Is Video Ad ‘Breakage’ the Biggest Problem You’ve Never Heard Of?

Ad measurement and authentication company DoubleVerify bought Belgian ad tech business Zentrick last month to help tackle ‘breakage’ in video advertising. Breakage occurs when a video ad fails to run once it’s been sold and is caused by a number of technical problems. But while DoubleVerify and Zentrick both see it as a big issue for all players in the industry, they say many have never even heard of it.

“Breakage is a problem that’s not very widely discussed in the industry, which is very surprising,” said Pieter Mees, who founded Zentrick, and is now VP of video and publisher product at DoubleVerify. “We talk to a number of people across the industry who deal with this on a day to day basis, and the feedback has been that this is the biggest problem that you’ve never heard of.”

Breakage doesn’t have one specific cause, but can occur for a variety of reasons including incompatibility of multiple playback standards and latency delays in the video ad load. When the ad isn’t executed, the impression pixel never fires, meaning the advertiser doesn’t have to pay for the impression, but the publisher loses out on a sale, despite the fact that they found demand to fill the ad slot.

Mees says there’s not much data publicly available on how big a problem breakage is, but based on conversations Zentrick has had with different platforms and partners in the industry, they calculate the average level seems to be around 30 percent. “What that means is if I sell a video impression, there’s a 30 percent chance that for some reason it doesn’t end up acquiring an impression pixel or it doesn’t get delivered, and I’m not getting paid for it,” said Mees.

This number seems remarkably high for an issue so rarely discussed, compared to other problems like ad fraud, but there are several reasons why it might not have been getting so much attention.

For a start, breakage doesn’t weigh as heavily on advertisers nearly as much as ad fraud does. In both cases, an advertiser misses out on inventory they thought they were buying. But with ad fraud, the advertiser ends up paying for the fraudulent impression, whereas with breakage, they see that the ad wasn’t delivered and don’t have to pay.

But that’s not to say it isn’t bad for advertisers. Mees pointed out that for premium video inventory, demand is greater than supply. If breakage is effectively wiping out a third of all available video inventory, it’s making supply even more scarce, meaning large portions of media budgets dedicated to premium video end up unspent.

And while advertisers don’t end up paying for ads that weren’t delivered, a lack of transparency in the supply chain means that advertisers and publishers end up with very different views of what happened. This results in lengthy meetings between both sides where data sets are compared to figure out why there are discrepancies – cutting these out would be good for all players.

Breakage affects publishers even more directly, since it wipes out a sizeable chunk of their inventory. But for publishers too, Mees says there are several factors which mean breakage gets less attention than it perhaps deserves.

“It’s technically complex to figure out what’s going on, because there’s a myriad of different reasons for why it could break, so you would have to allocate a bunch of technical engineers to investigate these issues and try to resolve them,” said Mees. “And once you’ve identified what the root cause of the issue is, you’ve still got to reach out to a bunch of partners in an intransparent delivery chain. For example if you’ve sold programmatically you don’t even have a contact or someone on the other side to talk to them.”

“If you do manage to reach them, then you need to convince them with your research that they’ve caused this issue,” Mees continued. “And then finally they will have to put this on their roadmap to try to make a technical fix to the issue.” Given the process is so long, a publisher investing in tackling the issue might not see any returns for another year or so, which for some means it’s put on the long finger.

According to Mees, publishers who have put more time and resources into fixing breakage have been able to bring rates down. One publisher VAN spoke with said they’d created tools within their ad server to counter errors which occured in the delivery process, and saw low levels of breakage as a result.

And DoubleVerify says its middleware solution, acquired through Zentrick, can roughly halve breakage rates by focussing on reducing latency in video ad delivery specifically. The company is now identifying other causes of breakage which are separate from latency but addressable with the same technology, in order to cut breakage rates even further.

Subscribe to Weekly VAN Newsletter

Ad TechConnected TVDataMeasurementMediaOTTProgrammaticStandardsTech