Issue No.4, August 2020



Evaluating Transparency in Your Journey to Supply Path Optimization



More organizations are again prioritizing supply path optimization (SPO). Today, the promise of SPO is to deliver unique value from a roster of preferred partners with an elevated focus on premium inventory, including technical innovation, unique inventory access points, first- and third-party data, and priority buying.



Because SPO is a large undertaking, we’ve mapped the process across five pillars:

  1. Evaluation
  2. Transparency
  3. Consolidation
  4. Resources
  5. Execution

Transparency in itself is a complex pillar because it carries a different meaning for every organization. Buyers want more transparency across the entire supply path, but transparency takes many forms and some aspects may be valued higher than others within your organization. These are some of the key areas to consider:

- Auction dynamics
- Inventory quality
- Traffic filtering
- Supply analysis
- Log-level data

Don’t forget that channels are nuanced. Connected TV (CTV), video, and display are all unique, so be sure to understand the technical advantages of working with each partner within each channel.

For example, one of the accelerated trends of 2020 is a movement of CTV media owners into first-price auctions. The change in auction dynamics will simplify the programmatic ecosystem, creating a more fair and transparent environment for both buyers and sellers.

On the buy-side, a first-price auction model creates a greater level of transparency across the buying landscape and allows advertisers to equally compete for publisher inventory. On the sell-side, publishers gain better visibility into what buyers are genuinely willing to pay because buyers are bidding fair value that is reflective of the inventory’s true value.

As the industry continues the shift to a more transparent auction, it is also important that buyers, sellers, and technology partners work together during the transition. As you evaluate supply partners, understand what tools and resources are available to you, work with SSPs and publishers to reassess your bidding strategy, and enhance your communication with supply partners.

Limiting your partners to the right supply partners is critical to developing better relationships, cutting out the clutter in the supply chain, and understanding where you can access quality inventory most efficiently.

Read more about the other SPO pillars and watch our recent webinar here.

News and Opinions

A lot has happened since we published our last issue. Here’s what our inventory quality team has been reading and writing.

The Unexpected Truths of CTV and Why They Matter to Advertisers: With more advertisers looking to get in the CTV game, understanding the ecosystem and measuring the quality and performance of CTV buys is even more important. In this post, we break down four common myths to bring you the truth.

DoubleVerify says ad fraudsters are using public domain content to create fake TV apps: SpotX has long believed that OTT apps that consist purely of public domain content are highly suspicious. These types of apps are being used as a way to legitimize fraudulent traffic and impressions.

To Show How Easy it Is for Plagiarized News Sites to Get Ad Revenue, I Made my Own: More and more fraudsters are scraping content from legitimate publishers to create new sites that generate ad revenue. One CNBC reporter shares her own experiment that shows just how easy it is to do.

Dr. Augustine Fou’s Forbes column: A well-respected digital marketing and ad fraud expert, Dr. Fou’s series in Forbes is a trove of helpful insights. From preventing CTV fraud to the measurement shortcomings of IVT to what certifications really achieve, there’s a lot to explore.

What Exactly Happens During a Supply Chain Optimization Audit?: As we stated in the previous section, SPO is again top of mind as buyers look to streamline the supply chain. Teri Gallo of IPG’s Kinesso shares an inside look at the SPO process with Adweek.

COVID-19 Conspiracy Sites Are Getting Millions in Ad Revenue from Google and Amazon, According to a New Report: A report from the Global Disinformation Index shows that Google, along with Amazon and OpenX, have been serving ads to sites that publish COVID-19 disinformation or conspiracy theories — which could amount to $25 million in revenue for those sites.

White Ops Uncovers Advanced Mobile App Ad Fraud Scheme: White Ops’ latest investigation, CHARTREUSEBLUR, uncovered a mobile ad fraud operation in 29 Google Play Store apps. The apps, mostly photo tools, included “stub apps” that loaded malicious code designed to serve ads and call up fake browser pages outside the user’s control.

Inside Google and others’ struggle to stop an advertising-fraud scheme that’s skimming $130 million from the industry: Hydra, an ad-fraud scheme identified by Protected Media, impersonated app traffic and produced an estimated 100 million ad impressions a day in the US. Experts say Hydra is more sophisticated than ad-fraud operations they’ve seen in the past.

‘People have to be more aware of bullshitters’: Why there’s a push for more realism in advertising now: People are growing more wary of so-called experts spouting advice with little value. It’s a great time to look at all of your partners to evaluate what is being bought and from whom. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it — make your own assessment by looking at sellers.json, supply-chain, app-ads.txt, and other similar metrics to eliminate any partners not adding value.

ads.txt: Don’t Blame the Tools, Learn How to Use Them: The IAB Tech Lab responds to an article that’s been circulating about whether ads.txt is complicit in allowing Breitbart to siphon ad dollars from unsuspecting brands. Be sure to read for a closer analysis of the claim and the role of ads.txt.

