Issue No.5, November 2020

As the Demise of Third-Party Cookies Nears, What Should Advertisers Expect?

There’s no denying it will be a huge change for the industry as a whole to see third-party cookies going away. They’ve been the base of programmatic in browser environments for the past decade. However — and this is important — it’s not cause for panic. As consumer privacy and consent conversations evolve, the industry has an opportunity to create a solution that powers advertising in a transparent manner and gives users control over how their data is collected and used.

There will of course be new challenges for the buy-side to evolve their data strategies and find new ways to manage targeting, frequency capping, and measurement and attribution. Here’s what we can expect as we move closer to new solutions.

Unified IDs offer a near-term solution:
Unified or universal IDs are an industry solution that map disparate cookie IDs to a single user and streamline the syncing process. Currently, when a user visits a webpage for the first time, numerous ad tech platforms sync with one another to identify the user according to their own cookie ID. All of this syncing slows down page loads, drives up costs, and lowers match rates.

Solutions including The Trade Desk unified ID and DigiTrust, which is a similar option supported by the IAB Tech Lab, are available now. However, it’s likely that unified IDs will get caught up in the death of cookies. Mozilla has already said it will block the DigiTrust ID in Firefox. Existing unified ID solutions will help for a period of time, but also depend on browser acceptance. We are starting to see new proposals in nascent stages being discussed with the goal of coordinating consent and enabling the follow of data between businesses, while ensuring adherence to privacy preferences.

First-party data is increasingly valuable:
Advertisers have long recognized the value in first-party data, and now it will also be important for publishers to activate their first-party data, including data from authenticated or logged-in users, to help advertisers target their audiences. This in turn increases the importance of relationships as more buyers look to work directly with SSPs or publishers, and deals are transacted through private or curated marketplaces that cater specifically to brands’ needs.

Contextual targeting will grow:
Advertisers will need to craft holistic data strategies, which includes getting comfortable with broader or contextual targeting. Publishers can help buyers establish contextual targeting based on video or channel content to pair their message to the right viewer. Brand safety initiatives will evolve accordingly as brands look to extend contextual strategies to gaming, video streaming, content partnerships, and so on.

Campaigns will extend beyond cookie-based environments:
While advertising in desktop and mobile browsers won’t go away, we do expect buyers to expand their strategies to include more mobile in-app and over-the-top (OTT) or connected TV (CTV) environments. It’s important to note that while cookies aren’t present here, there are still evolving privacy considerations across devices, such as Apple removing its identifier for advertisers (IDFA). It’s possible we’ll see a rise in advertisers and publishers alike developing unique strategies for each device type.

News and Opinions

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

She Helped Wreck the News Business. Here’s Her Plan to Fix It:
Nandini Jammi, co-founder of Sleeping Giants, reflects on how a call to brands to stop subsidizing low-quality or fraudulent sites morphed into keyword blocking and avoiding nearly all news content. She shares how brands can more effectively handle brand safety and suitability concerns without blocking legitimate news sites.

How The Ad Industry Can Step Up To Fight CTV Fraud:
Iván Markman of Verizon Media breaks down the issues the ad industry needs to combat to prevent ad fraud in CTV. The most important preventative measure he recommends is adequately vetting all supply partners.

TAG’s New Brand Safety Certification Program Requires Third-Party Audits:
TAG’s new brand safety certification program aims to prevent ad misplacement and fraud with new standards based largely upon the UK’s Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards, which merged with TAG in July. SpotX was one of 112 companies certified at the time of launch.

Even in Streaming TV, Advertisers Are Dealing With Fraud:
Where the dollars go, the fraudsters will follow. DoubleVerify detected 780 fake streaming-TV apps this year, and advertisers are increasingly looking to private marketplaces to avoid CTV fraud.

Rise of the TV Bots: How Fraudulent Apps Are Poaching CTV Ads:
Here’s more from DoubleVerify on the rise of ad fraud in CTV and key findings from its Global Insights Report 2020.

Anti-Fraud & Transparency in CTV Advertising:
CTV ad fraud needs to be addressed before programmatic selling can grow. The IAB Tech Lab initiatives, including app-ads.txt, sellers.json, and SupplyChain Object, improve transparency and help to reduce fraud, so support for app-store identifiers and user agents guidance is essential.

Somewhere over the RAINBOW(MIX):
WhiteOps recently identified a series of 240+ Android apps engaging in deceptive behavior by using out-of-context (OOC) ads. Learn more about the RAINBOWMIX investigation and the apps that garnered more than 14 million downloads.

