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4A’s: Privacy, Fraud, FTC Investigations & Battles for Control Define the Times

Trust is the talk these days inside and outside the business world. Bots or humans? Collusion or conspiracy?  Who owns the data? Who polices the algorithm? Is my phone microphone listening to me? How is that legal?!

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that if there was a word cloud for conversations among top marketers at the 4As this week in Washington, D.C. it would be a something like this TRUST. DATA. TECHNOLOGY. PRIVACY.

Those concepts were brought to life with with wonky terms like– unduplicated cross-channel reach, match rates, identity resolution,  device graphs, walled gardens, OTT advertising.  And under all that was the real trend at hand– brands are taking control back and bringing key parts in house, and tying dollars out to dollars in (please someone say something other than business outcomes).

And as we are in such crazy times of media consolidation, algorithmic fights for attention and staggering innovation, the market is ripe for even more fraud, not less.

We’ve show in our Special OTT Advertising Report, there is a huge hold rush for white space the Goliaths don’t yet own and control. Recent stats from cryptography-based OTT ad platform Madhive show how fraud is rampant as all the programmatic platforms build pipes into TV apps and CTV.

Because after all, ad fraud is actual fraud and actual businesses are out real money. More, as consolidations form a new attention oligopoly, the government is now, (finally) paying attention.

FTC Eyes Are Watching You: Perhaps most profound from the 4A’s, was a session with Noah J. Phillips the FTC commissioner who used the conference to subtly announce an investigation into the practices of internet providers.  Here is the punchline delivered by FTC to press the same day:

“The FTC is initiating this study to better understand Internet service providers’ privacy practices in light of the evolution of telecommunications companies into vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content”

The details right now are vague but this could be as small as the FTC  just building an org chart of who does what, knows what and how things will work now that Disney/Comcast/Bell start to form one wing of the new media oligarchy.

But it could also be as big as the start of a full scale rewrite about what internet providers are allowed to know, collect and transact on in a way that reshapes privacy, advertising and agency as we know it.

When Phillips said things like “we haven’t seen technology disruption like this since the 1970s,” he was also careful to say the FTC would prefer Congress come up with regulations and provisions. That’s maybe good news for the lobby-stacked MVPDs who are quite literally treating data pipes as the cash machines the same local monopolies have since the dawn of cable. It may also be bad news for the folks hoping to build new data-driven engines for all device ad targeting and “identity resolution”.

Phillips made clear the issues surrounding privacy are very complex and global in nature yet there is a local regulation layer complicating things even further. “Countries all around the world are talking about what kind of privacy regimes they are going to have. How interoperable will they be?”

Meanwhile, America has a serious challenge ahead of it– how do its businesses cobble together all these states’ rights initiatives from California  Washington and beyond to market effectively, at scale, within accordance to laws? Do the Fed have the rights to enact one national policy for governing interstate media commerce? Talk about a nightmare. 

Perhaps it will come down to something so very simple– first party data opt-in and clear consumer consent will be the only way for a brand to reach a marketer.

That could pose a huge problem for agencies that are stacking second and third party data for building audience segments for TV and beyond.

It also means brands had better make first party opt-in a priority or they will only be able doomed to rent audiences from the same platforms jerking them around now. That first party push is great news for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, but not so much for most everyone else. And where of course does TV sit in all of that? Just as its started to enrich with digital segments, does it also have to worry about a communications overhaul?

For more on Phillips’ perspective as FTC chair, I recommend watching him on C-SPAN’s The Communicators (an excellent series by the way).

Those who hold the gold make the rules: Now that data and tech is proliferating, platforms to manage and optimize buying, selling and measurement are getting democratized, brands are taking what they dare, in-house. The need for an agency isn’t quite in question but what exactly does the agency do in the process is clearly up for debate.

Because Facebook and Google have now effectively trained brands to buy audiences directly- TV networks have a clear path to offer something closer to self serve.

This is interesting especially because as networks put out things like OpenAP and Project OAR, brands are able to gain access to segment-based buying, and soon household level addressability delivered from brand to device, using only the network as an intermediary. As the networks start gathering OTT opt-ins, building customer habits on push notifications and the like, the ground is shifting fast.

So where then do agencies sit in the process? And how might these new measurement metrics come to impact agencies when they become the coin of the realm from brands buying TV?

Cutting through the BS: Though buzzwords were not in short supply, plenty of top marketers were there to make salient points. Comscore’s new President Sarah Hofstetter,  took the stage to beg the industry– “Can we start speaking plain English”?  Gabbcon founder and MADHive partner Gabe Greenberg chided audiences about “the industry responsibility to cut the ad taxes” and the imperative to “move to an evidence based economy”.  David Cohen’s Future of TV presentation gave the cry for agencies to stop admiring the problems and get down to solutions that work for everyone. Great on paper and slides, hard no doubt to get done.

And while confusion itself was an open theme many tried to work through,  the unified agreement to move to business outcome based, data-driven marketing became the rally cry that sadly often got drowned out by the pondering of what that means against the back drop of privacy, data ownership, and massive market pressures.

The good news is, it is all moving so fast answers will soon appear even if they only lead to more complicated questions.