The importance of third-party verification companies, according to media buyers, is continually emphasized when evaluating anything from brand safety to viewability in the programmatic market.

According to Luis Romero, svp and head of sales in North America for The Guardian, news publishers feel helpless when their content is incorrectly categorised and subsequently demonetized by as much as 30% in comparison to inventory considered to be “safe.”

According to a media buyer who spoke on the record under the condition of anonymity, buyers understand why publishers are concerned about their grades because those figures are still used as a crucial barometer for whether they receive payment.

“We start to trust [verification firms’] metrics as a currency,” the buyer added, “but when it finally lands in the pockets of news publishers, it seems to have a poor exchange rate.”

Since a while, many publishers have become tired of how much their programmatic inventory is demonetized by verification firms’ ratings or by overly broad term blocklists, but recent changes to programmatic pricing seem to be becoming worse and worse. In addition, over the past year, coverage of the impending recession, the Roe v. Wade decision, and the war in Ukraine have all joined the list of keywords to be blocked. News publishers are concerned that this problem will only get worse as buyers continue to add layers of optimization to their programmatic buys.

According to Operative’s STAQ Benchmarking Data, the average price an advertiser would spend for a thousand views of their advertisements (CPMs) in January was $1.21, which is the lowest it has been since May 2020. Comparatively, the average CPMs for programmatic guaranteed agreements (PG) were $10 and $3.46 for private auctions (PMP), respectively. These were the lowest monthly averages since June 2020 and August 2020. The four-week average CPM for the open market increased slightly in February to $1.28, but the average CPM for PG and PMP decreased to $9.74 and $3.20, respectively. This shows that the economic recession is still having an impact on publishers’ programmatic revenue.

Related: Publishers Accuse Ad-Tech Firms Of Stealing Their Intellectual Property By Selling Contextual Data

Therefore, even while competing for advertisement money in such spaces has never been simple for news publishers in the open programmatic marketplace, it seems to have gotten considerably harder over the past year.

“Despite having food parts, sports sections, and entertainment sections, we have faced the problem of many purchasers just not wanting to advertise on a news magazine at all, especially in the last year. As the executive sales director for programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace advertising at the LA Times, Camille Murphy remarked, “possibly [they’re] obtaining a corporate edict to not run on news publishers, notwithstanding section targeting and possibly contextual targeting.

A complicated issue for news publishers

According to Romero, the revenue losses as a result are not slight. He said that the paper’s coverage of the movement resulted in that content being undermonetized by 30% as a result of blocklists when the Black Lives Matter movement was rekindled after the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.

When material is marked as dangerous, The Guardian’s U.K. programmatic business typically sees a 26% drop in CPMs; however, when fill rate is taken into consideration, the figure worsens to 37%, according to Katherine Le Ruez, The Guardian’s director of commercial strategy and operations. Additionally, she noted that 1% of the site’s inventory is typically marked as dangerous, but that number rose to 10–15% following the recent earthquakes in Syria and Turkey.

Contextual targeting is becoming more popular in the programmatic market, where it is carried out by verification companies scraping publishers’ websites and categorizing the data in a way that, according to Le Ruez, “could never be accurate” when done by machine learning alone.

Third parties “will market things like sentiment and emotion targeting, but for one person, Donald Trump’s victory in the election is a fantastic triumph, [while] for another, it’s a complete failure. Therefore, it is evidently difficult to apply that level of human reading by an AI, according to Le Ruez.

Le Ruez asserts that in addition to the actual classification and evaluation of The Guardian’s content, the ongoing data scraping from third-party verification companies, which syphons their content into the various brand safety measurement funnels, causes a number of problems on the publisher’s backend. The user experience, as well as the viewability and monetization of ads, may be impacted by these problems, which can include slower page and ad load times.

Since we don’t think it actually holds up, we don’t provide it through our direct business. As a result, third parties are selling services that we don’t really believe in, exploiting our website and other intellectual property without necessary getting our consent, and providing them directly to our clients without getting our endorsement or any financial benefit, according to Le Ruez.

