Most CTV Inventory Remains a Blind Spot for Ads.txt

Leon Siotis, Managing Director,
UK & Southern Europe at SpotX

The IAB’s ads.txt initiative has won a lot of support from across the industry as a relatively simple and effective way to combat domain spoofing, with several demand side platforms (DSPs) now making ads.txt adoption mandatory. But while ads.txt implementation is pretty straightforward for most publishers, we’ve seen some confusion around whether the initiative will be compatible with connected TV (CTV) inventory, and if so how to use it.

The answer depends on your definition of CTV. If you include video on-demand (VOD) inventory which runs off a webpage while displaying on a TV set – some smart TVs for example can access VOD content via a web browser – ads.txt works in exactly the same way for this type of content, since the same domain is being accessed.

“If the device is used to browse websites then the corresponding party should be registered as a seller in the site’s ads.txt – the type of the device doesn’t really matter,” explained Egor Kozmenko, director of technical operations at IPONWEB’s BidSwitch.

However a lot of CTV inventory is delivered over apps on smart TVs or over-the-top (OTT) devices, and the current version of ads.txt is not compatible with this inventory. “Most of the CTV inventory that we see at BidSwitch is application traffic and thus is exempt from ads.txt logic (at least for now),” said Kozmenko. “The remaining 10-15 percent of traffic is represented by publishers that are well presented in corresponding ads.txt files.”

This is because ads.txt currently prevents domain spoofing specifically, and with inventory hosted on applications, there is no domain to be spoofed. But as Kozmenko explained: “Spoofing can occur with application traffic (pretending the ad is from app A when it’s from app B). It’s not as frequent as in website traffic, but we’ve seen such cases in real trading.”

Egor Kozmenko, Director of
Technical Operations at BidSwitch

To combat this, ads.txt’s logic needs to be expanded to cover in-app trading. While the solution will require a different process from how ads.txt works for web traffic, the logic will likely remain the same that the broadcaster simply needs to be able to signal to buyers which vendors it works with.

“On the web, DSPs can crawl a page and extract the information to see who’s allowed to sell, and check that with the ad request that’s coming in from the seller. I don’t know how you’d do that within a CTV environment but I’m sure someone can figure out how to pass that little piece of information at runtime,” said SpotX’s managing director for the UK and southern Europe, Leon Siotis.

The IAB is currently exploring ways to do this according to Kozmenko, and ads.txt’s public spec mentions that “future directions include covering mobile apps and other non-web environments, allowed ad formats, etc.”

Ads.txt’s incompatibility with CTV inventory isn’t a huge problem for now, as connected TV isn’t plagued by spoofing to the same extent that web inventory has been. Whilst the problem may well get worse in the future, Siotis is confident that the industry can stay ahead of the curve. “As we know, when more money flows into something, you’re going to have nefarious actors trying to take advantage, but I’m pretty optimistic that in this area we’ll be able to stay one step ahead.”

Solutions may emerge independent of the IAB, as Siotis said was the case with domain spoofing. Companies including SpotX came up with their own ways to fight domain spoofing before the IAB standard was release, and the same could occur for in-app trading if app spoofing were to become more prevalent.

But Siotis believes that for these sorts of problems, an industry standard is preferable. “It’s very much an industry problem, so you want industry solutions. Even if 99 percent of us are doing a fantastic job, that one percent who aren’t can tarnish the rest of us.” He believes a solution similar to ads.txt that works across the industry would be the most effective way to assuage any advertisers’ fears about app spoofing.

Whilst the industry waits for a solution, Siotis suggests that buyers should remain vigilant, and scrutinise the sources of inventory they buy. “Technology can only take us so far, at some point you have to have a brain and think about where things are coming from. If it looks too good to be true, it’s probably not true,” he said.

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