The latest YouTube scandal is a wake-up call for programmatic

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YouTube has really messed up. The channel referenced this week in a Times article should have been removed long ago, and certainly shouldn’t have been available as media inventory. That’s indisputable.

However, YouTube is hardly new, and nor is the brand safety risk associated with advertising on platforms that consist of user-generated content. Instead of getting caught up in the anti-Google media agenda, let’s use this as an opportunity to reflect on the wider issues within programmatic advertising.

Now that the national media has brought it firmly back onto the agenda, let’s begin a more fruitful discussion about how improve programmatic advertising.

Social media needs to grow up

First things first. Whether you’re a traditional broadcaster, or you’re Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any of the other thousands of platforms that publish media, you have a responsibility to monitor your content.

YouTube is failing in this respect, and there need to be serious changes to its corporate governance to avoid anything like this happening again. Other social media platforms should take heed: control your content, or destroy your credibility with the advertising community.

Advertisers need to rethink why they are using programmatic

Different types of media come with different levels of brand safety risk. As today’s news has made emphatic, YouTube advertising is at the far end of the spectrum when it comes to such risk. So if you’re going to place ads on it, you need to be smart in your strategy: developing a series of protocols that ensure the highest level of brand safety, and enabling thorough monitoring pre and post-bid.

Most of all, to be 100% safe on YouTube, adopt a whitelist-only approach. If the channels your ads appear on have been checked and approved by your own team, then there’s no reason to anticipate any nasty surprises. For the most risk averse brands, there is still plenty of reach to be achieved via this method.

Even if you can guarantee brand safety within YouTube advertising, VOD advertising is often a superior option for brand safety in that you have complete assurance in terms of the content your advertising will appear next to.

And that’s just thinking about video. If your objective is purely performance marketing, why not stick to GDN? Google’s display platform may not offer the same flexibility in ad content as others, but it’s certainly the easiest to monitor and control. No intermediaries, transparency concerns or sub-networks. Being able to align it with search doesn’t hurt either.

Automation needs to be used appropriately

At the heart of this issue is the ineffectiveness of YouTube’s algorithm to detect unsuitable content and to properly tag videos in general. This is no easy task when you consider the immensity of the volume of new content being published every day; until it cracks it, YouTube will need to employ far more human staff to fill in the gap left by their machine learning software.

I am a huge advocate of automation - it’s at the heart of a lot of technological, industrial and social progress, as well as being integral to the success of my own business. But YouTube is not using it appropriately, i.e. it is using it as a substitute for human labour, when it is clearly not sophisticated enough to act as one.

We all need to think beyond the anti-Google media agenda

Google and Facebook have practically destroyed print journalism. As a combined force, they have disrupted the media industry, eating up billions of dollars in ad revenue that might previously have gone to traditional news outlets. It doesn’t take a genius to infer that some of the media’s negative portrayal of ‘the duopoly’ (a pretty loaded term in itself) is self-interested, designed to undermine their most serious rivals.

And YouTube is undoubtedly at fault, but brand safety problems are systemic, with culprits across the digital ecosystem. So let’s try to broaden our focus beyond Google, and consider how programmatic in general needs to evolve.

Maybe this can be the day that programmatic changes for the better.

Dan Gilbert is chief executive officer of Brainlabs