Complaints Rise Against Video Ad Nets

As brands pump more dollars into Web video, complaints are being filed against video ad networks over dubious practices.

Industry observers said that some networks deceptively pump up their ad impression numbers by running video units that start automatically when users visit a site — sometimes below the fold — making it unlikely that viewers would actually see the ads.

For example, late last week, video ads for brands like Snickers, Sprite, BMW and Mass Mutual were running at the very  bottom of Puff.com and Qj.net. Those placements, served by the video ad network Tremor Media, were most likely not what these brands had in mind.

For some, that’s not just bad business. “It’s fake pre-roll,” said Tod Sacerdoti, CEO of ad network BrightRoll.

Shari Caputo, svp, sales and marketing at Puff.com, said Tremor only just last week started asking partners to halt this practice. Yet Shane Steele, Tremor’s vp, marketing, countered it has never allowed below-the-fold ads, adding that partners don’t always comply.

Tremor’s network, like many video ad nets, offers a variety of placements. Some are adjacent to actual content while others reside within display ads (“in-banner” video). Plus, Tremor’s network features thousands of sites. Those factors don’t make it easy for buyers, who often must monitor such buys manually or employ a third-party tracking vendor. “Those are both expensive options,” said Adam Kasper, svp, director of digital media at MPG/Media Contacts. Some networks manage their partners poorly, he said.

Still, other digital execs said some buyers are either uninformed or negligent when it comes to video network buys. “Some look the other way,” said Darryl LaRue, evp, operations and business development at BBE.

Why? The recession has put pressure on ad budgets, and buyers are faced with a choice between pre-roll video that can carry a $50 CPM or networks dangling  inventory at CPMs under $10. “If a CPM seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Danny Fishman, head of Digital Broadcasting Group.

That price disparity also highlights an ongoing industry question: Is Web video inventory of equal value? Some believe the limited amount of quality pre-roll inventory necessitates other forms of Web video advertising. But others see a major difference.

Ad network YuMe, said vp of marketing Molly Gallatin, eschews in-banner video: “To me, it’s the difference between video billboard ads you pass on the highway and ads that I see when watching TV in the living room.”

Nielsen Business Media