Over Half of Paid Programmatic Impressions Probably Aren’t Viewed by an Actual Person

The best-case scenario: one-third of views are likely fraudulent, experts say

Advertising Week panelists were asked what percentage of paid programmatic impressions aren't viewed by humans—and their estimates were bleak. Getty Images
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Digital publishers are trying to address their industry’s continued struggles with brand safety and fraud, but experts say they still have a long way to go. More than half of paid programming impressions are probably fraudulent, while under even the best-case scenario, one-third of those impressions aren’t viewed by an actual person.

Those bleak estimates came during an Advertising Week session yesterday about data-driven advertising. Rick Erwin, president of audience solutions for Acxiom, asked the panelists what percentage of purchased programmatic impressions they believe are not viewed by human beings.

“If it’s direct, I would say over 50 percent” are fraudulent, said Matt O’Grady, CEO, Nielsen Catalina Solutions. “But direct programmatic I think is making great strides and improvements forward, and then you can actually ask, what’s behind the segment? What’s behind the target? And then you’ll get an indication.”

As for real-time bidding programmatic impressions, the percentage of impressions that aren’t actually viewed is “even higher,” said O’Grady. “It’s still a challenge.”

Glenn Eisen, CMO emeritus of SlingTV, said the best-case scenario—“if you’re doing your job really well, and you really focus on ad fraud”—would be “maybe as low as a third” of the traffic would be fraudulent. For publishers who aren’t as focused on fraud, the percentage of fake impressions will be even “higher.”

Bryson Gordon, evp, advanced advertising, Viacom, would simply say that “more” impressions aren’t viewed than are actually viewed. He recalled a statistic from around 2000, in which the total revenue generated by hackers via credit card and identity theft was 2.5 times larger “than the entire computer security industry.” Much has changed since then, but fraud is as prevalent as ever. “I would contend that the problem is probably a lot larger than anyone who works in media would understand,” said Gordon.

The fourth panelist, comScore evp and president Bill Livek, declined to speculate on a number, but noted that the concern over fraud is driving all of the recent progress around attribution and data. “People want to understand. If I ran that, did it result in an action? Did it result in a click or a sale?” he said.

Just an hour prior to their discussion, Nielsen announced that it would be buying marketing intelligence software provider Visual IQ, and utilizing that company’s multitouch attribution advertising model, which measures the effectiveness of advertising on digital platforms.

Gordon noted that the context of television is “great for advertising and drives persuadability better than any other medium.” As more content shifts into over-the-top environments, bringing targeting and attribution “on a one-to-one basis, where you know the viewer is a person,” he said, “it is just going to be frankly a bonanza for this industry.”

Eisen agreed that digital ad dollars could move to OTT, where “you know the deliverability is real,” as digital “has to address some serious confidence issues. This is why you’re seeing some of the spending shift to ‘closed’ environments. Increasingly, you’re going to see that OTT and digital video [have] the confidence to get more and more ad dollars.”

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.