Opinion: Publishers look to regain control in 2018

With ad fraud scandals and brand safety mishaps hitting the headlines in 2017, the past year has proved turbulent for advertisers, media agencies, and publishers. But following calls from all sides of the industry for improved ad quality, online publishing is set to continue making advancements in media quality throughout 2018.

2017 has seen some of the world’s largest brands demand a transparent, holistic view of their campaigns, which has in turn led to brands beginning to hold publishers to account. Meanwhile, publishers are better placed to provide safer, cleaner, and more viewable environments in which to advertise and digital spend is starting to be redirected towards premium publishers. In 2018, however, advertisers and publishers will need to work in tandem to successfully minimise fraud, improve viewability, and ensure brand safety.

A look back at 2017

It’s no secret that at the beginning of the year, the media landscape looked pretty bleak. Invalid Traffic (IVT) levels were unacceptable, malicious ads were steadily creeping into the mainstream ad ecosystem, and 11% of internet users were blocking ads – all of which affected advertiser ROI. In addition, brand safety issues came to the fore as reputable brands fell victim to misaligned ad placements. In fact, according to Integral Ad Science’s H1 2017 Media Quality Report, 10% of UK video ads were predicted to appear alongside inappropriate online content.

In response to these concerns, publishers have been quick to act and now have far more control over their inventory. The establishment of industry-wide coalitions to set a benchmark for quality, as well as the adoption of fraud prevention tools such as ads.txt – which aims to significantly reduce fraud by allowing publishers to declare which sellers they use and therefore prevent the unauthorised trading of inventory – are two examples of progress.

Viewability has also been addressed; amid calls for more accurate reporting, ensuring ads meet the industry’s minimum acceptable standards, and understanding how ad formats and the volume of ads on a page can impact performance. Enhancing industry standards is also a focus that is being driven by industry bodies for example, the the IAB launched its ‘Gold Standard’ and the AOP recently introduced its ‘Ad Quality Charter’ to further promote premium publishing.

By building, and acting upon a comprehensive snapshot of the media landscape, publishers have already achieved incremental gains, which go a considerable way towards improving the overall user experience, and have certainly paved the way for 2018. But there is still work to be done.

Key challenges and opportunities for 2018

As 2018 approaches, the benefits of a united online advertising industry will be many-fold. For example, publishers with automated delivery tools at their disposal, will be able to better deliver highly viewable inventory to both meet advertiser expectations, as well as sell inventory to their own customised viewability thresholds.

Publishers will take advantage of automated delivery tools to make assurances around viewability, reduce the need to ‘buffer’ campaigns, and improve the overall ad ops process. The streamlined technology will also allow publishers – particularly those that focus on breaking news – to provide reassurances around brand-safe placements, at all times. These sophisticated tools emerged in 2017 and will be rolled out on a much wider scale in 2018.

With a growing realisation that not every impression is equal, publishers will also begin to rethink their pricing strategies to better cater to advertiser needs. In 2018, it is likely that some publishers will shift away from CPM (cost per thousand impressions) models towards time-based, and models with assurances around greater engagement. Through combining these new models with advanced automation ad server tools, publications will be able to transform  a once unwieldy process into a much slicker operation.

As online advertising starts to turn a corner in 2018, publishers will take greater control over their offering, with small but steady gains helping them to foster much stronger relationships with advertisers. Ultimately, this year’s call for quality, coupled with next-generation publisher tools, will result in a more transparent, accountable, and sustainable publishing industry for all.

Paul Astbury, Business Development Director, Publisher Solutions, Integral Ad Science