Transparency is just a .txt file away

Oct 6, 2017


Programmatic advertising changed the landscape of online advertising, making it easier and faster to buy and sell media online by automating the whole process. But by delegating the transactions to robots—rather than arranging direct deals—a layer of obfuscation arose.


In the past few years, a lack of transparency has led to increasing amounts of fraud.


A “Buyer Beware” Online Market


As reported in this article by Digiday, buying and selling ads has become a “buyer beware” market. The industry is populated by arbitrage advertisers that claim to represent ad space on publisher verticals that they actually don’t. Or perhaps they represent far less than they claim. For example, they might say they represent ad space on CNN, when in reality they served only one impression there.


Translated into money misdirected, the consequences of this fraud are mind-boggling. In the same article, Digiday cites some incredible statistics revealed by a publishing executive:


“Despite putting only 20,000 daily video impressions in the open market, this executive said, some advertising partners had purchased over 100,000 daily video impressions that they had believed belong to the publisher.”


In some cases, advertisers are lured by the cheap inventory. In others they are simply pursuing access to the publisher and thought they found it. In both cases, they are being defrauded. Their ads are bundled (or arbitraged) and show up on a range of shoddy sites.


And for publishers this means that fragments of their inventory are being sold at a lower price than they should be.


A direct relationship between the two parties actually creating value is always best. But how can we set up this access while preserving the efficiency of using programmatic ads?


An Elegant Solution Arrives


The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently put forward a solution that’s brilliant in its simplicity: publishers implement a .txt file in their root domain that lists the relationships they have with Supply Side Platforms.


It has no technical function whatsoever; it’s essentially a bulletin board that advertisers can look at to discern who’s working with the publisher. One publisher’s ads.txt file, for instance, could look something like this:, pub-xxxxx4323, DIRECT, xxxxxx329, xxxxxxxxxx893, DIRECT #video, banner, app, xxxx42, DIRECT #video, xxxxxxxx323, DIRECT #banner, xxxx389, RESELLER #video, xxxx8, DIRECT #video

tremor, xxxxxx9393, DIRECT #video, xxxx939, DIRECT #video


The information specifies says the name of the ad tech partner, this publisher’s account number with the SSP, whether they control the account or they have delegated to another entity (direct or reseller), and what type of ad unit they represent.


So will this simple solution actually take off? It’s a question of adoption. If this ads.txt is widely adopted by publishers, it will help clean up the supply chain significantly.


Advertisers don’t have to play an elaborate guessing game. They can check this list to see who officially represents a publisher’s inventory, and can avoid working with agencies that fraudulently claim access. Publishers, in turn, can enjoy a fuller revenue share.


The JW Player Demand team is excited that this has finally come along. We’re rooting for industry-wide adoption. It’s the solution that everyone deserves.

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