The Nuances of App-ads.txt Compliance in Streaming TV

Catherine Cho, Product manager
App-ads.txt, a standard from the IAB Tech Lab, allows media owners to identify who’s authorized to sell their inventory, bringing more transparency to streaming TV. Because of the many ways media owners can distribute their content to consumers, app-ads.txt compliance is more nuanced in streaming TV than in other app environments. In this video, Catherine Cho, product manager at Index Exchange, explains how to ensure correct implementation.

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What is app-ads.txt and how does it bring transparency to streaming TV?

Part of the Authorized Digital Sellers standards from the IAB Tech Lab, app-ads.txt allows media owners to identify who’s authorized to sell their inventory. 

This standard provides better transparency, helps to prevent spoofing and unauthorized resellers, and supports securing the supply chain. Media buyers can confidently and safely transact through authorized channels, and media owners can accurately reflect and preserve the value of their inventory. 

The nuances of app-ads.txt in streaming TV

Both ads.txt and app-ads.txt have long been widely used in web and mobile app. In streaming TV, there’s an added layer of complexity to implementation because of the many ways media owners can distribute their content to consumers. 

For example, media companies like Warner Brothers Discovery, A&E Networks, or Fox may distribute content through their owned-and-operated apps, but they can also license content to other distributors, such as device manufacturers like Samsung or LG, and services like Pluto TV or Philo.

Under these inventory sharing agreements, apps or devices gain a portion of the total available ad requests and the rights to sell advertising, making them authorized, direct sellers. To address these relationships, the IAB Tech Lab released an enhanced version of app-ads.txt designed specifically for streaming TV.

As marketers increase spend in streaming and connected TV, app-ads.txt adoption is growing quickly. However, there is much to consider to ensure the correct implementation and compliance. 

This not only affects supply chain quality, but also media owners’ revenue. Any time an app-ads.txt entry is missing or incorrectly implemented, media owners may lose out on revenue as buyers undervalue unauthorized supply with most choosing not to bid. 

In fact, we’ve seen authorized supply in CTV garner over three times the RPM, or revenue per thousand impressions, of similar unauthorized supply.

How app-ads.txt works in streaming TV

So how exactly does app-ads.txt work, and how can you ensure compliance?

In the simplest use cases, a content owner hosts an app-ads.txt file that lists all of the parties it has authorized to sell its inventory, which buyers can then verify in the bid request. 

As a viewer is streaming a show and sees an ad break, the content owner will send a bid request to fill the ad slot. Each participant in the auction chain can then verify the authorization of the seller using the app-ads.txt file, as you can see here.  

When distributors sell inventory through their apps, they follow these basic requirements for app-ads.txt. 

But with the prevalence of inventory sharing agreements in streaming TV, things are often a bit more complicated.

To support the relationships between content owner and distributors—all who have authorized ad rights—the IAB Tech Lab introduced the inventorypartnerdomain variable. This allows both content owners and distributor apps to represent authorized sellers. 

In the case of shared inventory agreements with content owners, app owners or distributors will need to do two things:

  1. The first is to identify the content owner by denoting them as an inventory partner in their app-ads.txt file. 
  2. And second, they’ll also need to declare the content owner in the inventorypartnerdomain in the bid request.

It is vital that there is tight-knit communication between the distribution app and the content owner to adequately secure the programmatic supply chain. The content owner has to represent authorized sellers in its app-ads.txt file, and the distribution apps must represent the same. This is materially different than in web and app, as two parties have to come together on the supply side to ensure the chain of compliance is fully authorized. 

As the streaming TV market continues to attract larger budgets and high CPMs, the expectations for transparency will only increase. Ensuring supply meets industry expectations for correctly implemented app-ads.txt standards is becoming table stakes to participate in the programmatic streaming market and is critical to its future scale.

We’re excited to continue to scale the authorized pool of streaming supply across the ecosystem. Early and ongoing adoption of industry standards will maximize safety for buyers and yield for publishers.

Thank you to Jeremy Grant, who also contributed to this video. 

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