Pushing CTV measurement forward in a fragmented ecosystem

23 October By Sarah Canerday

With OTT advertiser spend expected to hit 5 billion by 2020, and consumer adoption of connected TV (CTV) skyrocketing, the digital industry as a whole is struggling to keep up with the demands of the burgeoning market. This explosive growth has created several hurdles for advertisers, the biggest being standardized measurement. From the October 2019 eMarketer article, “Connected TV Ad Spend Is Growing, but There Are Still Plenty of Challenges,” researchers explained the difficulties advertisers are facing with this new medium. While an exciting area for innovation, some advertisers are hesitant to funnel part of their ad spend into a platform that can not be properly measured for fraudulent traffic. 

CTV measurement is difficult for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that the market is flooded with so many new devices and services that it has become a highly fragmented ecosystem. Secondly, there is the extensive use of Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI), the process by which ads are stitched directly into a video stream before ever reaching a user’s device. SSAI is preferred over traditional ad serving methods as it greatly reduces the risk of latency; the consumer wins with a seamless viewing experience but, as a result, ad measurement is challenged. By nature of SSAI, technology vendors have no direct access to the actual device, which traditionally has been a requirement for measurement. Finally, core measurement technology, like Javascript, is not universally supported across every CTV device. 

IAS’ first-to-market CTV solution

In an effort to address advertisers’ concerns about the lack of transparency on connected TV devices, IAS partnered with some of the largest video publishers in the industry to develop a CTV solution that validates video ads played to completion and free from invalid traffic (IVT) on a TV screen. When developing our solution, we quickly realized the importance of working directly with publishers to ensure that we are receiving all relevant signals in order to correctly identify invalid traffic. It is our belief that any advertisers who don’t work alongside publishers run the risk of incorrectly classifying new and unknown signals as IVT.

Measurement across CTV has posed new challenges for us to solve, therefore requiring new technology to accurately measure at a proper scale. Our solution is the first step in creating scalable IVT measurement across CTV, and ultimately a process of proper standardization will be required to unlock a truly comprehensive measurement. We’ve learned a lot from our work thus far and have compiled key learnings and recommendations to help the industry advance towards the necessary standardization. 

Findings 

Device manufacturers are eager to capitalize on the opportunity to develop new versions of streaming units that are already are popping up all over the world. This gives consumers an endless amount of choices and ensures companies are offering the most competitive products and prices. Consequently, a challenge for ad measurement is created, as the current checks and balances supported by the industry for detecting invalid traffic are not known to all players involved. For example, IAS had identified a new and legitimate streaming device out of Australia, but because the device wasn’t registered with the IAB, we were required to (incorrectly) flag it as invalid traffic. Upon contacting the company, we were able to help them understand the requirements for registering their product and resolved the issue. 

On the software side, as new versions of CTV devices are being released, publishers are quickly working to develop accompanying apps. This can result in unconfirmed user agents and app IDs across publisher inventory, which will undoubtedly be misclassified as invalid traffic if not properly standardized. 

We also found that there are variations in how SSAI is implemented, even across different properties within the same company. It is not guaranteed that the minimum device signals needed for accurate invalid traffic detection are accessible, and there is no reliable way of knowing when various signals are being made available. 

Our recommendations

  1. CTV device manufacturers must make it a priority to have new device user agents correctly added to the IAB list to avoid being identified as “unknown” and automatically classified as invalid traffic. This will help alleviate any unnecessarily repeated reporting issues and ensure we are set up to successfully discern malicious fraud from legitimate devices.
  2. Publishers should review and confirm that existing user agents and app IDs are properly standardized across their properties to employ diligence in maintaining standardization in future development. What’s more, well-defined app IDs will become increasingly important in order to deploy scalable brand safety solutions across the CTV ecosystem. The IAB is currently working to define a CTV app ID standard but, in the meantime, publishers should ensure their naming convention is as consistent and as descriptive as possible.
  3. It is imperative that the elements of VAST 4.1+ that standardize SSAI is clearly communicated throughout the ad delivery chain. Since SSAI inserts an intermediary (an ad stitching service) between the device and measurement parties, it has been flagged as a source that can be exploited for fraud. Until we can get consistent standardized transmission of required data points across the whole industry, it is difficult—if not impossible—to separate fraud from the false positives caused by a lack of data. VAST 4.1+ also incorporates additional supported data signals that provide value in CTV measurement, we’ve outlined our suggestions here.

To learn more about our CTV solution, download our one-sheet here. Be sure to check out The Drum’s interview with IAS’ Senior Director of Business Development Sarah Canerday on the challenges facing CTV today.