Not any more, according to the Integral Ad Science Media Quality Report for the second half of 2018. It claims that for the first time, programmatic has overtaken direct buys for viewability reliability.
To be more precise, programmatic viewability has now leapt to 69% on desktop, compared to 67% for direct publisher deals. The same goes for mobile display, with a 62% viewability rate for programmatic and 60% for direct.
The only display channel where programmatic is behind is in-app, where viewability is higher, at 53%, for direct buys -- compared to 43% for programmatic.
However, overall programmatic has become safer than direct buys, with just 8% of non-optimised placements being deemed risky, compared to 18% for direct buys. When campaigns are optimised against fraud, the rate drops to just 1%, regardless of the buying channel.
Of course, the big question is why. In this area, IAS is clear that overall quality has risen -- because with so much money continuing to flow into digital marketing, advertisers have insisted that it perform better. Hence viewability is up and brand safety and fraud are down.
The reason that programmatic is now outperforming direct buys, in many areas, is attributed to PMPs (private marketplaces). In other words, publishers or groups of publishers are using technology to take themselves away from the general bartering system of programmatic to offer a more reliable alternative where one or just a handful of quality sites are on offer.
The result is a far more manageable marketplace where advertisers are more likely to be seen for a full second on a site that is brand safe and not fraudulent.
For advertisers, it's encouraging news that still leaves the mobile channel to be given a little extra care and attention, to get viewability over a 50-50 chance of being seen.
The takeaway, however, is that programmatic is no longer the poor cousin of direct.