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Verizon Ends Its YouTube Boycott

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Verizon said Tuesday that it will resume buying video ads on YouTube after a five-month break that was triggered by concerns about the kinds of content appearing near its brand.

John Nitti, chief media officer at Verizon, says the company has hired Integral Ad Science, an outside ad analytics company, to verify both that it's only paying for ads that have a sufficient chance to be seen and that those ads aren't running near anything offensive, violent or otherwise unsuitable.

Verizon is still testing Integral Ad Science's solution for YouTube, but expects to return its spending on the platform to normal if all goes well.

Third-party verification focused on viewability and brand safety are missing from both YouTube, which is owned by Google, and "other partners that have a large amount of user-generated content uploaded on a daily basis," Nitti adds. (Update: Google points out that it has supported third-party viewability reporting on YouTube via companies such as Integral Ad Science, Moat and Double Verify since 2015.)

"This is an overall industry issue that Verizon is trying to address across the board, not just with Google and YouTube, but with all of our partners," Nitti says. "The need to have consistency and measurement and for us to deploy the Verizon standard is pinnacle to get to the transparency that every marketer deserves."

In addition to Verizon, major brands including AT&T, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson said they were freezing their ad spending on YouTube earlier this year after press reports about ads appearing next to content like ISIS videos.

"We can clearly confirm that Verizon went dark in March," says Andreas Goeldi, chief technology officer at Pixability, which monitors more than 6 million YouTube channels. "They were spending a considerable amount of money in early March, but they then flatlined immediately. Based on our observations from the outside, we have not seen any paid activity with Verizon on YouTube since March."

Pixability has access to YouTube's data because it is one of six companies in YouTube's new measurement program, which required YouTube to certify its accuracy and the way it uses the information.

Few options
Premium video is in limited supply, so it's not clear whether and where boycotting marketers redirected those video ad budgets. Nitti isn't saying where Verizon spent its ad dollars during the five months it took off from YouTube. There are few, if any, platforms that can deliver the type of targeting and reach that YouTube can.

"Obviously, for that period of time we had to find other video invetory sources to reach the target segments," Nitti said. "But I can't divulge our video buying strategy for our competitors."

Verizon was the sixth largest U.S. ad spender in 2016, spending roughly $2.7 billion in measured media, according to Kantar.

A Google spokeswoman said it's "working with third party ad verification vendors to provide third party brand safety reporting on YouTube and will begin integrating these technologies in the coming months."

Although brands' revolt against YouTube sparked much talk within the industry, Google came out relatively unscathed: Ad revenue generated $22.7 billion during the second quarter, up from $19.1 billion when compared to the previous year.

Then again, Procter & Gamble's concerns about where its digital ads were appearing contributed to a $140 million drop in its online ad spending in the second quarter. Its organic sales outperformed both analyst forecasts and key rivals at 2% growth regardless.

Zero compromise
In an effort to ensure that Verizon can track and evaluate its spending across all the publishers it buys from, the company introduced an initiative called "The Verizon Standard of Measurement" at the Association of National Advertisers conference this year. It demands that publishes bill based on third-party numbers, accept software tags from Integral Ad Science and more.

Partners that don't adhere to all of these standards won't be seeing any business from Verizon, according to Nitti.

Verizon hasn't run into the same issues with Google display and search advertising as it did with YouTube, Nitti adds. "What we're doing is being more strict about our partners adhering to the Verizon standard in all of those areas," he says. "That is what we are piloting."