Why In-Banner Video Won’t Die

In Banner VideoPublishers, users and advertisers hate in-banner video. It creates a poor user experience and, for advertisers, it doesn’t even drive ROI like pre-roll video.

“If you want the entire video to be viewed and have complete attention, in-stream works best,” said Anush Prabhu, chief channel planning and investment officer for ad agency Deutsch Inc. In-banner video can work in limited situations where the ads are contextually relevant, but that’s about it.

So why won’t in-banner video die? Certainly some advertisers buy it for the cheap impressions. The other reason is simple supply and demand: Every advertiser wants video but there’s not enough quality pre-roll available.

Consequently, many advertisers pay for pre-roll but instead get in-banner video. Spend ends up funneled into low-quality in-banner placements via middlemen brokers, sometimes called subsyndication networks.

And it’s a growing problem. DoubleVerify data shows nearly 50% of video ads bought programmatically are served in-banner and increasingly autoplay with the sound off.

“My industry pet peeve is pushing video through 300×250,” said Stephanie Layser, VP of ad operations and programmatic strategy at publisher A Plus. “Not only does the pixel take a long time to load and crash my page, it’s dishonest. There’s such a small amount of inventory out there, and I know that advertisers aren’t getting the transparency they want and deserve.”

So how does this happen? If in-banner video shows up suddenly on a site that rarely plays them, an in-banner video network likely slipped in the units programmatically.

In this scenario, a video DSP buys pre-roll that the network serves in-banner, with the network pocketing the difference in price.

These networks might also secure inventory through direct deals with a publisher, promising high CPMs in return for running in-banner video.

Subsyndication networks often take advantage of tagging technologies that allow them to misrepresent inventory, explained Sam Cox, VP of OPEN global media partnerships for MediaMath, making it hard for buyers to see where inventory is going.

And they make it harder for buyers and sellers to block them. These networks are “trading through someone else’s consolidated seat,” or seats which contain bids for multiple buyers, Cox said. “Then it becomes hard to distinguish what is a good or bad seat.”

But Branovate, an in-banner video network that works directly with publishers, defends the value of its services. “We show them competitive rates, and we’re experts on the algorithms and the monetization of their inventory,” said company founder and CEO Roee Lichtenfeld.

If a publisher doesn’t have on-site video, Branovate feels justified in running pre-roll in-banner, because it supplies video to publishers to play after the ad runs. But that runs counter to advertisers’ expectations of how users will view pre-roll.

Mobile is another growth area for in-banner video. The IAB and MRC haven’t developed mobile video viewability standards. And less oversight makes it easier to run in-banner video on mobile undetected.

Branovate is growing its business fastest on mobile. Seven months after adding mobile videos to its lineup, it’s now auctioning off 17 billion mobile video opportunities a monht (it doesn’t fill everything). Ads on mobile are overtaking desktop for the 3-year old company, although Lichtenfeld said it’s not related to differing viewability standards on desktop and mobile.

What Publishers Can And Can’t Do About In-Banner Video

When publishers accept programmatic demand, in-banner video ads will often slide in unidentified in the bid request.

They really only have one option: constant maintenance and monitoring to manually filter out in-banner video.

“It’s difficult to control because it’s really just rich media creative,” said Dana Caputo, director of programmatic at TEN (The Enthusiast Network). “We always notify our partners of [in-banner video], and they work to resolve it.”

Publishers are normally one step behind because many unscrupulous players don’t properly tag their video as “autoplay” in the creative ID section of the openRTB spec for a bid request.

“A lot of them intentionally omit that because it will block them from a lot of inventory from the get-go,” said Scott Siegler, the SVP of engineering for Gamut, a publisher ad tech company owned by Cox Media. “They capitalize on people not being able to block them in real time.”

Some publishers are resigned to playing whack-a-mole.

“It might just be one of those things where they will just keeping finding a way to dig under the fence,” said Scott Mulqueen, director of programmatic and audience strategy for About.com. It doesn’t allow any in-banner video on its site, but some still slips in.

“It would be great if there was a blanket alternative that always defends against [in-banner video],” Mulqueen said.

Gamut is working on a more proactive solution to improve ad quality, a huge issue for Cox. Gamut released a toolbar in July called Gamut Navigator, which allows publishers to block advertisers in a single click.

“We care about this more than a tech-only vendor, because we roll into a publishing platform,” Siegler said.

Siegler envisions the Gamut Navigator – and potentially the whole ecosystem – being able to block poor-quality ads by crowdsourcing ad screening. If a few publishers block an advertiser because it’s running autoplay video, the technology could automatically block that advertiser across all publishers who don’t want autoplay video. That makes blocking proactive, not reactive.

There are also changes that can take place before inventory reaches publishers.

In order to cut down on in-banner video arbitrage, exchanges shouldn’t remove such players but make them “have their own seat on the exchange, isolating the risk,” MediaMath’s Cox said.

That enables publishers to work with video subsyndication networks, if they choose, while allowing others to opt out.

Cox prefers to have buyers and sellers, not exchanges, block in-banner video suppliers. If technology companies police behavior, they risk cutting off publishers and buyers from doing deals they want to transact.

Cox compared that approach to Google’s policy change that allowed alcohol and liquor, tobacco, sex and firearms ads to run through private deals.

“Google policy was dictating how publishers like Hearst or Time Inc. were doing business,” he said. “If it’s a direct relationship between buyer and seller and that seller wants to allow in-banner video, the exchange should not prohibit it.”

While freedom may be a great long-term goal, the presence of shady players and arbitrage holds the industry back.

“The video fraud that exists within certain ad tech companies, and publishers not being able to understand how and where [ads] are being sourced makes it difficult for the programmatic industry as a whole to move forward in a positive direction,” Layser said. “I think programmatic will never get there until people are honest, and there are only companies providing legitimate, actual value.”

That same lack of transparency holding the industry back makes it difficult to understand the scope of the problem – and some write it off as a cost of doing business.

Deutsch’s Prabhu estimates the waste created by video ads running in-banner instead of pre-roll is small – maybe 10% – and that it gets corrected quickly. It’s not stopping video investments, because the value outweighs the costs.

“Video helps us get more out of the digital environment,” Prabhu said. “Everyone is going to grow more into video.”


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  1. I’m glad that DoubleVerify is helping to shine a spotlight on the issue. Working with them, they have been awesome in spreading awareness and education on this issue.

    What should be mentioned is that they do have a bit of selection bias and that the real percentage of programmatic in-banner video is a lot higher. They only measure on select campaigns, which are typically setup to avoid in-banner inventory.

  2. Same issue as almost all ad fraud. Middlemen doing things that are in direct violation of the IO and the T&C’s. The solution is simple though. Make every seat holder financially accountable for the inventory they represent. But this would go against the grain of triple digit growth that the overly funded entities need to justify their valuations. And so it will continue.

    It is fraud as the buyers are not getting what they pay for and yet the conduits, the exchanges have no incentive to enforce the rules. For them, its a volume game and the more they deliver, the more they make.

    Knowing it happened after the fact should trigger expulsion from the exchanges. Should, but it does not as the exchanges dont really care and the trading desks and DSPs are incentivized to ignore the entire process and instead push more and more volume to bolster their revenue.

    BTW: This has been going on for years but the rise of programmatic video made it so much easier. Follow the money, you’ll find the culprits. But the desire to stop them has to come from the buy side as they’re the ones being defrauded.