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Are We Ready to Entrust Our Lives and Living Rooms to Adtech?

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Executive Chairman
Updated: Nov. 08, 2021
Published: Oct. 26, 2021

I’m worried about the frothy, intersecting world of connected TV and adtech, and I’m not typically the worrying kind. For sure, this is a very good time for CTV advertising and the technology that powers it.

CTV budgets are up. Wall Street loves CTV. And media companies are investing heavily to grow ad-supported streaming services.

So why worry? CTV’s promise of bringing together the best of digital ad targeting and measurement with premium, high-engagement TV content on 60-inch screens is very compelling. All those positive trends are certainly well-justified.

I’m worried because I have seen this movie before, and our industry’s track record in similar situations is not great. Let’s just think back to the banner craziness of 1999 and 2000, the ad networks of the early aughts, the boom of behavioral targeting and the craze of RTB and programmatic.

There were many great companies in each of these generational cohorts, but there were also a lot of pretenders. Who can forget the “round-trips” of the early banner companies, the ad networks selling pop-unders as premium content, and animated banners as digital video? Then there were the targeting companies stuffing our computers with spyware, or data-targeting platforms conflating “match rates” with audience data accuracy.

The digital adtech industry was built almost 30 years ago on the vision of eventually controlling the living room and its centerpiece, the television. The long-sought prey is now finally in its claws, but I worry about how well the adtech predators will treat those whose destinies will fall under their influence and control: the advertisers who fund the ecosystem and, most importantly, the viewers who must endure the ads.

Now, more than ever, as adtech invades the world’s living rooms and media screens of choice, it needs to clean up what it currently does poorly. Specifically, this is the time when our industry must redouble its efforts around our core consumer value proposition, our transparency and our ethics.

When it comes to delivering real consumer value, we need to stop saying that we’re helping consumers by giving them the right ad at the right time, when so much of what we give them are short-term, response-focused pitches optimized to the 0.01% of likely responders, with no regard for the 99.99% of people who find them irrelevant and redundant. Let’s get real about doing the right thing, and building a future with fewer, more relevant ads that all recipients actually want and value.

Let’s make our systems and transactions truly transparent about components and costs and kill the gimmicks that so many use to hide behind -- like last-click attribution, a trick that benefits those who cookie-bomb, and whose products cannot stand the scrutiny of true, scientific attribution analysis. Thank you to folks like Prohaska Consulting, among others, for fighting the good fight here to help rid us of this mess.

Let’s make our deeds equal our words. For far too many, the standard for ethical behavior is plausible deniability: “I had no idea that 40% of the traffic that we bought to resell to you were bots.” “How could I know that 30% of our CTV buy was really torrents running in app SDKs?” “How can we possibly inspect each and every video that we buy? You have to expect some bad stuff to fall through the cracks.”

We all need to take ownership for the industry that we are creating here today. Investors are assigning it hundreds of billions of collective value. This is the time when we need to welcome vigilance. We need to call out bad actions and bad actors. We need to do the right thing. We need to build this for the long haul.

Fundamentally, we need to shift the culture of our industry to celebrating consumer value, not unicorn status.

What do you think?

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An earlier version of this blog was originally published by MediaPost.