FreeWheel Council, VAB Push Checklist For Buying 'Premium' Video

Looking to stem the tide of advertiser investment in user-generated videos on YouTube, in particular, TV networks and other traditional video programmers are again taking on the contentious question of how “premium” video should be defined.

The FreeWheel Council for Premium Video (FWC), made up of 30 traditional programmers, and the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) have released what they are calling a “definitive checklist” for buying premium video.

Based on research by Comcast, parent company of the FreeWheel supply-side platform/SSP, the document defines premium video as “content delivered transparently, in a trusted, brand-safe environment, seen by real people within a high-quality viewing experience.”



The checklist accompanies a report, “Redefining What It Means to Be Premium in Advertising,” with self-described goals of “enabling advertiser trust in video content” and “highlighting value in programmer video inventory.”

The checklist cites three factors that advertisers should consider when buying premium video: quality environment (“upholding audience trust and standards with trusted programmatic delivery, less clutter and an optimal viewing experience”); brand safety (“holding partners accountable for brand requirements and avoiding objectionable content, with legitimate verification processes"); and transparency and legitimacy (“knowing exactly what you are buying, ensuring viewable ads are running in appropriate content, and seen by real people”).

"We know that ads airing in premium video create positive experiences for viewers and fuel positive brand associations," said FreeWheel General Manager Mark McKee. "But the industry lacks a clear definition of what ‘premium’ means. By partnering with the VAB and undertaking research to define premium video, we can advocate for transparency, quality and brand safety in video ad buying. This will help both buyers and sellers make more informed choices as the TV advertising industry continues to expand and evolve."

The report and checklist do not mention YouTube, or even UGC.

However, they are being released at a time when Google’s YouTube has come under fire for allegedly violating its own ad placement standards — accusations that Google has called inaccurate.

They also follow a dispute between VAB and YouTube that erupted back in March, after the then newly formed, VAB-driven Joint Industry Committee/JIC proposed to limit its certification initiative for new cross-platform measurement currencies to “premium video”— later changing the focus to “long-form” video after a controversy over how to define premium video.

In response, Kate Alessi, managing director for YouTube/Video Global Solutions, posted a blog arguing that all video impressions across TV, CTV and online platforms should be measured in a uniform way, using the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) existing definition of a viewable impression (100% of pixels shown for a minimum of two seconds) as the foundation for counting impressions, reach, frequency and other metrics. 

The major TV companies are concerned that lumping their premium, costly-to-produce video offerings together with all other video — including the user-generated content so prevalent on YouTube and other social platforms — could result in depressing prices for premium.   

They also argue that treating all impressions alike would not benefit advertisers. 

In a statement responding to YouTube’s blog, VAB CEO Sean Cunningham asserted that “the only entities that ‘win’ by that approach of hollowing out all factors of impression source, quality and impact are the entities with the largest supply of comparatively hollow, low/no investment impression. There is no other reason for a ‘principle’ that calls for a race to the bottom (lowest common denominator impressions) on a global scale.” 

The JIC subsequently invited Google/YouTube to participate in the initiative, noting that while its focus is on long-form, and it “believes that content quality and brand safety matter,” these stances “do not present a barrier for any platform to participate in the JIC.” YouTube did not accept the invitation.

In August, YouTube stirred more controversy when it said that it would next year begin trading using its own surveys/metrics on co-viewing. Some agencies voiced opposition, saying this represented a move away from third-party measurement.

YouTube, however, contends that transacting against its first-party data is not new, and notes that co-viewing can be measured and validated through third parties, including Comscore and Nielsen, via Google's Ads Data Hub. YouTube "encouraged advertisers to test and compare ahead of the billing launch," a Google rep tells MediaPost, adding that YouTube can provide Nielsen DAR guarantees for ad buyers who prefer to transact on third-party data on campaigns in the U.S.

Google said it had no comment on the new VAB/FreeWheel Council video-buying checklist.

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