Brands spend the money, and therefore are in the best position to make changes for the better. There are several practical ways brands can treat good publishers more like allies in the quest to reduce problems and retain high-quality content.
1. Treat good publishers well. Treating all publishers the same threatens the top end of the content market. Real publishers like NBCU and The Washington Post should not be treated the same as gotbabes.net, even if they sit side by side in a trading platform dashboard. Agency media buyers have no incentive to treat good publishers well in the short term -- low prices and scale are everything. Anytime a new issue such as viewability or nonhuman traffic is surfaced, a new blanket process is created that all publishers must follow. Buyers have metrics and controls that are time consuming and expensive for good publishers, who rarely fall afoul of the rules when compared to the long tail.
Brands must step in. They must section off the real content from the long tail stuff, in order to protect the asset that assures high quality, captive audiences in good context. Agency buyers must buy legitimate-quality content at different price points than anonymous-reach content and require fewer conditional metrics. Partners must have incentives to be fairer to good publishers, providing more transparency and more frequent reporting.
2. Proactively protect premium TV. As linear TV turns digital, the risk becomes greater that good content is sacrificed to the programmatic machine. In TV, audience-targeted inventory is sold as a premium to normal rates, not at a discount like digital. Good video assets are scarce today, but they will eventually disappear if they aren't paid highly enough.
Already, video networks are awash with auto-play and in-banner video that is passed off as captive video. Video syndication networks house fraudulent sites just as display networks have before them. Because they don't have the time to parse good from bad, it will be easy for media buyers to demand lower prices.
Only brands can preserve high-quality placement opportunities over the long term by changing media buying incentives. Media buyers should be stopped from buying targeted video based on price alone. Middlemen who take a margin by playing both the buy side and the sell side should be forced to become more transparent.
3. Embrace antifraud initiatives. The IAB's recent release of the ads.txt anti-spoofing scheme is a good one, as is the concept of blockchain and having a third-party audit, but these measures will only succeed if enough buyers and sellers force them on the parties in the middle that drive most of the transactions. Agency buyers do not have incentives to proactively weed out fraud. Buyer and seller platforms do not have incentives to pay for someone to audit their activity.
Good content is what drives digital media. Access to good content is a big reason why consumers open Google and Facebook every day. The outcry over fake news proves consumers care that the content is actually good quality.
Advertisers may not realize that this valuable asset is at risk of disappearing. If the industry shuts out publishers, good content collapses, and we're left with fake news.