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Programmatic Transparency: What TV Can Learn From Digital’s Efforts to Clean Up

April 3rd, 2018   ||    by John R. Osborn   ||    No Comments

Programmatic transparency is the hot topic in the ad buying and selling world right now, spurring conversations in the trade press, at conferences, and in direct negotiations between advertisers, agencies, ad-tech companies, and content providers.

And now, the digital programmatic revolution has reached the shores of the great media stalwart of the last 60-plus years—television. eMarketer predicts that programmatic TV ad spend will reach $3.8 billion, or about 5 percent of total TV spend, in 2019.

As more data-targeting tools and automated buying and selling software arrive on the scene, it’s crucial that TV advertisers and station groups look to the first frontier—digital—to see what companies are doing to improve transparency.

A Problematic Progression

When programmatic buying first started to make waves, publishers and advertisers/agencies were presented with what seemed like a no-lose proposition: entirely new ad revenue for unsold publisher inventory and lower cost per thousand impressions (CPMs) for advertisers. But like the financial services industries, upon whose trading technologies programmatic advertising was built, the lack of transparency created space for hidden processes, unknown participants, limited data for evaluation—and even some “bad actors.”

In 2016, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published its Media Transparency: Prescriptions, Principles, and Processes for Marketers report in response to uncovering a pervasive lack of trust in the advertiser and agency relationship around digital and programmatic buys. ANA recommended that advertisers use programmatic trading only when they “understand the tools, technologies, resources, and costs associated with each vendor in the transactional chain.”

The report suggested advertisers play a more active role in the process by pushing for stronger contracts ensuring transparency and exerting greater control over decision-making. So, what are companies doing to tackle the major concerns ad buyers have about programmatic transparency? Let’s look at each side of the coin.


ANA continues to lead the charge for full transparency, developing guidelines and recommending member participation in industry nonprofit Digital Content Next’s TrustX platform, a programmatic advertising marketplace. Upon announcing the partnership, ANA CEO Bob Liodice pointed out that currently, “The supply chain’s complexity and opacity net digital advertisers as little as 30 to 40 cents of working media for every dollar spent.” ANA is hoping to increase that stat to 70 cents of working media for every dollar spent by working with TrustX.

Leading TV advertisers are also stepping up to attack waste and improve transparency. For instance, The Drum reported that P&G took advantage of better data, partners, and spending tactics, while Unilever used IBM’s blockchain technology to add trust and verification to the process, as Fast Company reported.

Many clients use verification tools from companies like DoubleVerify, Oracle’s Moat, Sizmek, AdFin, and more to assess what’s really happening and steer dollars to trustworthy content providers.


The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) hasn’t been in sync with the ANA’s approach to solving the transparency challenge, as AdExchanger explained. But several agencies, including MDC’s Assembly, have taken steps toward collaboration by paying for client use of an AdFin product to help them see how much their digital ad inventory actually costs and clarify agency markups, according to a separate AdExchanger report.

Next Steps for TV Programmatic

Leading station groups and ad-tech companies—including Videa—have partnered to create and promote the TIP (TV Interface Practices) Initiative. Videa president Shereta Williams said the group is committed to promoting open standards and an agreed-upon framework of APIs to add transparency and operational efficiencies to the electronic advertising transaction process.

TV has a chance to get programmatic transparency right from its early days, thanks to the questions raised and flaws identified in the first online and mobile phase in display and digital video advertising. Many companies claim transparency, but it’s only through using trustworthy emerging tech tools and engaging in the hard conversations and contractual negotiations that the word “transparency” starts to feel pragmatic, fostering trusted, sustainable partnerships across the industry.

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