Publishers: Clean Up Your Ads.txt!: Additional commentary from AdExchanger details the importance of a well maintained ads.txt file, including benefits and best practices.

Ask an Expert

What to know about the 2020 upfronts

SpotX has a team of dedicated inventory quality experts who really know their stuff. In each issue we pick their brains to get answers on burning questions from the market – if you have a question that you’d like us to address, please email guardians@spotx.tv.

In this issue, Cassidy Diamond, VP of Brand Partnerships at SpotX, answers your most-asked questions about how this year’s upfronts will play out.

What will the upfronts look like this year?
We’ve already seen how the impact of COVID-19 has forced a more staggered upfront taking place later in the year than normal. The ANA is proposing permanently shifting to a calendar year upfront, which it says will align buying with fiscal year planning. At the same time, the growth in OTT streaming is presenting new challenges, and both advertisers and broadcasters are asking new questions about how to best adapt.

What are the biggest challenges facing advertisers?
As streaming viewership accelerates, advertisers are challenged with how OTT inventory is packaged and sold as compared to traditional linear upfront buys. Consumers don’t differentiate between linear and OTT; the only variance is the screen on which they watch the content. The two are different from an advertiser perspective, and that’s exactly where the value of OTT lies.

Right now, flexibility is at a premium. Brands are in constant “scenario-planning” mode and are continuing to assess viewership behaviors going into the fall. With OTT, advertisers can maintain that flexibility as they navigate evolving viewership and economic trends without being locked in to an advance buy as is the case with linear. Media owners of course have to adapt as well, and both sides of the industry need to work quickly to find the best path forward.



How is CTV and programmatic planning evolving, particularly with regard to upfront budgets?
Because this is one of the biggest challenges facing advertisers this year, it’s not surprising that brands are still working through how to best approach it. There’s a question of where the budget comes from — is it an upfront budget or is it an opportunistic programmatic budget? The approach and ownership varies across the board. Some brands are set up for the digital team to handle CTV and OTT buys, others are splitting budgets between traditional and digital buys, and still others are forming new dedicated teams.

How is the digital measurement conversation changing as the focus on OTT continues to grow?
The pandemic has certainly accelerated the shift of time spent on linear to CTV and marketers’ understanding of measurement options have evolved. Marketers favor data-driven outcomes. In the living room, nothing is more measurable than CTV, although CTV measurement requires different technology than linear, desktop, or mobile.

The conversation with brands has graduated from a focus on “in-demo” campaigns into a more comprehensive 360-degree view of performance and audience insights. SpotX has relationships with 11 leading measurement and analytics companies, including Comscore, Kantar, Nielsen, STAQ, and Tru Optik, to help advertisers uncover valuable metrics like brand lift, incremental reach and frequency, and outcome-based measurement.

CTV can offer the best of both worlds, encompassing both device and household measurement. Household measurement offers a view into co-viewership (scale for targeting) and gives the advertiser a better view into performance and attribution across devices. This is especially interesting during the COVID-era given household viewership behaviors. Our CTV viewership report found average co-viewing rates to be 2-3x, and we’ve seen viewership increase across dayparts since March.

Alternatively, the ability to measure user sessions on specific devices provides a level of specificity for the advertiser to understand how OTT viewership compares across devices, an important component of planning.

Vendor Spotlight

Better understand apps and evaluate opportunities with the help of Appfigures

The information passed to buyers in a programmatic transaction needs to be accurate and consistent to ensure the buy-side algorithms can effectively understand and evaluate each opportunity. An obvious and crucial piece of information is the environment the ad is playing in. In mobile app environments, this information is passed through the app identifier. For apps on the Google Play Store, this is the app bundle, whereas it is generally the app ID for apps on the Apple App Store. While the app identifier is critical and useful in its own right, there is additional information that is passed to buyers and utilized to better understand the ad opportunity. This is how Appfigures works with SpotX.

Appfigures offers a comprehensive analytics and intelligence platform that caters to publishers, advertisers, marketers, investors, and many others with data and insights. SpotX leverages Appfigures’ data sets to understand and convey important information to buy-side partners, including metadata such as app names, store URLs, and categories, as well as proprietary intelligence such as ad serving capabilities, performance, and audience demographics. These values are helpful in translating app identifiers into critical pieces of information that can inform decisions on the apps, what to target, and where to find authorization files under app-ads.txt for in-app environments.

While this process has been standardized for mobile apps for years, the industry has just recently aligned on a similar process for CTV environments with the release of IAB Tech Lab’s Guidelines for CTV/OTT App Identification.

