Net Neutrality, GDPR and viewability from Sovrn’s CMO Andy Evans | M&M Global

Net Neutrality, GDPR and viewability from Sovrn’s CMO Andy Evans

Andy Evans, CMO for Sovrn offers his perspective on some of the key issues dominating media in 2018 and beyond.

Net Neutrality has grabbed headlines in the US, how much of a problem is this for publishers globally?

As an enabler of free speech net neutrality is the internet’s single most important attribute. As the principle that ensures all internet traffic is treated without discrimination, blocking, throttling or prioritisation it allows publishers and content creators of all sizes to complete on a level playing field promoting an open exchange of ideas, which sparks creativity and innovation. Net neutrality is vital for smaller, independent publishers who create quality content around specific interest areas to make their content accessible to all.

Individual states such as Washington are taking action to protect net neutrality ahead of the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal – scheduled to take effect on 23 April – but if they are unsuccessful the impact on US-based publishers will be catastrophic. The internet could be split into paid fast lanes for the larger players who are owned by ISPs or can afford to pay them, and inferior lanes for the smaller, independent voices. Money and influence, rather than the quality of content, will determine publisher success.

Other parts of the world that already have net neutrality rules won’t necessarily follow the same path as the US. For instance the EU’s Open Internet Regulation enshrines the principle of net neutrality across Europe. However, the borderless nature of the internet makes it difficult to restrict the impact of net neutrality rules to specific geographic areas and any publisher that counts some of the 280 million US internet users among its audience could be affected.

We’re on the homestretch with GDPR, could you share your top considerations for publishers ahead of May’s deadline?

At this point publishers should already be reviewing their data processes as this is the first task on the road to compliance. They need to understand what data they collect, where it comes from, how it is used and where it is stored. It is important to note the definition of personal information has expanded to include cookies and IP addresses among many other trackable activities.

Secondly publishers may want to consider the partners they share data with, or those that collect and process data on their behalf. Under the GDPR publishers are data controllers and could be held responsible for the actions of their partners, the data processors, so reviewing and potentially renegotiating contracts prior to the enforcement date is advisable.

Most publishers will need to use consent as the legal basis for data processing so they will have to implement stringent consent mechanisms. Publishers will need to explain clearly what data they are collecting, what it will be used for and who it will be shared with, as users will need to give explicit consent to these activities, implied consent is no longer sufficient. In addition to a robust consent process publishers could also take the opportunity to update their privacy policies in line with the regulation.

While most people are focused on GDPR compliance ahead of the May enforcement date publishers shouldn’t forget about the ePrivacy Regulation, which is likely to be implemented next year as the two regulation’s rules overlap slightly. While compliance with these new regulations will be a major challenge it will bring a level of respect for the user that I believe should have been integral to the internet from its very inception.

Ads.txt has been a game changer for publishers, does this go far enough to make the digital advertising ecosystem a safe and trusted place?

Ads.txt will be instrumental in fighting domain spoofing and inventory arbitrage and – with more than 60% of Pixalate’s top 1,000 programmatic publishers and over 65% of Sovrn publishers already implementing the initiative – it is seeing exceptional adoption rates. But while ads.txt is a major step forward for the industry, increasing publishers’ control of their inventory and giving advertisers more confidence in the authenticity of the impressions they buy, it should not be seen as a magic bullet that will remedy all the ills of the digital advertising ecosystem.

The threat of digital ad fraud is complex and continually evolving, so staying one step ahead of the fraudsters requires a multi pronged approach. First inventory quality can be continually assessed through a combination of human review and automated tools that flag suspicious fluctuations in metrics such as viewability and engagement. Second, traffic quality can be evaluated to make sure ads are being served to legitimate users and not to bots. Finally ads themselves could be checked to ensure they are clean and free from malware or other malicious activities.

While ads.txt is a positive development it should not replace other anti-fraud measures, nor overshadow important industry initiatives such as the Coalition for Better Ads, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), JICWEBS, and the IAB Gold Standard, which are all working towards making the digital advertising ecosystem a safer and more trusted place.

Viewability is a key industry issue. Do you think the current metrics are up to scratch, or is there more that can be done?

The Media Ratings Council’s standards for viewability were a welcome industry benchmark, preventing advertisers being charged for ads delivered out of view, but they don’t provide a definitive metric against which campaigns should be optimised.

Just because an ad is deemed viewable it doesn’t mean it has actually been viewed or engaged with as the user may have opened another tab or left the browser to use a different application. Viewability standards also promote poor ad placement, encouraging ads to be served above the fold even though these are less effective than those placed lower down the page, which are viewed for 2.6 times longer.

Rather than optimising for viewability alone the industry must move towards metrics that combine viewability with engagement to gain a better understanding of an ad’s effectiveness. Sovrn is about to publish a whitepaper on Viewable Engagement Time (VET) a metric that measures how long an ad is not only in-view but also being engaged with, using engagement events such as clicks, scrolls and keyboard movements which prove the user is present and actively engaged with the on-page content. VET opens up the possibility of introducing a maximum threshold where publishers can legitimately reload an ad unit if the user has been actively engaged for a certain period of time, we recommend 30 seconds, bringing digital into line with other forms of time-limited advertising.

Finally we are seeing the steady rise of niche publishing what’s your view on the power balance between niche publishers and the major content platforms?

These two groups of publishers sit at opposite ends of the content curve and are both highly valuable to advertisers in different ways. At one end of the curve are smaller niche publishers who may attract fewer visitors, but who have very specific content, produced by passionate enthusiasts and a highly focused appeal. Moving along the curve content becomes more and more generic in order to appeal to wider audiences, until ultimately it reaches the mass appeal of the major publishers who enjoy the most visitors.

Traditionally advertisers have valued the enormous reach of the major content platforms, but the tide is beginning to turn in favour of smaller niche publishers.  Advertisers are realising the benefits of presenting their brand to consumers in a place where they are most engaged, where they are spending time, and where their message is not only relevant to the experience, it may even add to it. Audiences dedicate their time to niche publisher sites because the content is meaningful to them and speaks to their life or work interests, and advertisers are beginning to understand the value of delivering their message in this type of environment. But as discussed earlier maintaining net neutrality is going to be vital in ensuring these niche publishers continue to have their voices heard.

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