Monday, May 23, 2022

Third-party verification in DOOH is a need rather than a preference today

Guest post by Tom Richter ,
Founder and CEO , Seedooh

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Third-party verification, a.k.a “proof of delivery” or “proof of play,” has arrived in OOH. Here’s a breakdown of the latest developments in this market.

In Australia’s highly developed OOH sector, third-party verification has come up fast over the last 5 years. It is now becoming a hot topic in other developed markets – making Australia a fascinating case-study.

Tom Richter, Founder and CEO of Seedooh

Tom Richter, Founder and CEO of Seedooh

Let’s start with a clarification: Third-party verification (TPV or 3PV) is not exactly a new, revolutionary technology.

A hygiene factor in many industries and countless commercial transactional scenarios, TPV sells the service of confidence, trust and transparency, by answering the simple question “did I get what I paid for”?

TPV is a mature, widely used process, now being applied in a new sector – OOH advertising. This expansion of TPV services into the OOH media category is relatively recent, particularly in digital OOH (DOOH), and is fuelled by fast-growing demand.

Why the ‘sudden’ requirement for verification in DOOH advertising?

Whilst acknowledgement of this requirement is scaling globally, Seedooh, and a small number of other market players, anticipated this demand early, and began to invest in the creation of new technology platforms that could deliver this process at a sector level, ahead of the broader market requirement. Others, seeking to capitalize quickly on low barriers to entry into this market opportunity, have tried to adapt products used to measure online advertising.

TPV vendors providing OOH compliance services are responding to a real market demand for accountability. Buy- and sell-side participants understand that greater confidence in OOH is a key factor in increasing its share in the ad spend. Therefore, transparency of campaign delivery is a practical necessity for the growth of the OOH sector.

Let’s consider the necessity in more detail. The delivery of a single static posting across a lunar period is a relatively low compliance risk – one ad comes down, another goes up. But once this panel is refitted as a digital display, the single compliance event reporting is replaced by up to 200,000 (potentially unique) display ads within the same month.

Having put in the effort – capital and resource investment (in asset development, media planning, data, creative design, audience measurement) – all parties are entitled to know with confidence that the content has been successfully delivered in line with contracted booking parameters, however complex and variable these parameters become.

The rise in demand for third-party verification services is a sign that advertisers have reached a point of expectation of proof of delivery – and prefer that proof to be provided by a third party, rather than self-reported by the OOH supplier.

As the TPV services become more widely available, advertisers will most likely begin to view this service as ‘must’ rather than ‘nice to’ have – a need rather than a preference. While this scale of necessity may not reach a level of sector regulation yet, it will almost certainly evolve into a best practice in the near future.

We at Seedooh anticipate that the commitment to prove confidence via third-party verification will increase in all developed markets – and will require a solution that works seamlessly and at scale for all parties.

OOH/DOOH sector maturity and emerging standards

Aside from delivering accountability to a sector where, historically, it has been lacking, there are other practical benefits to having a trusted, scalable, low-impact verification process.

OOH campaigns run in live, human-driven applications and processes. The execution of ad campaigns within these environments can be affected by a number of issues (both technical and human), ranging from loop policy non-compliance, human scheduling error (intentional or otherwise), power outage, software or hardware failures, and more. Fortunately, DOOH networks are connected, data-driven systems, and so with each potential risk, there is also a corresponding data point that confirms factually if a failure did or did not occur.

A real-time, verified, factual confirmation of these events ensures all stakeholders have the ability and data accuracy to acknowledge (and ideally resolve) these issues in a timely and efficient manner. A well-developed, passively activated method of verification should clearly identify the extent and resolution time of any issues encountered. In this process, all data  is validated and presented independently of the systems involved in execution of campaigns.

It seems obvious that the optimum TPV technology that performs at scale, in real time, will require a system-wide view of the various datasets. This will provide a complete visibility of how a campaign is booked, scheduled, served and ultimately delivered to a screen or panel in the physical world.

A further benefit of this full system insight is the ability to standardise the measurement, and provide associated performance benchmarking of what represents an acceptable compliance risk within these systems and groups of participants, with reference to the same agreed metrics.

When executed at scale, this creates the real possibility of a framework or de facto standard, where the verification vendor evaluates compliance in a transparent and unambiguous manner. This is beneficial for all sector participants.

Australia was the first market to openly tackle TPV in OOH, about four years ago. The result today is a rich array of real-world insight.

In order to determine which solution is most scalable and accurate, it is important to understand the differences between various TPV methods.

