing well more than half of their revenue against third party numbers. Some publishers however, appear to have a reduced impact from the issue by billing exclusively on primary delivery. So while it seems that there some holdouts, we do see more aggressive movement in the US market towards billing off of third party numbers. This is less of an issue in the UK because most publishers there are billing on primary ad server data.

Many publishers are automatically padding their impression goals on their primary ad server to account for the discrepancies. This can be anywhere from 5%-20% depending on the third party ad server.

To help alleviate some of the burden and additional overhead/resources required to reconcile third party discrepancies, we are seeing a lot of demand for automated solutions, especially ones that integrate with an order management system. The whole reconciliation process requires a tremendous amount of manual time and effort, which can impact a publisher’s profit margins and time-to-market for new initiatives.”

By John Ebbert

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