Advertising Digital Publishing
4 mins read

ISBA’s second programmatic supply chain report: Cause for confidence, but don’t pause progress

Considerable progress has been made regarding transparency in the programmatic supply chain, but more needs to be done. As one commentator says, “Any percentage of unaccounted-for ad spend is a problem for publishers.”

In 2020, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) released its Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, which unearthed some uncomfortable truths, sending shockwaves across the global ad industry. Three years ago, the report revealed participating publishers received just 51% of ad spend, while 15% was unattributable – coining the phrase the ‘unknown delta’.

Now, the second iteration of the study, once again conducted by PwC, has this week revealed the ‘unknown delta’ has been radically reduced, accounting for 3% of ad spend, with publishers’ slice of the pie increasing by 8%. 

We asked six industry players to weigh in on the findings and share what they think it means for programmatic:

Richard Reeves, Managing Director, Association of Online Publishers

“Taking these trends as universal would suggest the unknown delta has almost gone. Instead, the report shows premium buyers and sellers have found they can fuel greater fairness and clarity by streamlining their supply chains: especially moving to PMPs. Minimising SSP and DSP partners has allowed them to curb inefficiency, leakage and complexity; all of which are ongoing problems for mid and long-tail inventory. The vast majority have also enjoyed higher data quality, mostly thanks to the data field list. Combined with improved log-level data access, standardised requirements are the key reason match rates have seen such a huge spike.”

Reducing reliance on third-party intermediaries is still vital to build closer, direct trading relationships that ensure more spend reaches publishers — as is more buy-side focus on working with smaller numbers of high-value sites.

Meanwhile, gaining full understanding of programmatic health will mean expanding studies to the full media spectrum; including mid and long-tail placements.

Richard Reeves, Managing Director, Association of Online Publishers

Nicholas Flood, Global Ad Product & Revenue Operations Director, Future

“It has been great to see this level of progress in just two years. The latest report provides proof that with better standardisation of data and easier access to log-level information, major improvements can be made to increase supply chain transparency. But there is still work to be done across all areas of the supply chain to improve the eventual revenue premium publishers see and cut out wastage.”

We’d like to see more advertiser spend directed to publishers investing heavily in both journalism and platforms that provide not only data transparency but greater insights that improve product offerings.

Nicholas Flood, Global Ad Product & Revenue Operations Director, Future

Oleksii Borysov, VP of Product, MGID

“The improvements since 2020 are a clear sign that the consistent work both the supply and demand side have put into path optimisation is paying off. This streamlining has in turn helped exclude the unwanted intermediates who take commission but don’t bring additional value. Industry initiatives like sellers.json have also helped simplify the process, while new versions of ads.txt are giving more clarity on who acts in which role in the chain, providing advertisers with more data on which to base bidding decisions.

“As the cookie continues to deprecate, the wider adoption of unified identifiers, including UUID 2.0, ID5 and LiveRamp by both publishers and SSPs, along with activation of first-party data collection by publishers, will ensure the increased match rates we are seeing don’t drop. Already, we’re seeing how these positively impact match rates in cookieless environments like Safari and Firefox.”

Emma Newman, CRO EMEA, PubMatic  

“Transparency in the programmatic supply chain has taken a big step forward in the three years since ISBA and PwC revealed their previous study – in today’s economic climate, ensuring an efficient and transparent programmatic supply chain that minimises waste is paramount. Buyers and sellers alike should evaluate their technology partners to deliver maximum ROI of their programmatic advertising strategies.”

Ben Erdos, Chief Services Officer at Total Media Solutions

“These are impressive improvements in a little over two years, and with the current economic uncertainty, will put publishers on more stable footing. That said, there is still much to do, and any percentage of unaccounted-for ad spend is a problem for publishers. This is especially true towards the premium end of the market. The invaluable and compelling first-party data stories this tier of publication often offers means they should be demanding greater transparency and value from partners.”

The truth is programmatic is getting more challenging for many of these larger, more premium publications. With Programmatic Direct clearly delivering greater value and reducing missing spend, I believe we are likely to see more premium publishers capitalising on these channels or PMPs.

Ben Erdos, Chief Services Officer at Total Media Solutions

Julien Gardès, Managing Director, Supply – EMEA & APAC, TripleLift

“Not only do the findings provide advertisers with more confidence that their spend reaches the desired target but a boost in publishers’ revenues means more money is going towards supporting quality media, which in turn helps improve the quality of advertising and, ultimately, the user experience.

“The push for greater transparency also allows advertisers to be more effective with their spend. By working alongside partners that have a direct relationship with publishers, as well as integrations with DSPs, brands can consolidate their supply partners across multiple media types, ensuring spend is effective and accounted for.”

The ISBA and PwC study continues to offer the premium programmatic ecosystem a benchmark for transparency, as well as emphasises the need to drive further progress. More direct connections between buyers and sellers will help demystify complex supply chains, while deepening collaborative efforts could potentially set a precedent for the wider ecosystem and ensure programmatic is trustworthy and accountable to all players.  

Julien Gardès, Managing Director, Supply – EMEA & APAC, TripleLift