Zooming out from the overly complex jargon used by adtech, martech and software vendors marketing their TPV service for OOH, the technical reality is that there are actually only three potential TPV methods that can be used to report, and ideally accurately verify, campaign delivery in OOH.

To be used effectively, whichever of the three methods are chosen, each also needs to be bound to a common dataset – the source of truth within the OOH production process.

The three methods for performing TPV

TPV Method 1.

The first, (and original) method, utilises physical inspections conducted by field auditors to collect real-world evidence of compliance.

Typically, the process of individuals moving from site to site performing in-field inspections, is logistically (and commercially) challenging. Rather than inspect every location, inspectors often visit a random sample of sites (ideally working from the media owner distribution list, checked against a media plan, with inconsistencies ironed out before the inspection) to determine an estimated view of delivery compliance against an agreed set of expected locations. This process gets more complicated where advertising is displayed in digital format. A field inspection is momentary, not continuous.

At the end of a field audit process, clients receive an extrapolated result of moment-in-time photos and videos of ads on screens, (or time stamped images of printed postings from static sites). This, (at times statistically insignificant) data segment is apportioned to overall campaign performance, creating an opinion of compliance that is challengeable and potentially subjective.

TPV method 2.

A second, alternative (and comparatively favourable, for DOOH) method to understand the behaviour of a wide area network of individual events is to build an event stream of when and where plays are occurring. This process aims to build an external event log replica of the display of each of the creative rotations and is often referred to by its digital online identity of ‘tagging’ or ‘pixels’. In DOOH this process is commonly known as ‘HTML verification’, because the creative file needs to be converted from jpeg or mpeg, to HTML5 before it is scheduled.

Theoretically, this process can measure digital delivery, via the insertion of a unique code in digital creatives during the OOH equivalent process of online ad serving. As an ancillary process to that used by a media owner to display screen content, the response from the tracking code data is collected in real time, independently of the digital media player source event logs created by the software that renders creative on the digital panel.

This method also has its challenges. An obvious limitation in this method is its inability to measure compliance of static installations. More commercially significant limitations, demonstrated through the implementation of this process at scale in Australia, relate to the additional step that HTML verification introduces into the current content management process:

Conventional Digital OOH creative scheduling and display workflow

Any content scheduled and displayed within a public space network, needs to be managed / approved directly by the publisher (who is also ultimately liable for the content displayed). When HTML content, containing executable code (such as a tag or tracking pixel), is scheduled within a network, a new set of additional human resource responses are introduced into an already time-compressed creative delivery and scheduling processes. These steps can be numerous, but essentially relate to the architectural differences between a DOOH network operation and the digital online environment in which tagging and pixels commonly exist.

With a verification server existing outside of the media owner’s tech stack, this triggers a linear requirement for QA and security analysis of the HTML files, along with significant human overhead caused by the requirement to share the media owner network context data with HTML verification vendors, every time it is updated.

Considering a further onerous requirement for each HTML TPV vendor to manually build up a database of unknown contextual information about the real-world assets that play event responses are being received from, the HTML method places a noticeable resource drag on the supply chain.

A further challenge with this second process is its perceived simplicity. Digital OOH displays are designed to operate offline for hours or days at a time, storing content for local redisplay. Digital ad ‘tagging’ was built for the ad serving ecosystem of digital online, where ads (or content) are not served when the connection is lost. But while sampling, statistical tolerances and accepted variance (or error) are commonly used within digital online measurement, they are not required for DOOH networks; they exist in the real world where operational capacity and inventory are finite, not unlimited.

Best-practice verification in the DOOH context is a yes/no evaluation, for every single play. The ad either appeared, or it did not. A definitive approach to verification at scale is needed – and this need is answered by the third method of OOH verification: API-connected system-event verification at scale.

This process offers a critical foundation for the future of confidence in OOH. It prevents the unnecessary introduction of a “maybe, depending on whether the media player attached to the panel behaved in a way that was compatible with the requirements of the tagging server’’, which is at best an unhelpful addition to a picture of confidence. If the ability to definitively prove actual or non delivery exists, why introduce an error tolerance margin, if this is necessitated only by the inability of the TPV methodology to provide complete and accurate results?

TPV Method 3: API-connected system-event verification.

Compared to the other two, this method streamlines the implementation and operation of confidence at scale.

The system-event verification method, pioneered by Seedooh, is based on the following, now validated logic:
if the TPV service is answering the question “did an event happen or not?”.

