What Would Ad Industry Do If It Heard 22% Of Nielsen's TV Panel Were Bots?

  • by , Featured Contributor, December 26, 2019
This post was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

What would the industry do if it heard almost a fourth of Nielsen’s panel were bots: frauds, robotic fictions, not real people?

Folks would be up in arms. We’d probably see stories in the ad trades calling for Congressional investigations, and networks and agencies would suspend their payments for the ratings.

Don’t worry. It’s a rhetorical question. Nielsen does NOT have a panel bot problem.

Juxtapose the anticipated rabid reaction to that hypothetical problem with the tepid industry reaction to research from Pixalate telling us 22% of the programmatic ad delivery on OTT (over-the-top) and CTV (connected TV) today is fraudulent.

What gives?

How come most folks yawn (or avert their eyes) when you talk about the clear, unmistakable problems of fraud and opacity in digital?



No one is yelling to the rooftops about the impenetrability of determining provenance, value and accuracy in data used in digital ad targeting, a multibillion-dollar market — especially when the data sometimes represents 80+% of the raw cost of a targeted digital ad campaigns.

Why? Because many in the ad industry hold new, buzzy digital channels to different standards than they do legacy media.

That needs to change. Digital advertising in the U.S. now receives more spend than any other channel, including TV, and there is no question that building trust and transparency in digital ad data and in OTT/CTV needs to be front and center.

What can be done? Here are some of my thoughts on where we can start:

Simplify the targeting data story. We may not understand meteorology and the science behind it, but we all know how to talk about sun, wind, rain and snow.
Meanwhile, much of what happens around data and targeting is purposefully complex. Just look at how much of it is communicated in acronyms, not words.

Ask hard questions about how shareholders’ money is being spent. This is not just about relationship management. This is about spending shareholders’ money.

Folks buying targeted ad campaigns need to ask (and have answered) key questions like: How do I know the data is correct? Where it came from? How it was manufactured? Did the data/targeting add value? Was the price fair, at market? Who made money on the impression? Who made money on the data? And, how many “daisy chains” did each go  through? Uncomfortable questions to ask partners and suppliers for sure -- but essential.

Do it now, before that targeting data “black hole” invades TV ad budgets through OTT and CTV. There's no question digital ad approaches are going to remake and revolutionize TV. That's a great thing. Advertising on OTT and CTV will be big parts of that future. However, let’s take the good and leave the bad behind. Let’s have a future of fewer, more relevant ads, with no fraud and no opacity. That will lead to happy viewers, profitable publishers and profitable, growing advertisers.

Get involved in the ANA Trust Consortium. The Association of National Advertisers is taking the lead here. These are the kinds of issues that they’re trying to tackle. Help them and help yourselves and be part of the process.

What do you think? Do we hold digital ad platforms like targeting data, OTT and CTV to different standards than we hold Nielsen and TV?

9 comments about "What Would Ad Industry Do If It Heard 22% Of Nielsen's TV Panel Were Bots?".
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  1. David Vawter from Doe-Anderson, December 26, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.

    How about when your OTT service serves up the same ad 15 commercial breaks in a row during the same program, presumably because no one else is paying for the time? What rooftop should we be yelling to to address that madness?

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 27, 2019 at 11:38 a.m.

    Great point David. The ad industry has been accepting the delivery of a lot of ad experiences in OTT that would never be tolerated in linear TV, in spite of using linear TV ad budgets for those campaigns.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 27, 2019 at 3:57 p.m.

    Guys, the reason for this kind of thing in OTT is partly because many companies are dabbling with OTT---often using funds from sales promotion or DR budgets, not their branding dollars. Assuming that OTT ad spend continues to grow so it is regarded as a major platform for branding campaigns, I would expect that slotting commercials in this silly manner---it also happens to some extent on cable---would not be tolerated.

  4. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 27, 2019 at 5:38 p.m.

    Ed, I try to be optimistic about these things, but OTT is now consuming serious chunks of core video budgets and we're not seeing the same scrutiny on those campaigns and placements that we are used to in linear TV. It is no different than what happened to print ad budgets when they shifted to digital banner buys. The money moved into digital, but not with the same kind of planning, buying and measurement discipline that had been part of it historically. Why? A big reason is that the agencies no longer have the research teams in place that they used to. And they don't have them anymore because their clients won't fund them anymore.

  5. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, December 30, 2019 at 1:59 p.m.

    It took a long time for cable to work out kinks like when local operator covered a national ad with local avail and nobody knew. Having learned a thing or two about fraud, and the huge amount (22% estimate is on the lower end) the only one who apparently cares is the advertiser. Maybe that's why they are pulling digital inside and doing it themselves. And the incremental cost is paid for by the waste they eliminate because they care. 

  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 30, 2019 at 2:17 p.m.

    Very good points Jack. However, in the case of the local TV ad breaks, it was self-evidently apparent and fixed, and there was a lot of scrutiny on it and the programmers were on top if it as soon as they learned of the problems. Not so with much of the OTT. It is not self-evident and the advertisers (and their agencies) aren't paying much attention.

  7. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, January 2, 2020 at 3:03 p.m.

    Point well taken Dave. When advertisers and national nets found that a dishonest local cable spot covered a national spot on a system, there was an outcry and the bad elements ostracized and prosecuted. I agree with you and I am mystified by the industry's (non)response to digital fraud today. I can think of no other place where people accept it. Even if a retailer accepts shoplifting losses, they take preventive measures because it costs them money. Who loses with the ad fraud you describe?  Not the seller. He/she still gets paid. An advertiser's list of acceptable sites would be a good place to start. Staying away from places you will be victimized is always a good idea.  

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 2, 2020 at 8:54 p.m.

    Jack, I can't think of any other medium that is so totally reliant on automation as digital media. This certainly has something to do with the problem. Everybody thinks that the computers will handle it----won't they???

  9. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics replied, January 2, 2020 at 9:31 p.m.

    Only if the system to do so doesn't increase cpm. Fraudulent impressions keep prices down. 

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