Ask an Expert

What to know about buyers.json

Nick Frizzell
VP of Inventory Quality and Planning SpotX

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

In this issue, Nick Frizzell, VP of Inventory Quality and Planning at SpotX, answers your questions about buyers.json.

What is buyers.json?
One of the priorities for the IAB Tech Lab in 2020 is to promote supply chain transparency to give buyers insights into who is being paid for an impression, help eliminate fraud, and to help make more informed buying decisions. We’ve already seen great strides in buy-side transparency since app-ads.txt, sellers.json, and SupplyChain object were finalized. Now, it’s time to consider a seller-driven initiative, buyers.json.

Think of buyers.json as the flip side of sellers.json. Whereas sellers.json makes it easy for a buyer to determine the identity of a seller, buyers.json will provide sellers with more transparency into who is buying their inventory.

How will buyers.json work?
The IAB Tech Lab and several supporting companies are still developing the specifications. However, the idea is that DSPs would publish a buyers.json file at the root of their domain. This publicly available file lists the account numbers and associated advertiser identities that operate on that advertising system.

What are some benefits to buyers.json?
There are several benefits to implementing buyers.json, including:

  • Supply re-broadcasting or resellers: Many of the non-value-added middlemen selling inventory have buyer relationships where they purchase traffic programmatically and then immediately resell it, trying to make a profit. Buyers.json will help identify who these resellers are and which platforms they have access to in order to shut it down faster than you can today. Sellers want to focus on partners that bring high-quality demand.
  • Data protection and privacy: Media owners continue to focus on protecting their first-party data sets and ensure their users are protected. Buyers.json can help identify buyers gathering un-authorized data sets in a more timely manner.
  • Malware protection: Media owners can stop playing whack-a-mole and instead will be able to identify and remove any malicious buyers with more speed and accuracy, across all demand sources.
  • Transparency: Buyers.json will enable holistic insights into which brands, agencies, holding companies, etc. value inventory.

What’s next?
Buyers.json is still in early stages of development. Once the specification is completed and finalized with public review and feedback, buyers.json will be ready for industry adoption. Increasing both buy- and sell-side transparency is key to brand safety and fraud prevention, and this is a positive step forward. We’ll keep you posted as this initiative progresses.

Vendor Spotlight

IRIS.TV explains the rising importance of contextual targeting for digital video

As audience data strategies evolve in response to new privacy regulations and the death of third-party cookies, it’s becoming increasingly important for media owners to help buyers implement category-based targeting strategies across their inventory.

IRIS.TV, a video intelligence company building the underlying API infrastructure for video data, is making this possible by connecting disparate data sets from a media owner’s content management system (CMS) and video players through its chosen supply-side platform (SSP) and demand-side platform (DSP).

Nick Frizzell, VP of Inventory Quality and Planning at SpotX, spoke with Sean Holzman, Head of Ad Platform Strategy at IRIS.TV, about how media owners and advertisers can improve targeting and brand safety and brand suitability for video across screens.

Nick Frizzell: Tell us a bit about IRIS.TV and what you’ve been up to lately.

Sean Holzman: IRIS.TV is a video intelligence company known for our Video Personalization & Programming Platform built to help publishers and broadcasters increase video consumption, engagement, and retention while enabling editorial programming controls.

With that said, a lot of our current focus is on our new Contextual Video Marketplace which acts as a neutral platform to enable contextual and brand-safety data targeting on cross-device video for the very first time. The underlying personalization technology puts us in a unique position in the market to service this need, and we are seeing rapid adoption across both the supply and demand sides of the market. This is helping our publishers increase fill rates, effective CPMs (eCPMs), and overall revenue, while enabling the buyers the transparency needed to see what content they are running against, and increase campaign performance and ROI.

NF: How does IRIS.TV achieve brand-safe targeting for individual videos rather than at the page level? How does this approach extend to CTV inventory?

SH:Contextual targeting for display relies on crawling the text on a page, which is publicly available. Video data is not publicly available and there is no “page” to crawl for CTV. While there may be business reasons why a publisher would want to limit access to video data, the main roadblock to accessing and analyzing video content at scale is technological. Video is locked behind a publisher’s CMS and video player and is inaccessible without a direct integration. In addition, the video metadata and content feeds are not standardized so it presents an enormous challenge for data providers to integrate, ingest, normalize, analyze, and segment assets.

Prior to integrating their solutions into our marketplace, contextual data companies were only able to analyze page URLs. This prevented contextual and brand safety platforms from unlocking the most valuable video inventory for targeting on the open web and completely locked them out of CTV.

IRIS.TV has spent the last seven years building video data infrastructure that integrates with every video player and CMS, and can ingest and process any content feed. This provides all the contextual data providers that integrate with our Contextual Video Marketplace access to video so they can apply their unique segmentation. It is akin to getting access to the YouTube API, but for the open web and CTV.

