Streaming services are the new kings of online entertainment, but fraudsters are stealing from the advertising jewels in their crown. Asaf Greiner from Protected Media discusses why the streaming industry is under threat.
When a party’s in full swing and everybody’s having fun, who wants to point out that the punch has been spiked and some of the guests are stealing your possessions?
This Is Where the Streaming Industry Is at Right Now.
With Netflix leading the charge, and the likes of Amazon, Hulu and Roku not far behind, the industry has reached that giddy stage where the business model has finally taken off. As Netflix proclaimed in its recent earnings report, “Just like the evolution from broadcast TV to cable, these once-in-a-generation changes are very large and open up big, new opportunities for many players.” As young consumers, in particular, turn away from traditional TV channels and viewing habits change, streaming services are the new kings of online entertainment.
It’s no surprise then that advertisers are keen to reach the audience demographic that streaming attracts, and many channels need their ad spend in order to keep expanding. The problem is that there are unwelcome guests at the streaming industry’s party: online fraudsters. These criminals have already turned web advertising into a minefield of click bots and pseudo sites, and now they’re siphoning off ad budget from streaming services too.
Why Is Streaming Vulnerable to the Fraudsters?
For a start, something that might seem obvious, but that many people overlook, is that streaming video – often referred to as OTT (Over-The-Top) services – is just another form of online traffic delivered via an internet connection. As such, it can be attacked, hijacked and imitated in exactly the same way as video ads on websites often are.
Not only that, but streaming is extra-attractive to fraudsters for two major reasons: number one, ads on streaming platforms are sold at a premium rate compared to web ads, so there’s more budget up for grabs; and number two, advertisers have very limited methods of measuring or verifying where or how their ads have been delivered.
It’s another case of technology solving a problem, then creating a new one. For example, rather than having to load ads onto the viewer’s streaming device before being displayed, platforms are increasingly ‘stitching’ ads into the core stream itself, particularly for live feeds, which creates a smoother viewing experience. But for advertisers, there’s no way of discerning when or if their ads have been shown – they just have to trust that the platform’s server has done its job properly.
That’s right, despite paying three-four times more for an ad on a streaming platform, more often than not, there’s no way for an advertiser to independently check if their ad has been seen.
This presents a lucrative opportunity for fraudsters. On the web, advertisers can access information about click-through and impression rates, and can spot anomalous behaviour that might indicate fake traffic, whereas streaming platforms give them no such insight – a situation that is ripe for exploitation. And this isn’t just a hypothetical problem – we’re already seeing high rates of web and mobile traffic impersonating OTT traffic. We’re even seeing traffic from platforms that don’t run ads! And don’t think that a subscription model, where all content is paid for, offers watertight protection – fraudsters have no problem impersonating a paid traffic channel either.
Fraud can eat away at an eco-system from the inside. For the streaming platforms and channels, ad revenue that should rightfully be theirs is being gobbled up by fake traffic, particularly when the ads are being served programmatically – that is, without any direct participation from the publisher. And for advertisers, their budget is being thrown away without any demonstrable return. While advertisers on the web have become resigned to the fact that a proportion of their spend will be wasted on fake impressions, advertisers on streaming platforms – particularly those from a TV background – are likely to be a lot less tolerant given the sums of money involved.
So Why Isn’t Something Being Done About This?
Remember, the streaming industry’s party is in full swing right now, and its focus is on growing audience share and traffic on their platforms – the last thing they want is to start questioning where some of that traffic is coming from, or whether or not it’s real. And yet, this is exactly the time when they need to address this issue, before the streaming eco-system becomes as corrupted as the web. By integrating traffic verification technology into platforms now, they can nip fraud in the bud before burgeoning legacy infrastructure makes this too complex to achieve.
Being able to offer a fraud-free environment to advertisers will protect platforms’ future revenue, while doing nothing will just encourage the fraudsters. The streaming industry should enjoy its party, but it needs to throw unwelcome guests out on the street where they belong.