As Connected TV Ad Business Grows, Fraud Persists

CTV Ad Fraud
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

The U.S. connected TV (CTV) business is growing from strength to strength. eMarketer recently estimated that the domestic CTV business will grow by 49% in 2021 to be worth $13.4 billion, rising to $24.8 billion by the end of 2024.

As a reminder, CTV includes all streamed ad-supported content across smart TVs and connected devices such as Fire Sticks, Rokus and Apple TVs. This includes apps from subscription and free streaming services, MVPD and VMVPD pay-TV providers and TV network authenticated apps.

A recent IAB survey of advertising decision-makers showed that average yearly CTV spend per major consumer category is expected to be above pre-pandemic levels for all aside from fashion/apparel.

The pandemic, with lockdowns and closure of some industries, disrupted the regular pattern of advertising, as people couldn’t travel and instead turned to improving their homes, which is reflected in the spend patterns. (Also note that auto spend is projected to be lower in 2021, in spite of the country opening back up. This is likely due to the global semiconductor shortage impacting supply).

As in any facet of modern digital life, with increased revenues and opportunities come the fraudsters. There was a large increase in CTV fraud in 2020, as the nascent industry experienced a lockdown-fueled streaming boom.

VIP has previously covered some of the recent CTV ad scams impacting the industry, with these set to continue as scammers take advantage of the confusing marketplace greeting uninitiated CTV buyers.

One common issue is that noob buyers from the TV world don’t realize digital impression numbers aren’t the same as TV impressions, which are a lot more difficult to spoof and thus easier to trust.

Digital signals can be altered in a number of ways. First, bots can be set up to generate blatantly fake traffic, resulting in the scammer selling impressions to no one. Second, apps and sites are set up that generate millions of fraudulent signals, edited to appear that the device on which they're being used is a TV set. Third is spoofing, which is when a scammer buys a cheap impression like a desktop ad and alters the code so the impression appears to be a CTV device, sometimes also multiplying the number of impressions generated (i.e., taking one genuine impression and making it into 10).

VIP asked digital ad authentication firm DoubleVerify if it would be possible to eliminate fraud on CTV devices, perhaps if all the different selling markets collaborated with one another. Whilst this would remove a large number of schemes and enable these to be swiftly identified and eliminated across the market, it wouldn’t be able to remove all the bots out there running across apps and sites, with more introduced every day.

Thus, CTV fraud looks to be an issue the industry will deal with for the long haul. The good thing is there are companies such as MadHive, DoubleVerify, Oracle and Human Security, who verify ads and lock down scams when identified.

This does suggest execs jumping into CTV must acknowledge that the future will include a proportion of ad buys going to non-human eyes, which could take some getting used to as the industry continues to grow.