Mid-Year Perspectives from the Experts: Bustle, Rubicon Project and Univision Speak to Scott Moore, CEO, Ad Lightning

At Ad Lightning, we consider ourselves lucky. We get to work with a wide variety of industry thought-leaders every day across a wide range of digital publishers and solution providers. Many wrestle with common issues, but each has a unique perspective.

At the beginning of 2018, we surveyed over 100 Ad Ops leaders to get a sense of their outlook for the coming year. There were many interesting learnings gleaned from that study, including the depressing revelation that 63% of publishers feel that ad quality issues haven‘t improved or have gotten even worse over the last 12 months, but that 75% believe publisher-side ad blockers like Ad Lightning will have the most positive impact on ad quality.

Recently, I followed up with a number of industry experts and asked if they’d share a few mid-year perspectives on the 2018 digital ad landscape —any surprises, challenges or major decisions they wanted to discuss. I’m happy to report that quality and transparency remain at the forefront of the conversation well into 2018.

Our publisher partners continue to push for solutions that give them better control over their tech stack and audience. The new Open RTB spec is a good example of how accountability and improved tracking through the ecosystem is still at the forefront of the conversation.

Many thanks to our friends at Bustle (Kai Hsing), Rubicon Project (John Clyman) and Univision (Tyla Mayo) for sharing some of their latest perspectives below.

What’s surprised you the most about the digital advertising/publishing landscape so far in 2018?

John Clyman, VP Engineering, Marketplace Quality & Security Rubicon Project: “The extraordinarily rapid adoption of ads.txt has been a pleasant surprise. It's great to see that despite the vast number of players in the ad tech ecosystem, the industry can come together quickly and decisively to help curtail bad behavior that causes so much harm.”

Scott Moore, CEO, Ad Lightning: John makes a great point. It’s always a positive thing when the industry can come together quickly to collaborate over the latest challenges to ad quality.

Kai Hsing, SVP Marketing & Operations, Bustle: “The same old shenanigans are still at play (ad fraud, for example)”

Scott Moore: Kai’s point is spot on, unfortunately. As we continue to track the proliferation of mobile redirects and various methods of video fraud, the rate at which new fraudsters are entering the ecosystem surprises even us. Data from this past year continues to show huge spikes in fraud, particularly at the end of the week, month and fiscal quarters. These bad actors are savvy enough to know when to flood the market with bad ads.

What’s your biggest ad quality challenge going forward this year?

John Clyman, Rubicon Project: “Forced mobile redirects continue to be a major industry-wide problem. We see bad actors using increasingly sophisticated techniques to evade detection. And in a world where individual sites and apps are typically integrated with many different platforms, it's very hard for sellers to even identify which of their partners the bad demand is originating from, let alone stop it entirely. So, on top of the incredible consumer frustration with these bad ad-quality experiences, it's also an ongoing operational challenge that everyone struggles with.”

Scott Moore: In our conversations with our clients and other folks in the market, redirects are always part of the discussion. They are frequently cited as the client’s most significant pain point, and this seems to be true for just about everyone in the ecosystem. Publishers need to conquer that nagging problem, before they can focus on bigger ad quality issues that aren’t so apparent to the everyday user (like data leakage, page load delays etc.)

When it comes to redirects, our goal at Ad Lightning is to stay ahead of the fraudsters. We’re continuously working to anticipate and detect the tactics bad actors use to inject unwanted behaviors into ads.

Tyla Mayo, Director of Revenue, Univision Communications, Inc.: “We recently migrated our video ad serving from Freewheel to DFP. But we quickly learned that DFP is not as competitive as Freewheel because of how they handle VAST/VPAID errors and rendition management. DFP offers reporting on errors so we can pinpoint the creative that has issues but, as with all DFP features, the solution is a reaction not a preventative measure. There are some other tools available to us to improve the quality, but all at the cost of our direct revenue which puts us in a position where we either have a bad brand experience or lose money.”

Scott Moore: Tyla’s frustration with video ad quality is understandable. It’s still a big challenge and the market continues to grow at a rapid pace. The infrastructure to deploy video, especially programmatically, is still very fragmented. There are few one-size-fits-all solutions for video —and that drives up costs.

She might be happy to know that Ad Lightning’s roadmap for Q3 and Q4 is heavily dedicated to innovative video quality tools.

Can you share a tech or policy decision that’s had a positive impact on your Ad Ops in 2018:

Tyla Mayo, Univision Communications, Inc.: “We began a major initiative in Q4 of last year to redesign and optimize our site for mobile and viewable ad positions. As part of this effort we removed the header ad and placed the first display ad amongst compelling content, abandoning the concept of a must-have above the fold placement. Our hypothesis was that ads at top of the page are immediately scrolled out of view and misses the point of being viewable. We were right. After making the change, the in-view score for our 320x50 has more than tripled since last year. It was a tough sell, but it’s clear we made the right decision."

Scott Moore: Digital advertising never stops evolving. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help the industry move forward and stay ahead of new challenges and threats as they emerge.

John, Kai and Tyla, thank you for sharing your perspectives!