Cleaning Up the Digital Media Supply Chain

Cleaning Up the Digital Media Supply Chain

What Will Move the Industry Toward Transparency and Optimization?

Executive Summary

For most advertisers, the supply chain for programmatic media is a black box. More than half of programmatic spending around the world went to the “tech tax” last year, according to Warc, and brands don’t have a clear view of exactly where all those fees go and why. And that’s before taking fraud into account. As ad dollars wend their way through the programmatic supply chain, they’re repeatedly exposed to the risk of bad actors. Advertisers and publishers hope for significant changes and efficiencies thanks to transparency, but that does not equal optimization. Measurement and analysis will be required to settle on better supply chains.

What is programmatic ad fraud?

Domain spoofing is probably the most common type of ad fraud, and involves the fraudulent party disguising its URL or domain as another (usually a higher-quality one). But other types of fraud exist thanks to the long, opaque supply chains of programmatic environments, including various types of video ad fraud where less-desirable display units are repackaged and arbitraged as high-CPM video ad units (for example, a 300x250 in-banner video ad being paraded as a full-screen pre-roll ad).

How can marketers avoid digital ad fraud?

Advertisers, along with other players in the programmatic ecosystem, are pushing for transparency to avoid wasting money on unnecessary fees and fraudulent impressions. New real-time bidding (RTB) protocols, blockchain-based solutions and in-housing of programmatic trading are all getting attention in this fight.

Why is it so hard to detect ad fraud?

The No. 1 challenge of addressing ad quality issues is tracking down bad actors in the supply chain, according to January 2018 research by ad intelligence firm Ad Lightning, with nearly six in 10 ad operations professionals in the US naming it a significant problem. Ad tech is also unable to scan every ad to identify issues or is unable to block bad ads.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report explores the current state of the programmatic media supply chain, why advertisers are concerned about fees and fraud, and what the ecosystem as a whole is doing about it.


Nicole Perrin


Caroline Cakebread
Junior Analyst
Rahul Chadha
Senior Analyst
Lauren Fisher
Principal Analyst
Tracy Tang
Senior Researcher