Following a recent Adalytics report that concluded that a large majority of YouTube video ads served by Google through its TrueView platform violate Google’s own standards for placing ads on third-party websites, Google has changed the name of the at-issue ad offering from “in-stream” to “skippable.”
The ads are now the subject of a class action by advertisers.
Google, which disputed Adlytics’ report, explained the ad format’s new name change on YouTube’s blog this way: “To more accurately describe the ad format, the YouTube ad format ‘in-stream ads’ is now named ‘skippable ads’ throughout Display & Video 360. There are no campaign creation or management workflow changes as a result of this naming update, but we recommend making sure your teams are aware of the new names. Offline reporting and Structured Data File entities will still reference in-stream ads.”
The name change applies only to awareness and consideration campaigns in Display and Video 360, and was made simply to clearly differentiate the existing YouTube ad format that is sold as skippable and in-stream from new 30- and 60-second unskippable, in-stream ad options that were introduced for YouTube and YouTube TV through Display & Video 360 in June, Google told Adweek.
The background: In addition to displaying ads on YouTube, Google’s proprietary pay-per-view TrueView platform serves video ads to millions of apps, and across the web to sites in the Google Video Partner (GVP) program. Advertisers buying the skippable, in-stream TrueView YouTube ad format are supposed to pay only "for actual views of their ads, rather than impressions," per Google's own description. Google’s policies state that TrueView ads must be skippable and audible, and that video ad plays must be initiated by viewer action, not passive user scrolling.
Adalytics asserts that, based on a sampling study of ads on GVP, about 80% of ads sold as skippable ads served only in-stream — meaning before, during or after videos on YouTube — have for years instead been delivered out-of-stream on “hundreds of thousands” of independent sites and apps, often in muted or auto-play formats. Many sites are not only unrelated to the YouTube content being watched by the user, but feature disinformation and other low-quality content, or are made-for-advertising, Adlytics asserts. “Often, there was little to no organic video media content between ads, the video units simply played ads only,” says the report.
Running on "small, muted, out-stream, auto-playing or interstitial video ad units running on independent websites and mobile apps" may have cost media buyers "up to billions of digital ad dollars," Adalytics claims.
In July, advertisers filed a class action lawsuit against Google, accusing the company of charging advertisers for "artificial" views generated by running ads on sites and in formats that violate Google’s stated standards. “Google’s conduct was substantially injurious to consumers of advertising services in that they have been forced to pay a premium for improper, abusive, and/or unconscionable practices in purchasing TrueView advertisements that were not in accordance with Google’s policies and representations,” the lawsuit charges.
In responding to the charges in what it calls the "flawed" and inaccurate Adlytics report, Google has said that it adheres to strict policies for ad placements on third-party sites, that the "overwhelming majority" of Google video ad campaigns run on YouTube, that 90% of ad inventory across the GVP network is viewable, and that in addition to enforcing policies for GVP publisher sites through internal practices, it partners with independent third-party verification companies.