The LA Times has a collaboration with Verity, GumGum’s contextual brand safety solution, while The Guardian, The Independent, and The Independent all have contracts with IAS. And it seems like one contract is sufficient.

Related: Publishers Are Concerned About ‘Fair Use’ And Revenue Loss As A Result Of AI Tools

However, whether with or without authorization, such intermediaries are ultimately interfering with publishers’ advertising businesses. Each publisher receives advertisers through a separate set of verification agencies and demand-side platforms (DSPs), therefore to some extent, their ability to sell programmatically will be impacted by the brand safety rankings and viewability statistics from each agency.

Additionally, stacking buyer data verification efforts on top of publishers’ own verification techniques might result in inconsistent data sets, which decreases the amount of inventory that a publisher has to offer through a DSP.

“Even if they’re using contextual targeting strategies, people are having trouble letting go of those keyword lists, so I [think] you need to isolate those tactics and test them independently. However, I don’t believe it is happening as frequently as you may believe, added Murphy.

To reduce the number of stacking, The Independent is letting the clients’ data sets take primacy.

Blair Tapper, svp of The Independent U.S., said, “Where we’ve seen that rub is when a client’s appending data, we’re appending data, the datasets aren’t matching [and it] becomes basically like a clog in the pipe.” We always prefer to follow the client’s wishes, thus if they add brand safety to the request, we won’t comply with that request as well. We will do that on our end if they request that we set it up. However, I believe that when there are competing safety tools, the inventory is practically cut in half.

Before they miss out on that money, publishers are trying to convince more agencies and advertisers to conduct more of their programmatic buying directly via them in order to address the problems with uneven brand safety ratings and mismatched data

Since Murphy joined the team, if not before, LA Times has prioritized PMP and PG transactions because, according to her, the connections her team is able to make with the agencies and advertisers are essential for resolving these brand safety concerns. But lately, PG deals have become even more sought-after because it is the time when her team has the most precise targeting control.

According to Murphy, “we [apply Verity’s contextual targeting and apply our own keyword blocklists] through a PMP deal, frequently we’re still seeing buyers apply their brand safety targeting, so it’s doubled targeted and the scale is even smaller.”

According to Tapper, The Independent’s sales staff has prioritized direct advertising outside of programmatic, both through video and branded content, as a result of the market volatility in the programmatic arena. But she said that during the past year, internal programmatic techstack organization has been a primary priority.

We’ve made significant improvements to the site’s [user experience], and as a result, Tapper said, “a lot of that has caused us to pause and reprioritize the partnerships that we have with programmatic partners.”

Romero reported that direct sales in the U.S. increased by 40% year over year in fiscal year 2022, indicating that The Guardian’s strategy of continually educating agencies and advertisers about why buying programmatic directly is the better choice for news publishers has somewhat succeeded. However, Romero added that “we have to come up with a solution for brands and advertisers other than just buying direct.”

Related: Spotify And Fellow Music Streamers Strike Agreement With Publishers For 15.35% Go-Forward Royalty Rate In The US.

Working directly with SSPs to try and separate the LA Times’ lifestyle, sports, and entertainment sections from its hard news coverage is Deven Choi’s continuous task as manager of programmatic revenue at the LA Times, which manages the open programmatic marketplace, but that’s not a perfect answer.

There is no assurance that the DSP for the final advertiser will employ the SSP’s classification approach, even if an SSP does that. Any inventory with a URL from may simply be classified by a vendor as all news, making it all dangerous, according to Choi.

In other circumstances, Choi’s team will adjust their models and utilize contextual models in addition to keywords to establish brand safety. Choi’s team will also visit those suppliers and try to persuade them to break out their news content from its other areas. He remarked, “That’s helped a little, but it hasn’t really made a difference.”

The ability of the vendors to classify content outside of the root domain depends on the specifics of their models.

In order to have more control over that area of their business, The Guardian is also partnering with a contextual data partner, whom Le Ruez declined to name, and developing a proprietary tech stack for contextual categorization. The Guardian is also working to restrict the access that verification firms have when it comes to data scraping.


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