“The Journey Towards Better Transparency Isn’t Over”: The Industry Reacts to ISBA’s Latest Programmatic Supply Chain Study

Workflow or working process, project progress, milestone or achievement tracking, work experience or journey concept, businessman using pencil to draw workflow line with achievement flag milestones. stock illustration

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

It’s been three years since ISBA’s first Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study offered a worrying insight into the lack of transparency across the programmatic industry. Now, the second iteration of the study brings new revelations to the forefront, while shining a light on progress – key findings include a significant reduction in ad spend’s ‘unknown delta’, as well as a huge increase in match rates from 12% to 58%.

While these findings have left many feeling hugely impressed with the progress that’s taken place, others are still pondering how much there is still to uncover before full transparency and confidence is secured.

We asked industry experts to share their thoughts on the latest findings:

Richard Reeves, Managing Director, Association of Online Publishers

“Taking these trends as universal would suggest the unknown delta has almost gone. Instead, the report shows premium buyers and sellers have found they can fuel greater fairness and clarity by streamlining their supply chains: especially moving to PMPs. Minimising SSP and DSP partners has allowed them to curb inefficiency, leakage and complexity; all of which are ongoing problems for mid and long-tail inventory. The vast majority have also enjoyed higher data quality, mostly thanks to the data field list. Combined with improved log-level data access, standardised requirements are the key reason match rates have seen such a huge spike.

But although we now have proof of the powerful positive change collaborative initiatives drive, the journey towards better transparency isn’t over. Reducing reliance on third-party intermediaries is still vital to build closer, direct trading relationships that ensure more spend reaches publishers — as is more buy-side focus on working with smaller numbers of high-value sites. Meanwhile, gaining full understanding of programmatic health will mean expanding studies to the full media spectrum; including mid and long-tail placements.”

Nicholas Flood, Global Ad Product & Revenue Operations Director, Future

“Future is proud to have taken part in such a key study of programmatic advertising and it has been great to see this level of progress in just two years. The latest report provides proof that with better standardisation of data and easier access to log level information, major improvements can be made to increase supply chain transparency.

“But there is still work to be done across all areas of the supply chain to improve the eventual revenue premium publishers see and cut out wastage.

“We’d like to see more advertiser spend directed to publishers investing heavily in both journalism and platforms that provide not only data transparency but greater insights that improve product offerings.”

Karen Nelson-Field, CEO and Founder, Amplified Intelligence

“While this study provides further illumination on the “unknown delta”, it still doesn’t take into account the other unknown for many in the industry: true human attention to ads. The cross-industry taskforce has done great work in making investment more traceable, to the impression level, but it doesn’t address the fact that being able to attribute spend to time-in-view actually means very little in terms of human attention. Even with fraud reduced, measurement can’t be used as a yardstick if the unit it uses isn’t equal – with that in mind, i’d suggest there is some way to go before advertisers can get a clear picture of both where their money goes and what it delivers.”

Romain Job, Chief Strategy Officer, Equativ

“Despite aggressive moves from big players to sustain high take rates, and control, by vertically integrating their suites and limiting transaction traceability, rising adoption of supply chain signals is driving better clarity – feeding most ad decisioning and helping to close the ad spend black hole. The study also confirms the ongoing move from open auctions to private marketplaces, with curated marketplaces having a virtuous effect on spend traceability and supply chain efficiency. It’s clearly leading to greater working media for buyers, as well as higher revenue for publishers.

This progress, however, also feels surprisingly slow. In an industry where data is plentiful and algorithms are becoming more sophisticated by the day, squaring blind spots shouldn’t take so long. While we can be proud of achievements so far, the ad tech space has the capacity to do more, much faster and little excuse for dragging its heels.”

Andy Ashley, Global Marketing Director, SmartFrame Technologies

“With the advertising industry facing economic pressure, it is reassuring for premium publishers to see a bigger slice of the programmatic pie come to their table. Greater transparency across the supply chain is crucial to heighten accountability and nurture trust in the programmatic ecosystem and continued efforts in this space – such as this latest update from ISBA, IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework and the Content Authenticity Initiative – benefit everyone. Clarity will be crucial in the turbulent year ahead to enable publishers to make informed decisions, ensure a quality advertising experience for their audiences and maximise ad revenue.”

