A call for far-reaching reform of the programmatic advertising supply chain has been made, following the latest study by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), which found publishers are receiving 51% of advertiser spend on average.

The release of the advertiser-funded ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, in association with the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and carried out by PwC, marks the first time programmatic advertising supply chains are being mapped from end-to-end, no matter where in the world.

Data and findings were collected from 15 advertisers, eight agencies, five Demand Side Platforms (DSPs), six Supply Side Platforms (SSPs) and 12 publishers, representing approximately £0.1 billion of UK programmatic media spend.

In addition to publishers income, the study showed that taking other visible and tech costs, 15% of advertiser spend – an “unknown delta”, representing around one-third of supply chain costs – could not be attributed.

Furthermore, the PwC team identified a lack of understanding and consistency among the ad tech suppliers as to how they could legally share data and what permissions were needed. This also featured poor handling of data storage and formatting and the fact that data captured by a DSP for an impression is not equally captured by SSPs, which hindered impression matching.

According to the PwC and ISBA, these challenges and complexities did and will not serve the principal interests of advertisers or publishers.

“The publication of this study marks an important moment in our understanding of online advertising supply chains. It is the first time anywhere in the world that an attempt has been made to map a system which is not capable of being audited,” said Phil Smith, director general of the ISBA.

“This process has been led by our members, advertisers who proactively sought to understand a problem and find a way forward. The challenge now is for the industry to come together, as they will in the new taskforce, to drive industry standards and create transparent supply chains, to allow companies and consumers to benefit properly from online advertising,” he added.

Standardisation and collaboration needed

The study concluded some actions that are required for advertisers, publishers and the programmatic industry as a whole to assure full transparency going forward. These include the standardisation across a range of contractual and technology areas in order to provide data-sharing and drive transparency and industry collaboration to further investigate the unknown delta.

“We welcome the publication of this report. From the outset, we have supported this independent study and encouraged our clients to be involved – seven of the fifteen advertisers are clients of GroupM agencies. We agree that data from AdTech businesses should be more accessible for clients and agencies, that standardisation and simplification of the ecosystem are required, and we share the ambition to identify and eliminate the unknown delta referred to in the report,” commented Paul Rowlinson, managing director, GroupM Digital UK.