Until now for premium online video, data providers could only use page-level information to make a best guess on the context of an embedded video. With the increased emphasis on brand safety, suitability, and transparency, this stop-gap solution is no longer acceptable.

For CTV, there is no page-level data to analyze, so this is a first-of-its-kind offering that is truly bridging the gap between digital and linear TV buying.

NF: How can media buyers still reach their target audience by using contextual segments as opposed to data segments?

SH: It doesn’t have to be an either/or question. Contextual targeting is complementary to all forms of buy-side targeting. But if one is choosing between one or the other, contextual targeting does provide many benefits that can drive better results to behavioral targeting. In a study conducted with FOX, CTV video was shown to have multiples of return on ad spend (ROAS) compared to all other video and digital media. The study also showed that when contextual targeting was applied, the brands that participated realized a 35% sales lift over ads when no contextual targeting was applied. A study by GumGum and Dentsu revealed cost efficiencies, with campaigns achieving a lower eCPM, CPC, and viewable CPM (vCPM) when contextual targeting was applied.

NF: News content often is an avoided contextual category and deemed too risky to buy. How does IRIS.TV recommend approaching news content? Is there an approach that allows a media buyer to run on news publications, but carve out the exact segments or pages that are most suitable for their brand?

SH: News is a great place to reach consumers. The challenge is, how do you truly avoid brand-unsafe or unsuitable content without eliminating all content? The traditional way to solve this issue was domain and keyword block listing. This can be heavy-handed and controversial. Early solutions would claim to know the difference between “shoot a gun” versus “shoot a free throw.” But as many reports to the contrary have surfaced, brands have been reluctant to engage.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million words. What we are able to do is provide the leading AI- and ML-based data solutions with access to what essentially becomes massive training sets of video data so that their algorithms can truly understand something that is not brand-safe or suitable. For example, a brand may not want its ad to be aligned with a video titled “Hundreds of Nursing Home Residents Die of COVID-19,” but would be more comfortable with being associated with “Ten Ways Parents are Managing Work and Home Schooling During COVID-19.”

What we are seeing is that these systems are getting smarter. So much so that the percentage of videos flagged as brand unsafe is going down even though there is more news video than ever before. What’s more is that positive targeting of categories such as finance, sports, and lifestyle are being unlocked in ways that are really making a difference. Brands are now targeting content related to topics such as social justice and diversity, which previously had not been possible to achieve at scale.

This is an excerpt from a longer interview. Read more here.

Best Practices

Evaluating brand safety vs. brand suitability in 2020

Brand suitability has been an emerging focus in 2020. Whereas brand safety is a term we use to describe content with which no brand wants to be associated (terror, hateful, and adult content or piracy, malware, etc.), brand suitability is more tailored to the brand itself and what best aligns with its messaging and marketing strategy. There’s no doubt that brand safety is extremely important and should be a critical part of executing media programmatically in order to not damage a brand’s image and maintain brand equity. However, brand suitability is so customizable that it can often prohibit a brand from reaching its target audience.

Inclusion and exclusion lists are commonly littered with all sorts of keywords that cut out a significant portion of the audiences a brand may be trying to reach, particularly those visiting news publications. Common keywords can be associated with religion, gender, sexuality, politics, or any other subject that a good portion of the population is trained to stay away from when talking with co-workers or at social gatherings. While most people can agree that disrespectful or hateful content surrounding these topics should be avoided, there is also a large portion of the population that is interested in news-based or positive stories related to this type of content, and that is fitting for many brands.

There’s never been a more relevant time than right now to understand what suitable content means for your brand and adjust appropriately. In society, equality is front and center, and change needs to happen. Advertising is no different. It’s time to reevaluate the controls in place and ensure any tools aiding in blocking rules take sentiment or context into consideration.

As an example, instead of widely blocking all religion topics, take a step back and ensure the controls you have in place are only blocking religion content with a negative slant, such as terrorism or hate in relation to a certain religious affliation, rather than content assosiated with positive changes or efforts being undertaken by a religious affilation.

There are also keyword terms such as “dead” which can have an impact on the content and audience a message is being delivered to. Simple keyword blocking tools would block any page or video content in which words such as “deadline,” “deadbolt,” or “deadlift” appear. In this simple example, you can see how just broadly blocking the word “dead” can have an impact on brands trying to sell organizational software (deadline), home-improvement hardware (deadbolt) or sporting good equipment (deadlift).

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 decided to block. Because of our commitment to transparency, we publicly share this with all of our customers.

Here’s how we recommend using 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.


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