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Ahead of the upfront season, buyers are still grappling with a lack of transparency around what they are buying in connected TV environments. It’s a problem further exacerbated by new research on ads in kids’ content.
During the broadcast of an animal cartoon film, there was an ad for a wine company. In another break, a casino was advertised. In the same movie, ads for a testosterone-boosting supplement aired.
These examples are not random occurrences. Research from contextual ad-tech firm GumGum found that 20% of all ad breaks in a sample of over 100 kids shows—a fraction of the CTV universe—contained at least one ad inappropriate for children, in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s rules, regulations and recommendations. Not all examples explicitly violated an FTC regulation, but all are on a topic the FTC issued recommendations or held hearings on.
The data, which was collected via human review from leading advertising video-on-demand (AVOD) apps over four months between the fourth quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, is the latest example of the lack of transparency and brand safety controls in the quickly growing, but still developing, world of connected TV advertising.
As upfront negotiations commence in the coming weeks, three ad buyers said they will be asking for more transparency, as it is still not industry standard for ad buyers to know what shows, episodes and content their ads are running on in connected TV environments.
“I’ve been told it’s legal. I’ve been told they just don’t have it. I’ve been told that it’s just too expensive because OTT CPMs can be high. I’ve been told a lot of different things,” said Britt Travis, co-lead of video investment at pharmaceutical ad agency Eversana Intouch, on what publishers say when she’s asked for greater transparency.
“This is not the first time we’ve been asking. We need some progress,” Travis added. “Realistically, I don’t see that it can just continue the way it is.”
Relying on self-declared metadata
Several tech companies, including GumGum, are working to solve the problem by designing tech that makes it easier for the engines of programmatic advertising to understand the content of TV shows rendered digitally.
In linear TV, buyers can choose shows and episodes they want to purchase ads in. In the rest of digital advertising, technology can parse whether the content is brand safe with data from URLs, said Field Garthwaite, CEO and co-founder of Iris.TV, which provides publishers with an identifier to securely share more robust video contextual data.
“For streaming and CTV, there is no equivalent of a publicly available page URL that contains all the necessary and sufficient information to analyze and segment. There are no TV edits,” Garthwaite said. “So, a buyer cannot use the currencies it relies on in digital and has to rely on self-declared metadata.”
The shows in the study are not part of the inventory that Verity, GumGum’s contextual solution that parses video information, evaluates.
But the problem doesn’t only lie with technology. Publishers are reluctant to give up valuable show and episode data, to prevent buyers from cherry-picking their libraries, and the CTV ad-buying landscape is fragmented, with buyers choosing from a variety of publishers and resellers who have varying levels of knowledge of the content they’re selling.
Buying TV digitally also links viewers with the videos they’re watching, which risks running afoul of the Video Privacy Protection Act.
Pockets of progress
Three ad buyers say there’s been progress toward increased transparency since the dawn of CTV, including more publishers providing show and episode data, though this information typically comes only after the ad has aired and is not readily available across all content providers.
“Brand safety has improved—there are some partners currently providing transparency post-buy as to where we ran—but we’d like to see it move with greater acceleration,” said Kelly Metz, managing director of advanced TV activation at Omnicom Media Group.
Alex Stone, svp advanced video & agency partnerships at Horizon Media, said there have been pockets of progress where networks are providing program-level transparency, and in cases where ads have run in shows that clients have specified they didn’t want to run in, clients will receive make-good credits.
Still, brand safety and transparency are a priority at upfront negotiations, Stone said.
“It is a top priority for Horizon…to make sure we’re landing in a place where we feel confident,” Stone said. “If we’re buying it in the upfront, it should be premium and what our clients want. It’s the feeling of getting what we pay for.”
The article has been updated to reflect that the shows identified in the study do not come from inventory that GumGum’s contextual solution Verity evaluates, rather than not coming from GumGum’s SSP