Are Networks Perpetrating TV, Online Video Ad Fraud?

Have major TV networks been committing fraud?

That would seem to be the case, based on the definition of video advertising fraud presented by Integrated Ad Science's Mike Iantosca on the "How Bad Is The Inventory" panel during MediaPost's Video Insider Summit.

The definition of "fraud," he said, is "an impression not viewed by a human."

Since not all ad impressions broadcast by television networks are actually seen by viewers -- they are skipping, fast-forwarding, or just not looking at them -- the major nets could be considered some of the biggest con artists bilking Madison Avenue.

Clearly, that's not part of the business model -- or at least, the unspoken agreement -- between advertisers, agencies and TV networks. But it apparently is the case for online video.

According to Iantosca, as much as "60%" of online video ads are "not being viewed."

Most of the not-viewing behavior he was referring to comes from outright fraudulent behavior, such as ads being served on parts of pages that are not even viewable by a user or even worse, by a machine -- a so-called botnet -- that isn't even a human being. Until those botnets start buying (or at least showing some form of purchase intent) for the brands advertising online, it is a serious form of ad fraud.



That's not always criminal intent, said Ignited's LJ Kobe, although it definitely needs to be managed and safe-guarded.

"We as agencies are entrusted with out clients' dollars, and that is not something we should take lightly," she explained. "For me, I focus more from a fraud perspective on the viewability and the quality of the content surrounding out clients' ads."

In a more explicit form of criminal fraud, White Ops' Jay Benach said the bots are getting much more sophisticated, and that Madison Avenue needs to arm itself with better defensive technologies to protect against a wide range of fraudulent entities, including netbots, "scrapers" and "other malicious agents."

One of the problems, said Benach, is those forms of fraud are "not even distributed," meaning they pop-up, go away and come back somewhere else again.

"Fraud is not steady state," he said, "It can show up and disappear very quickly."


8 comments about "Are Networks Perpetrating TV, Online Video Ad Fraud?".
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  1. Michael Lynn from ECD Consulting, October 28, 2013 at 9:24 a.m.

    The privacy and fraud issues are potential deal-killers. If the online community (who are the perpetrators at worst and enablers at best of online fraud) doesn't do something about it soon, it could kill the goose that laid their golden eggs.

  2. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, October 28, 2013 at 1:04 p.m.

    "An impression not viewed by a human" is not what fraud is. We're conflating viewing (eyes on) with Opportunity to See (OTS).

    Fraud is knowingly selling an impression that does not, and cannot, generate an Opportunity to See. OTS and eyes on are two different things, and OTS minus Eyes On does NOT equal fraud.

    There is indeed plenty of fraud in the online space. But in no way, shape or form should viewers skipping, fast forwarding or just looking away from the TV be construed as fraud.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, October 28, 2013 at 6:28 p.m.

    Hear, hear Josh. I was preparing my response ... until I read yours. Cheers.

  4. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, October 29, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.

    John and Josh how do you then explain rating guarantees if TV Salespeople are only selling an "Opportunity to See"? Of course they all know it's a bit of fraud....we all know people are not watching nearly as many commercials as the Networks say. Don't be so's part legacy business and mostly laziness.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, October 29, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.

    Michael there is NO medium that can deliver a guarantee as to the number of people that will 'see' an ad. For example, a newspaper or magazine might be able to spruik that have a circulation of 'x' copies. But they can not guarantee that every person that buys a copy looks at/reads every page. Indeed, the model they all use is that they produce content (a TV programme, a radio session, a newspaper, a magazine, a billboard, a film in the cinema, a website etc.) and the advertiser purchases the opportunity to 'interrupt' that content with their own content (their ad). There is also no guarantee that the ad will achieve the same audience levels as the content it appears in (people flick over pages, turn the dial, close the tab etc.). It is not the responsibility of the media owner to curate good or bad ad content - that belongs with the advertiser and their agency. What is being discussed here is the deliberate and fraudulent use of tactics to inflate the content audience number by the use of robotic software that inflates that number that APPEARS to be delivered. The 'rating guarantees' - at least here in Australia are all based around CPM delivery. A network may guarantee that (say) Dancing With The Stars will deliver 2 million (remember we have a smaller population). If DWTS misses that number then the network provides compensation. That normally consists of unpaid spots that deliver the shortfall that occurred. Also note that if DWTS delivers more than its guarantee the booked rate holds - the advertiser is not required to make a 'top-up' payment. That is, guarantees put a floor on the audience delivery and hence a ceiling on the CPM. Such a model is neither naïve nor lazy.

  6. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, October 29, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.

    John, here in the US TV buying is a legacy business that is baked in to agency life, and no matter how far ratings fall (which they do every year), how much CPM's rise (which they do every year to make up for lost grp's) or how much fragmentation and disintermediation penetrates, the overall laziness of the agency planners to "not try anything new" or agency buyers to "get the buy off my desk" are part of what we live with. It's a "best of the worst" scenario which I understand to a certain degree bc it still provides the most scale (potentially) but prices should not increase if (by Nielsen ratings standards) TV networks are doing a worse job year after year (falling ratings). And RARELY do programs overdeliver on what the agreed upon rating....that is like a Haley's comet sighting. Sorry it is what it is

  7. John Grono from GAP Research, October 29, 2013 at 5:17 p.m.

    Michael, well move Downunder.

  8. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, October 29, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.

    Apparently i have to John! And I am not denying the power of television for it's entertainmment value....I am (as a consumer) now in control of my content and I certainly don't watch nearly as many ads as I did when I had no's not even close. And quite frankly I am so much happier and don't miss them in the least nor do I miss the time wasted watching them

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