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Publishers losing money to counterfeit video inventory: Study

A recent study, conducted in partnership with 16 leading programmatic publishers across 26 domains, found massive volumes of counterfeit inventory across display and video inventory globally.

Looking at the total available inventory across all exchanges for the 26 domains, the study found video callouts were overstated by 57 times the available inventory, representing about 700 million counterfeit callouts per day; and display callouts were overstated by 4 times the available inventory, representing billions of counterfeit callouts per day.

The study suggested that advertisers looking to execute efficient, brand-safe programmatic campaigns should start demanding that their campaigns run only on authorised inventory, as defined by publishers’ ads.txt files, or work directly with their preferred publisher brands. If they’re not buying authorised inventory, they risk having their ads appear on counterfeit, low-quality websites, when they think they’re appearing somewhere else.

Counterfeit impressions are created when a bad seller replaces the URL of a low-quality site with a premium publisher URL, or a fraudster creates fake impressions and labels them with a high-quality publisher’s URL. Then, the counterfeiters send their fake inventory to auction at multiple exchanges and SSPs, without the knowledge of the publishers they’re impersonating, to trick advertisers into thinking they are buying premium publisher inventory. By hiding in the digital supply chain, counterfeiters are robbing premium publishers of revenue they deserve, and tricking advertisers into buying mislabeled and potentially unsafe inventory.

“The results of this study confirm that ads.txt needs to be adopted as rapidly as possible to cut off the flow of counterfeit website inventory. It is critical that the industry comes together to put a stop to criminal activity and secure the health of the supply chain,” said Dennis Buchheim, Senior Vice President and General Manager, IAB Tech Lab, which helms the ads.txt initiative.

To solve the problem of counterfeit inventory, the IAB Tech Lab released the ads.txt standard, designed to give publishers and distributors a simple, flexible, and secure method to disclose the companies they authorise to sell their digital inventory. It increases transparency in the inventory supply chain, making it more difficult to sell counterfeit inventory or resell inventory without a publisher’s approval.

“We are committed to enabling our buyers with scalable access to authorized supply and working closely with our partners, including Google AdX, to actively promote a safe and transparent buying ecosystem. As an active proponent of the ads.txt initiative, Amobee will continue to invest in our technology and use insights gained to block sellers of unauthorized inventory,” said Julius Ramirez, VP, Global Business Development for Amobee.

“Results like these reaffirm our decision to filter unauthorized inventory across our advertising systems. But until ads.txt is adopted across the industry, domain spoofing will continue to divert advertiser spend away from legitimate publishers,” said Pooja Kapoor, Head of Global Strategy, Programmatic and Ecosystem Health at Google.

“Ads.txt is a strong answer to the digital marketplace’s clarion call for greater transparency, ensuring marketers have verified access to high-quality video and display inventory. We’re hopeful on its wider adoption, as well as continued industry support of upstanding publishers and delivering greater results for advertisers,” said Jason Baron, SVP of Direct Marketing and Programmatic for Turner Ad Sale.

Counterfeit inventory was not concentrated to a small number of technology platforms but was spread out across the ecosystem. Publishers in the study reported using 12 exchanges with 28 accounts to sell display, and 2 exchanges with 6 accounts to sell video on average, but the DSPs found their inventory available across 22 exchanges and 129 accounts for display, and 26 exchanges across over 1,000 accounts for video, on average.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.