Once adopted, CTV will mirror mobile app transactions today. A specific app can only be represented in a single, universal way. Manually mapping and targeting several different variations of the same app should be a thing of the past — and soon it will be!
Not only is this key for operational efficiencies and ensuring advertisers are targeting the correct content, it’s also key in eliminating some of the bad actors that have found their way into the CTV ecosystem. These guidelines will also enable app-ads.txt targeting in CTV environments. Several anti-fraud companies, including White Ops, have shared best practices for buying CTV inventory, including a recommendation to simply target inventory that follows industry programs such as sellers.json and app-ads.txt.

Appfigures has been working to support these shifts in the industry by building out support for the app stores outlined in the IAB Tech Lab’s guidelines. Currently, Appfigures supports the following CTV stores, with support for additional emerging stores to come:

- Android TV
- Apple TV
- Amazon Fire
- Roku
- Xbox
- Vizio
- Playstation (coming soon)

More information can be found at https://appfigures.com/

Best Practices

How to avoid fraud in CTV

Earlier this year, White Ops uncovered the largest and widest CTV fraud operation to date, ICEBUCKET. The high-quality inventory inherent to CTV attracts high CPMs, which in turn attract the attention of fraudsters.

It’s important to note that server-side ad insertion (SSAI) does not increase vulnerability to fraud, though many have pointed to SSAI as the culprit. There are some bad actors using botnets to try to pass off fraudulent traffic as legitimate SSAI traffic. If someone buys that fraudulent inventory, the bad actor sends beacons from the servers hosting their botnets as if they are SSAI server-side beacons. Client-side beacons are a best practice in the industry and buyers should avoid any inventory where they receive beacons that are sent server-side.

To transact safely and avoid fraud within the CTV landscape whether you use SSAI technology or not, follow these best practices:

1.

Work directly with supply sources.
We recommend buying directly from the device manufacturer, media owner, or their chosen SSP partner, which eliminates intermediary vendors that do not clearly add value. Direct transactions drastically reduce the potential for fraud as compared to indirect sources.

2.

Conduct the sniff test.
Sometimes the simplest questions can be the best way to gauge inventory quality. First, do you or your friends and family recognize the app and its content? Is the content properly licensed or original work? Do you see the app as being valuable to the end consumer? If we can’t confidently say yes to all of these questions, we don’t allow it. We encourage you to take a similar approach.

3.

Work with partners who support both sellers.json and the OpenRTB SupplyChain.
Your partners should provide enough insight for you to understand if an impression is truly direct or sold through an unnecessary party. In our experience, 99% of the time when suppliers are not transparent about the source of their traffic, it’s because the traffic is highly questionable.

4.

Use data to flag anomalies.
Look for patterns that are not indicative of human behavior. This includes users who never visit well-known apps, users who are active in only a certain developer or developer network, users who see unreasonable amounts of ads per day, or unknown entities using SSAI services.





What is the industry standard for brand safety?

Ad fraud is an important issue that affects the entire advertising ecosystem at a cost of billions of dollars annually. Advertisers, media owners, and technology providers all agree that we need a joint effort to prevent advertising fraud, piracy, and malware. Industry-wide standards will help solve this issue, but the question is, what is that set of standards that all will adhere to?

Right now, organizations including the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), The Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG), the Coalition for Better Ads, the IAB Gold Standard, and the Brand Safety Institute (another TAG-backed program) are all working to support stronger brand safety across the industry. Each organization is relatively similar, yet each has its own program and its own set of fees.

Companies should not have to pay multiple fees and obtain certifications in multiple programs to prove the same outcome. We need the industry to come together, make a joint effort, and define one strong industry standard.

We’d love to hear from you on this issue. What alternatives do you think we can come up with that both solve critical issues the industry is facing, while also reducing the amount of resources that go into compliance programs?

If you’d like to discuss this further, please reach out directly Nick Frizzell at nfrizzell@spotx.tv or on LinkedIn.



See our buying resources

At SpotX, we actively compile two brand safety lists: the first consists of companies where we’ve witnessed quality issues, and the second is made up of sites or apps that we’ve decidedto block. Because of our commitment to transparency, we publicly share this with all of our customers.

Here’s how we recommend utilizing the lists:

SpotX disqualified list:
See if you’re buying from these entities on any other platforms. If you are, do a little digging and see if you believe they’re adding value to your media strategy.

SpotX exclusion list:
Cross reference this with delivery reports. If you’re buying anything today from a site or app on this list — please let us know. We’d be happy to give you thoughts on why it’s landed on our exclusion list and why we suggest you no longer buy it.

Want to see the lists?
Just ask.

Email brandsafety@spotx.tv







Read past issues of the SpotX Guardian and subscribe here.