Video supply-side platform Beachfront Media is expanding its partnership with White Ops, the digital verification vendor that specializes in bot detection, to include over-the-top (OTT) inventory.
All inventory passing through Beachfront’s marketplace is now vetted and verified by White Ops, according to Frank Sinton, Beachfront’s founder and chief product officer.
But is OTT fraud a big problem yet? For the most part, connected TV advertising happens in private marketplaces and little to no inventory is available on open exchanges, Sinton said.
So OTT fraud wouldn’t happen in the traditional sense of a bot generating fake clicks or impressions.
But sometimes, non-OTT impressions are dressed up like OTT, said Tal Chalozin, co-founder and CTO for OTT ad server Innovid. And “those are mostly, if not only, distributed via the exchanges.”
Beachfront is working with White Ops to help eliminate that possibility by detecting instances where, for example, mobile video inventory might be passed off as OTT.
And prevention is almost always better than detection after the fact, particularly for a new channel in need of advertiser budgets.
“The looming threat of spoofing is not just theoretical in OTT,” added Michael Tiffany, president and co-founder of White Ops. “The reality is, initiatives like Ads.txt are working as they’re designed, which makes it harder to spoof premium web inventory. That’s naturally going to drive an adversarial shift … to new frontiers without Ads.txt protection, and that’s mobile and connected TV.”
Moreover, because OTT commands lucrative CPMs, it has the potential to attract bad actors.
“The biggest profit to be made is by gaming the systems people least expect and precisely because of the profit potential,” Tiffany said. “We’re putting measures in place to prevent fraud from the outset because every dollar that goes to someone gaming the system is a dollar not going to people who’ve done the hard work” to create content or build an audience.
Ways it happens and ways to prevent it
Device-level detection is the best way to combat OTT inventory fraud – but that’s neither easy nor always reliable, Chalozin said.
Because two devices – such as an Android-powered TV or phone – can share the same signature in the user agent within an HTTP query, it can be hard to distinguish whether that device is, in fact, a mobile device or a TV.
“There’s still no way to know with 100% certainty that this inventory is OTT unless you are embedded inside the app that originated that impression,” he said.
For instance, an app publisher like Fox would know an impression originated from its app, as would a tech partner like Innovid because of its SDK.
But Mike Fisher, VP and head of advanced TV at MediaMath, who previously worked for the OTT ad server BrightLine, said buyers and demand-side platforms (DSPs) can take device types into account to ensure the validity of OTT inventory.
“It’s very difficult to spoof device type,” he said. “Luckily, the majority of impressions we’re seeing are coming to us via three device types – Roku, Apple TV and, further down the line, Amazon Fire – and we’re able to detect that.”
Eventually, he predicts more industrywide measures like Ads.txt, which helps validate the origin of an impression to ensure a domain is legitimate, to translate to OTT.
“We and other DSPs out there are shutting off publishers who don’t support Ads.txt by a certain date,” Fisher said. “For TV, it’s a little different, obviously, but we have started to see some OTT publishers adopt it as well.”
Innovid’s Chalozin agreed.
“Throughout this year, I predict there will start to be ways to identify an impression coming from OTT as genuine and legit, which essentially will give more value to that impression,” he said. “Maybe it’s not a full Ads.txt comparable, but we’ll start to see solutions.”
As for the possibility of app developers or publishers gaming the system at the device level? There’s little chance of that happening, experts say.
“It’s very difficult to spoof an actual app on OTT because of the queue these things go through,” said Fisher.
Because of their closed ecosystems, device manufacturers are often a first line of defense in fighting fraud.
“They do a deep dive to ensure there aren’t peripheral ad calls being made or anything that’s not above board going on,” Fisher said.