Ben Erdos, Chief Services Officer at Total Media Solutions

“These are impressive improvements in a little over two years and with the current economic uncertainty, will put publishers on more stable footing. That said, there is still much to do and any percentage of unaccounted for spend is a problem for publishers. This is especially true towards the premium end of the market. The invaluable and compelling first-party data stories this tier of publication often offers means they should be demanding greater transparency and value from partners.

The truth is programmatic is getting more challenging for many of these larger, more premium publications. With Programmatic Direct clearly delivering greater value and reducing missing spend, I believe we are likely to see more premium publishers capitalising on these channels or PMPs.”

Emmanuel Josserand, Senior Director, Brand, Agency and Industry Relations at FreeWheel

“It’s very promising that we now have a clearer picture of the premium programmatic ecosystem — one that is significantly more optimistic about the unknown delta. As the study highlights, it remains highly important for the buy- and sell-sides to increase their focus on collaboration and industry initiatives to unlock quality data. Critically, this ethos will have broader positive effects on the development of stronger measurement solutions across all types of media, as we are seeing in the TV ecosystem, with concerted efforts to provide more transparency around audience data.”

Julien Gardès, Managing Director, Supply – EMEA & APAC, TripleLift

“The increased transparency of the programmatic supply chain is not only impressive, but much needed for the entire industry. Not only does it provide advertisers with  more confidence that their spend reaches the desired target but a boost in publishers’ revenues means more money is going towards supporting quality media, which in turn helps improve the quality of advertising and, ultimately, the user experience.

“The push for greater transparency also allows advertisers to be more effective with their spend. By working alongside partners that have a direct relationship with publishers, as well as integrations with DSPs, brands can consolidate their supply partners across multiple media types, ensuring spend is effective and accounted for.”

Oleksii Borysov, VP of Product, MGID

“The improvements since 2020 are a clear sign that the consistent work both the supply and demand side have put into path optimisation is paying off. This streamlining has in turn helped exclude the unwanted intermediates who take commission but don’t bring additional value. Industry initiatives like sellers.json have also helped simplify the process, while new versions of ads.txt are giving more clarity on who acts in which role in the chain, providing advertisers with more data on which to base bidding decisions.

“As the cookie continues to deprecate, the wider adoption of unified identifiers, including UUID 2.0, ID5 and LiveRamp by both publishers and SSPs, along with activation of first-party data collection by publishers, will ensure the increased match rates we are seeing don’t drop. Already, we’re seeing how these positively impact match rates in cookieless environments like Safari and Firefox.”

Michael Brooks, Chief Operating Officer, Verve Group

“For unattributable ad spend to decrease 80% over two years is remarkable. With a recession looming and budgets being stretched, it’s now vital for marketers to get more value from their media. The premium programmatic ecosystem has made real change and brought light to a lot of the darkness but there’s still room to improve.

“For publishers, multiple changes including Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework have impacted their business, so the industry’s ability to deliver an additional 8% of programmatic spend to sellers is a much-needed boon with monetisation headwinds on the horizon. This measurement is a key yardstick for how the ad tech layer judges itself: how much power can it deliver from the media dollar to the content creator?”

Benjamin Dunkel, Vice President, Ecosystem Growth, at Alkimi

“It’s reassuring to see the digital advertising industry share our mission to bring more transparency to the supply chain. Unattributed spend coming down from 15% to only 3% shows the importance of vendors sharing detailed data rather than simply high-level summaries. But this figure can be brought down even further if all transactions are run through a blockchain-based exchange.

“ISBA’s latest audit reveals a limitation in how data is logged and accessed, where there were disparities between each vendor’s methods; blockchain technology can provide a standard in this. A public ledger of all transaction data also guarantees that data has not been tampered with, allowing all parties to carry out an audit with complete faith that their sources can be trusted.”