Just Me And The Bots: Some Alarming Views On Viewability

I saw an advertisement online over the weekend, which makes me special because, from the looks of it, no one else did.

The online video viewing market is growing rapidly and so too, must be the number of ads we’re seeing. But I can only imagine the number of ads that I’ve “seen” that I’ve not seen at all.  That’s the problem.

Viewability has become a red-hot topic with a bad name because really, it’s about non-viewability, and even that’s not a great name. That’s akin to calling hunger an edibility problem.

Last week, TubeMogul tapped three botnets that are doing a nice business driving fake views. One is called BlogBot because of its network of blah blogs, which TubeMogul says are pirating legitimate video content to create over 30 million fake video ad impressions, every day.

Another is AnnexBot, which offers “over 54.2 million non-human impressions” every day.   

The third is 411Bot, which is notorious enough that it’s pretty much disappeared because of inquiries by TubeMogul and other video ad exchanges. Before that happened, it offered up to 2.5 million fake views on a network of sites that feature “411” in its URL.



TubeMogul has compiled a list of suspect Web sites and some other info.

I went to a few sites on the lists—like,—and my favorite bad name for a site is called They wouldn’t win any awards for excitement, but they apparently do a job for somebody—just not for consumers or advertisers, necessarily.

Data from TubeMogul’s industry-leading Operation Clear Sky shows that botnets are more sophisticated than has been previously reported. By using proxies, for instance, the Blog Bot botnet can make one hijacked computer appear to be hundreds and even thousands of viewers.

TubeMogul says botnets are also infecting third-party data that advertisers use to target ads to specific viewers–like expectant moms, who are big business. Apparently  botnets  “visit” sites where data companies are known to collect demographic and behavioral data. Then, that data is sold to advertisers that think they’re getting the real deal.

Across the ocean, the issue of fake ads is no less a problem, though recently, the muddier issue has become what might be viewed as a flawed study of fake ads. In late January, a Harvard professor published a critical blog about the Web site Blinx and its ads, which caused its share price to fall.

Blinx, in turn, came back with its own report, which exonerated itself and created questions about what was behind the blog.  It’s pretty juicy reading and it prompted its own response, but frankly, I’m no Philadelphia lawyer. It just the kind of he said/she said stuff that might take more than I’ve got to unravel.

The plainer fact is that to some extent buyers and sellers have to be walking on egg shells about online video ads. “The online video market is swarming with fraudulent bot traffic, and a large chunk of ads never reach the eyeballs they’re promised,” says a check-list of woes published by RMG Networks in a new report titled, The New Reality of Digital Video Advetising .

“The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates that more than one-third of online ad impressions including on video are fraudulent, designed to pad Websites’ revenue. In February, IAB chairman Vivek Shah said bluntly that Internet advertising is facing a ‘crisis.’ "

RMG, it should be noted, is a big player in the out of home video business.  That’s not to say its dire observations are tainted, only that it is a business that can stand to point out online video’s 800-pound advertising elephant.

As if the industry needed reminding.

Just last week, MediaPost’s video summit featured a pretty informed panel on viewability issues, neatly summed up in a Video Insider piece by Augustine Frou, who calls himself a “digital consigliere” for Marketing Science Consulting Group, and was one of the panelists.  

As he wrote, there was widespread agreement in the audience, and certainly on the panel, that ad fraud is a major problem that seemingly could get worse as technology gets better. It’s hard to keep up, he wrote, and “very unfair to have brand managers and media planners go up against the world’s most advanced hackers.”

That’s the world we live in.

Next story loading loading..