The Perils of Online Advertising, Highlighted by the BBC

/ Jul 10, 2014


A recent BBC investigation revealed that video ads from the UK government, charities, and other businesses — including the BBC — were running in front of jihadi recruitment videos on YouTube and Dailymotion. The nature of the advertising arrangements between ad-supported channels and video-hosting sites like YouTube and Dailymotion means that money spent by businesses and charities was unwittingly going to fund extremist organizations.

An obvious no-no, YouTube and Dailymotion have moved quickly to remove those extremist videos and suspend user accounts associated with them.

But this remains an issue that continues to plague the online video industry — namely, with a lack of real scarcity, advertisers who buy ads in an automated fashion online, especially on large platforms such as YouTube and Dailymotion, can’t always know where those ads will run.

To be clear, it would be unfair and shortsighted to put the blame on YouTube and Dailymotion for this problem. Both platforms were designed to enable anybody to distribute video content. The sheer size of each platform today makes it impossible to actively police every piece of content uploaded — not when people are contributing 100 new hours of video to YouTube every minute.

When an offending clip is flagged by a user, YouTube and Dailymotion are active in reviewing and removing said video.

But until they do, it remains the peril of automated advertising online.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are technology companies, including YouTube, trying to meet the problem head-on in different ways. Here’s a few:

Google Preferred: Yes, this offering is Google’s attempt to be more like TV. But, to be fair, no advertiser is worried about their ads running in front of extremist content on TV. The program identifies and opens up “premium” inventory across the top-performing channels on YouTube. As far as I can tell, none focus on recruiting you to a terrorist organization.

Outrigger Media’s Vnetic: Launched last month by the YouTube analytics company, Vnetic is a media-planning tool that allows clients to create and curate personalized networks of channels that they want to advertise on. Vnetic draws on data from Outrigger’s OpenSlate platform, which provides a quality score for more than 220,000 YouTube channels. Outrigger says there are more than 70 million ad-supported videos that Vnetic can connect advertisers to.

Veenome’s YouTube Channel Brand Safety: This product analyzes the actual image and audio content of a video on YouTube, and pairs it with various information on the channel, to provide a quality score. The idea is that by knowing the actual quality of content available on any YouTube channel, advertisers can make smarter decisions on where to place their ads.

Granted, all three of these solutions focus on YouTube (when it’s the biggest fish in the video pond, it makes sense for them to). There are also plenty of ad-tech companies that promise ad placements in only brand-safe environments, whether that means a YouTube channel, Dailymotion, or other web-video publishers.

But the problem remains. One way to fix it? Advertisers exerting more control in their decision-making (the three products listed above all, in their own way, require an advertiser to be more active). But the promise of automated buying is that it simplifies the entire process. It’s easier. So until improvements are made in that process, the problem will persist.

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