If Advertisers can Verify Advertising, Why Can’t Artists?

Anyone who has reviewed a YouTube royalty statement knows that there’s some pretty strange things going on with advertising on the Google video monopoly.  If it’s any comfort, we’re not the only ones.  Advertisers have finally managed to crack the YouTube code according to Reuters.  Of course, if it’s like most things having to do with accountability for YouTube or Google, it’s probably ice in winter–that is, a sham.  But let’s see what happens.  However–if advertisers can now find out where their ad is appearing, why can’t artists also know which ads are appearing on pages with their videos?

Aside from documented cases of kickbacks being paid by media companies (“Unbeknown to advertisers, he said, US agencies were taking “rebates and kickbacks” from media companies in exchange for spending their clients’ money with them“), there’s the general feeling among advertisers that they have no idea where their money is going or if it’s going anywhere at all.

Harvard Business School’s Ben Edelman was one of the first to raise the alarm about Google’s largely impenetrable secrecy around advertising.  (See Professor Edelman’s prescient 2009 post “Toward a Bill of Rights for Online Advertisers“).  Number One on Professor Edelman’s list is:

1. An advertiser’s right to know where its ads are shown.  It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context.  Even for “blind buys,” advertisers need enough information to determine whether a given site qualifies to show an ad.  Anything less undermines accountability—inviting fraudulent sites that devour advertisers’ budgets.  And with all manner of fraud—from spyware pop-ups to invisible banners to adult sites slipping into networks that claim to be brand-friendly—advertisers need to be wary.

According to Reuters:

 Google Inc’s YouTube is planning to provide advertisers with data on how many of the ads on its internet video service can be seen by viewers, in response to advertiser complaints, according to the Financial Times.

The online story, which cited unnamed people familiar with YouTube’s plans, said the company plans to allow third-party verification groups to insert code on its website, which would let them collect data on the position and context of ads.

It said that the move is expected to start by year-end and could attract verification companies including ComScore, DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science.

The plan is a response to complaints from advertisers, including Unilever and Kellogg Co, according to the story.

Way back with Google Video, I raised the issue of outside verification procedures for those companies licensing videos to Google.  This would have allowed a kind of “desk top audit” of Google for licensors to be able to determine what the ad traffic was for their videos in order to cross reference ad placement to income.

Auditing is a sensitive topic for Google–some will remember how Scott Sellwood sneered at me when I brought up at an A2IM panel the fact that YouTube’s publishing licenses did not permit audits.  Unlike every other contract in the music industry (a fine example of New Boss problems).

But–now we know that we’re not the only ones who don’t believe a word that YouTube says.  And if advertisers are allowed to verify where their ads go, why can’t we verify what ads are played against our videos?  Particularly if the smart ass YouTubers look down their noses at those who don’t trust their numbers.

One could easily take Professor Edelman’s online advertiser bill of rights and make it into an artist bill of rights for online advertising.   As long as the industry is idiotic enough to hitch our wagon to a share of frequently unverifiable advertising revenue instead of per stream royalty rates, let’s at least get some chance to verify if they’re simply making it up.