All the data required to conclusively prove or disprove this (without additional impact to the supply chain) already exists within the systems used to manage the networks. Therefore, the most scalable, accurate, low-impact method to answer this question would be for a TPV to build a best-practice system-event connection to this data and provide an independent view of what did or did not happen.

Aside from providing a truly independent window into a media owner’s system operations, the overriding benefit of API-connected verification technology is that once these connections are established, data and network visibility exists as a background process – without distribution of impact to participants. This allows the TPV insight to scale whenever required.

The system-event verification method was validated in other sectors

Prior to launch to market in 2017, Seedooh had been actively working with key participants on the buy- and sell-side of OOH ad industry, evolving the architectural and process requirements of a platform specifically designed to generate standardised, independently verified data.

The architecture of an OOH tech stack is fundamentally no different than the sophisticated, highly accountable, connected systems used in more mature sectors like fintech and healthcare. So an obvious starting point was to study how best practice TPV is performed in every other industry where accountability is key, and where system-event data is relied upon as the source of truth.

When audit trails are established and queried in banking, public sector, finance and healthcare networks and connected systems, these processes utilise assurance controls over system-event logs. These logs are analysed within a standard which determines the protocols required to establish the completeness, accuracy and most importantly, independence of the source data from the participants who use these systems.

The application of best-practice third-party verification in OOH

System-event verification for OOH is now being utilised by other TPV participants operating in maturing OOH markets. These businesses perform big data analytics of raw source data obtained via API from the edges of different systems used by the OOH supply chain. This is important as all of these data points tell the story of the creation, scheduling and delivery of OOH campaigns.

The connections independently query and verify campaign performance confirming results to both buy and sell side simultaneously. This data is available in real time, to provide the ultimate transparent picture of the performance of a live network down to an individual play out or installation activity within the network.

Differing opinions abound around the merit of using ‘proven’ digital tagging verification methods, when compared with system-event methodology in DOOH. This is understandable as a ‘pixel’ or ‘tag’ is the historically accepted method to independently verify online media delivery – as accurately as possible.

The critical question for DOOH should not be ‘which TPV method makes most sense to me, based on my experience of digital online?’ More importantly, ‘what dataset represents the overall source of truth in evaluation of a DOOH event occurrence (and can it be completely accurate all the time, without crippling the campaign execution process)?’

It’s important to get this right – for the benefit of advertisers who see OOH as an increasingly valuable piece of their marketing armoury of the future. And for the landlords, publishers, agencies and adtech vendors who will rely on this advertiser confidence to support their growth ambitions.

That’s why Seedooh is currently being assessed by PwC against SOC 2, a globally accepted assurance standard. We believe that if TPV providers expect publishers to be held accountable to TPV-reported data, TPV providers should also expect to be held accountable for the methodology and technology used to assert completeness and accuracy of such data.

All TPV providers have a responsibility to the supply chain – and should be open to being assessed by an accredited third party to validate that the technology measures up to a common acceptable standard.

What’s next in TPV for DOOH (and what is possible)?

As Seedooh have proven across many billions of data points in Australia and New Zealand, direct connections to source of truth data events within secure systems (and appropriate controls aligned to a global data assurance standard for data completeness, accuracy and security), provides TPV vendors and their customers with the most accurate, scalable and secure method for performing verification in OOH.

The evolution of a standards-led, mature approach to verification in other markets will favour verification suppliers who provide scalable, highly accurate, secure tech solutions.

Typically, these will be provided by TPV suppliers such as Seedooh, who offer platforms in the delivery of TPV services, rather than linear products presented as TPV solutions.

Platforms that are built to smooth implementation pain and reduce human touch points, rather than create them, will continue to add value to the supply chain. These platforms provide a baseline of verified OOH data that has multiple participant value across the supply chain. Such value will perhaps be most apparent as this baseline data-set becomes fully integrated with other valuable data-sets.

The use of this data could then extend well beyond simple proof, as the requirement for verification subsides to an entry-level hygiene factor. Critical, common-currency compliance data provided by TPV verification suppliers can then agnostically connect to other planning, trading and BI platforms – offering high-value insight, extracted from standardised and automated data, according to best practices.

The verification platform providers of the near-term OOH future will enable marketers, agencies and suppliers to ensure their human capital is wholly involved in creating more effective and rewarding campaigns rather than administering processes in campaign delivery.

In this future, OOH will be able to claim a more significant share of the media budget, because it is more mature and connected – and easier to measure, implement and optimise in-flight and by burst.

Published on Sunday, April 3, 2022 at 7:22 PM

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