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Buyers are having trouble verifying the channels their most premium YouTube ads are running on, as transparency continues to be a distant dream in the larger streaming video ecosystem.
Four buyers found broken links within the post-campaign reports for YouTube Select campaigns, YouTube’s ad product introduced in 2020 that lets buyers choose to have their ads run in its most popular YouTube channels for a premium, including YouTube TV.
Buyers clicking on the links provided in YouTube post-campaign reports, which break down how many impressions went to each channel, have found these links send them to a YouTube page where no actual channel or video appeared.
Two buyers found dead links making up the majority of impressions in reports for two separate YouTube Select and YouTube TV campaigns, respectively. Two other buyers said they found instances of dead links within YouTube Select campaigns and also within regular YouTube campaigns, though not with as great frequency.
Dead links don’t necessarily mean YouTube is sending ads to defunct channels. It’s more likely that it’s simply an engineering error in the reporting, reflecting the difficulty of translating TV into digital reporting conventions.
“If you’re not going to report on it accurately … why not just remove it entirely,” said one buyer who requested anonymity.
Google has come under scrutiny for a lack of transparency around AI-powered buying tools like Performance Max and Video View campaigns. Additionally, research outfit Adalytics earlier this summer published reports that found the platform has improperly shown ads to children and runs ads on lower-quality inventory than advertisers expect, accusations which YouTube has denied.
YouTube has been trying to win more lucrative TV budgets as the market switches to digital, touting to marketers in May that it was the number one streaming platform, according to Nielsen, and the best option among the TV networks for reach. YouTube said in August it would be trading its YouTube Select CTV inventory based on its own co-viewing data in 2024, rankling buyers who would prefer YouTube use a third party for measurement, Ad Age reported.
A YouTube representative said it provides detailed reporting for advertisers to clearly see where their ads run and links to specific ad placements for YouTube Select campaigns. When shown a screenshot of where buyers clicking on broken links are sent (as in the image above), a YouTube spokesperson said that could be the result of not having a YouTube TV login and that without a subscription, channels aren’t visible.
Two buyers disputed this explanation, noting the structure of YouTube TV links differs from the links showing up in their reports. One buyer bought a YouTube TV subscription to track the issue and found discrepancies.
Links to nowhere
Buyers expressed frustration at the lack of ability to vet the channels their ads were running on, especially given the steep price tag of YouTube Select, which can be $33 -$37 compared to $5-$10 for regular YouTube buys, sources said.
“If I’m paying a $33 CPM, it’s unacceptable,” said another buyer requesting anonymity.
One buyer found that over 60% of the impressions were reported to be on broken links for a one-week, $17,000 campaign that ran earlier this year.
Another buyer found that 98% of the links across multiple YouTube TV campaigns were broken in reports, equating to $3 million in spend.
At performance agency Markacy, links not working on the post-campaign reports of YouTube Select and other YouTube campaigns happens regularly, but only for a small amount of spend, said Jonathan Mendez, managing director.
“It’s very common but the instance it’s negatively impacting us is very rare,” he said.