IAB Issues Whitepaper On Programmatic Video That Aims To Clarify Complexity

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has a lot on its plate these days. The industry is, after all, wrestling with standards, data privacy, and measurement issues, along with transparency, ad blocking, and ad fraud. And if that’s not enough, yesterday it released a white paper exploring guidelines and the complexity around programmatic video.

The ideas in the whitepaper were introduced in a blog post, “Exploring the Spectrum of Automation in Programmatic Video,” by Anna Bager, senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile and Video Centers at IAB. 

She points out that confusion is rampant over programmatic video. That’s despite the IAB’s definition of programmatic as “the automated buying and selling of inventory.”

Bager writes that the IAB’s Digital Video Board saw an opportunity to shed light on the programmatic video space for both media buyers and sellers through a whitepaper that represents a wide range of perspectives. In fact, the whitepaper was spearheaded by the IAB’s Programmatic Video Working Group, a group of more than 40 member companies representing programmatic video on desktop, mobile, over-the-top TV (OTT), and linear TV.



The whitepaper and the discussions around programmatic video come at an important inflection point. For example, eMarketer estimates programmatic video will comprise more than half of all U.S.-based digital video revenue in 2016.

As Bager puts it, “the stakes are high.”  She stresses that “the goals of the paper are to foster an understanding of programmatic video, to help the buy side and sell side have more meaningful conversations, and, as a result, to better enable the market to collectively leverage the emerging technologies, scale, and efficiencies that programmatic video can bring to bear.”

Bager also seeks to dispel the notion of programmatic as a single entity: “Programmatic video is actually made up of degrees of automation that are dependent upon the specific monetization architecture that is being used.

"In that spirit, as the working group began discussions, it noted common themes: While data fuels programmatic video advertising, it’s not the defining feature, as data at varying levels of granularity has been used in video advertising since inception; the very definition of programmatic opens itself up to wide interpretation and 'the automated buying and selling of inventory' is a process and a series of steps through the supply chain, not a single action; and automation is the key component of programmatic video advertising."

Bager notes that “perhaps the biggest takeaway, though, was that programmatic video solutions can differ widely depending on business context and media channel.” A programmatic video solution for linear TV may not have the same features as a programmatic solution for mobile or desktop video, and a programmatic solution on OTT may differ from the rest of the video platforms entirely.

RTBlog asked Bager a few questions about the whitepaper, to which she responded by email:

RTBlog: What do you think the whitepaper clarifies about programmatic video? What does it offer that we didn't have before?

Anna Bager: The paper challenges the notion that programmatic falls within a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ dichotomy.  The reality is, there are many distinct processes within buying and selling workflows. Some can more readily be automated than others at this point, especially as they relate to targeting, forecasting, transacting, delivery of creative assets, and reporting.

The paper offers a clear and concise framework for buyers and sellers so they can understand where programmatic is seeing traction across the various inventory channels from desktop and mobile, to OTT, and linear TV.   

RTBlog: You make the point that programmatic is not a single entity. What are the key entities that stakeholders need to understand better? Are there common standards around them, or are standards needed? If so, in which areas specifically, are standards needed?

Bager: We see programmatic video as a range of options. Key entities that come into play are (a) transaction type (including direct-sold, ad networks and exchange-based buys); (b) the role of data, especially the use of more granular data sets to inform ad decisioning and optimization; and (c) process-oriented automation.

In terms of standards, we encourage all publishers and advertisers to adhere to our VAST (Video Ad Serving Template), VPAID (Video Player-Ad Interface Definition), and MRAID (Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions) standards (which apply to video advertising as a whole, including programmatic) as well as OpenRTB for programmatic.

RTBlog: What is the whitepaper's take on measurement challenges? Thoughts on how to approach and solve them?

Bager: Measurement, forecasting, and reporting are areas where we hope to see greater maturation in the near future. A core tenet of programmatic is that buyers and sellers should be able to take action on every attribute for which they’re receiving data. As the paper points out, some solutions today are more adept at identifying problems in campaigns than enabling buyers to quickly correct these problems.

As an industry, we have to continue to work together—in conjunction with the Media Rating Council—to improve measurement and reporting, video viewability standards, and toward a common currency across platforms.

RTBlog: What do you see as next steps for the Programmatic Video Working Group for the balance of the year?

Bager: They will continue to discuss relevant issues, challenges, and opportunities in programmatic video. We expect the group will produce additional papers, guidelines, and thought leadership, informed by the needs of the marketplace.

RTBlog: Does the whitepaper address the issues of transparency and ad fraud that have been giving programmatic a bad rep?

Bager: The paper highlights the need for greater transparency in targeting, forecasting, and reporting, as well as the risk of fraudulent traffic that can occur with poorly managed inventory distribution.

RTBlog: What are the other key takeaways from the whitepaper that you think all stakeholders need to understand? 

Bager: Given the spectrum of automation that’s available across video platforms today, it’s important for buyers, sellers, and publishers to gain an understanding of each of their respective programmatic capabilities. By examining the individual functions and use cases of programmatic video, we hope to bring some clarity to the ongoing discussion and move the industry closer toward the promise of improved performance and efficiency.

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