Cross Industry Programmatic Taskforce announces strategy to achieve financial audit transparency

The Cross Industry Programmatic Taskforce (the Taskforce), representing advertisers, publishers, ad tech vendors and agencies, has today released the first set of outputs to address the lack of transparency in the programmatic advertising supply chain. 

The news signals a significant step forward following the publication of the ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, in association with AOP and carried out by PwC, in May 2020.

The transparency study, which looked at disclosed media buys, revealed it was only possible to match 12% of ad impressions, end-to-end, with an average of 15% of supply chain costs (ad spend) unattributable (the ‘unknown delta’.) The report highlighted a lack of standardised data across different suppliers and permission issues between Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) and Supply Side Platforms (SSPs).

To enable advertisers and publishers to act on their existing rights to financial audits of their programmatic supply chains - with the aim to ultimately reduce the size of the unknown delta - the initial work of the Taskforce focused on access to data and the standardisation of data consistency. Through extensive industry collaboration, it has produced a toolkit of three instruments available for adoption by the industry:

  • The Audit Permission Letter (APL) intended to enable DSPs and SSPs to share the data needed for a full financial audit.
  • The Data Fields List (DFL), an agreed list of essential and supporting data fields which will provide the data to enable auditors to match impressions along the supply chain between advertisers and publishers. 
  • The Principles document which summarises how the documents are intended to be used, by whom and why.

The Taskforce is releasing these documents to the industry to ensure every participant can use them for the good of the entire supply chain. You can also view the documents below.

As part of the Taskforce's need to understand the efficacy of the new instruments, ISBA’s advertiser members are preparing a controlled test and learn study with PwC from live audits. 

As well as good practice learning and aggregating findings to share with the Taskforce to manage refinements, this will also deliver evidence to demonstrate expected improvements in match rates and, thus a reduction in the size of the ‘unknown delta’.

Clare O’Brien, Head of Media, Performance and Effectiveness at ISBA, said;  “Establishing the means by which it will now be possible to carry out financial audits of the programmatic supply chain is a huge first step forward and testament to the collaborative power of industry stakeholders to drive positive change for the benefit of all. Indications are since our study’s finding 2 years ago, there have been significantly increased impression match rates and commensurate reductions in the unknown delta. We now look forward to thoroughly testing these new tools and continuing to work at industry level with the Taskforce to expand advertiser and publisher’s ability to manage their supply chains.”

Sam Tomlinson, UK Media and Entertainment Leader at PwC UK, said; “We’ve watched with admiration as the UK industry has come together to respond to the issues identified in the 2020 study, and been pleased to participate in that UK taskforce. We’re now excited to play our part in the controlled test-and-learn to assess the impact of the taskforce outputs.”

Nick Ashley, Head of Media and Campaign Planning at Tesco, said; “This is great news for advertisers. At Tesco we have wanted this transparency for some time. It levels up the programmatic supply chain with other media channels in terms of auditability.”

Emily Latham, Interim Head of Digital Marketing and Martech at Channel 4 and Co-chair of the ISBA Performance and Programmatic Steering Group said; “Being able to conduct a full financial audit of the programmatic supply chain is something Advertisers have been wanting for a long time and will enable them to truly extract the value from this channel and invest with more confidence”

Richard Reeves, Managing Director at AOP, said; “Now a set of tools has been agreed and created to improve financial audit transparency for programmatic advertising, the next step for us will be to encourage all our members to work with supply chain partners who have agreed to adopt all three instruments. While an initial strategy has been unveiled, the Taskforce will continue to evolve and work collectively to drive industry standardisation and facilitate further change - and transparency - in the digital supply chain.”  

Tim Elkington, Chief Digital Officer, IAB UK, said; “This set of tools, developed by all parts of the industry, are a solid step in improving transparency and accountability within the programmatic supply chain. It’s now crucial that businesses start using them so that we can review how effective they are and the impact they have on the ability of advertisers to conduct financial audits across the supply chain. Over the past couple of years, there has been a concerted effort by our ad tech members to address the issues raised in the ISBA/PwC report. The tools we have jointly developed with the industry add to this progress.”

Sara Vincent, Senior Director, Strategic Partner Development at Index Exchange, said; “This new set of tools are a key advancement in allowing a financial audit of the programmatic supply chain, and we’re proud of the collaborative work done across the ecosystem in developing them. Driving industry adoption of these tools is critical. This will further transparency across the ecosystem and will contribute to achieving accountability in the supply chain."

Nigel Gwilliam, Director of Media Affairs at IPA, said; "As with the PwC Study two years ago, our agency members are ready to work hand in glove with their clients to deliver the next set of supply chain financial audits. There is every expectation that developments in the industry since the study will deliver improved match rates and greater clarity."

Principles document: data and financial audits