Home On TV & Video It’s Not Just TrueView. Blended Inventory Is Widespread In Video And CTV Buys

It’s Not Just TrueView. Blended Inventory Is Widespread In Video And CTV Buys

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Lindsey Harju, co-founder at Blinc

The recent Google TrueView scandal, which claims up to 75% of YouTube video ads were never seen, has surprised everyone and no one. 

Questions about YouTube’s inventory, plus similar scandals from Meta and continuous reports of widespread ad fraud, have given buyers plenty of reason to be leery of major media companies grading their own homework.

If there is any element of surprise here, it’s how blatantly Google violated the terms of its agreement with buyers. 

In the aftermath, I hope we act big. A myopic focus on one single seller, or only large-spending advertisers, can’t lead to significant or lasting change.

Think more broadly about the state of the media 

YouTube is very much in the hot seat. However, let’s zoom out and consider all of the different media companies and platforms that are doling out “grab bags” of video inventory.

A leading connected TV buying platform frequently preaches about the power of high-quality CTV inventory and why advertisers should settle for nothing less. However, every buy executed within this platform offers a mix of additional inventory types, including digital display and mobile, “in order to maximize performance.” 

The platform does not permit buyers to choose only CTV inventory or even to dictate the percentage of the overall buy that must be CTV. This respected platform asks brands to sign off, hoping that a decent amount of the inventory purchased will be in the format they desire and near decent content. And this platform is not unique in this regard.

It’s shocking how many huge brands accept this approach. It’s as if they ordered the lobster and received a smoothie. When asked where the lobster is, the waiter winks and says, “Oh, it’s in there … with some other stuff you’re going to love! Trust me.”

Secrecy makes the true cost of inventory more digestible

It’s understandable how the sell side got here, with high-quality inventory regularly experiencing supply constraints, especially for targeted audiences. 

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The media walled gardens don’t want anyone to leave, so they sneak out at night to grab dandelions from the abandoned lot next door and pass them off as their own flowers to fulfill inventory promises. 

DSPs and other buying platforms aren’t much better, but at least buyers are expecting them to sell remnant inventory, and they can track delivered digital media more independently.

In a hyper-competitive landscape, sellers also need to package inventory to appear more cost-effective and digestible for buyers. In the Adalytics report, one buyer is quoted, “Nobody goes to walled gardens like YouTube to run on audience networks, which all have the same crappy inventory. This is a method for YouTube and Google to extract more budget and manufacture scale in a way that is palatable to the advertiser because they don’t fully understand it.”

One could argue that buyers, especially for large brands, understand more than we think. We claim to demand transparency, but continually hand over budget for plans shrouded in mystery. 

When a seller is transparent, it reveals the ugly side of media. Either cheap inventory is cheap for a reason, or high-value inventory is (gasp) actually expensive. 

But buyers don’t applaud the bravery of honesty. They look the other way. If buyers want something different, we must stop accepting the charade.

TrueView fraud hurt buyers big and small 

The ANA will no doubt grill Google executives for months to come. But small buyers – the type not usually represented by groups like the ANA – are the most vulnerable. And platforms with easy self-serve access make it easier to perpetuate fraud on the little guy. 

Small and mid-sized businesses can’t afford sophisticated third-party verification services. In fact, they may be so busy running their actual business that they miss ad tech trade news, blissfully unaware they were defrauded. 

Early reports suggested organizations audit their buys and demand refunds from YouTube. That approach may work for very large, well-funded organizations, but would unfortunately leave small buyers in the cold. 

It’s reassuring to see a class-action lawsuit is in the works, which should inform all buyers affected. Perhaps an FTC case for truth in advertising violations should be in Google’s future. 

As with most things, those with the deepest pockets have the greatest opportunity to demand change. Perhaps if they send the smoothie back to the kitchen enough times, we’ll all start getting what we ordered.

On TV & Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video. 

Follow Blinc and AdExchanger on LinkedIn.

For more articles featuring Lindsey Harju, click here.

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