Greedy Vikings or programmatic run amok?

Posted 5 years ago by Michael Estrin

I’m a little lost on this one.

The other day, I clicked on a banner ad (yes, that does happen), and it took me to a page on The History Channel’s website that featured a promo for their new series Vikings.

So far, so good.

Then I pressed play, and that’s where the trouble began.

Before showing me a 1-minute ad for a new show, they ran a 30-second trailer for a movie.

Think about that for a second. I wanted to watch The History Channel’s ad, but before I could I had to watch someone else’s ad.

In what world does that make sense?

Well, apparently it makes sense in our world. Because if you look closely, you will (sometimes) see pre-roll in front of branded content. So the real question is why?

As far as I can tell, there are only two reasons this would happen.

  1. The History Channel is so bent on monetization that they are actually selling inventory against their own house ads, despite the fact that they’re obviously undermining their own marketing.
  2. The History Channel values monetization, and therefore decided to sell its inventory through an exchange or network where they exercise little oversight or control.

In other words, we’re either dealing with greedy Vikings or programmatic selling run amok.

My guess is it’s the latter.

I’m also guessing that The History Channel could have prevented this and still worked with a network or exchange to sell their remnant inventory. After all, it’s really all about setting rules. But those rules and the algorithms that determine which ad is served when are only as good as the humans in the loop. And in this case, something failed here.

FYI, the same trailer on The History Channels’ hub on YouTube doesn’t have pre-roll, for whatever reason.

I don’t mean to pick on The History Channel. Like I said, this kind of thing happens more than it should. But here’s the question: is there someone in your organization who is responsible for making sure that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen? Or is your marketing team in one silo and your ad sales team in another?