Ad Trackers Spot the Spots

Networks and agencies are increasingly calling on a handful of companies that help verify whether ads actually run. At a time when accountability is all the rage in TV and advertising, these companies provide an independent source to ensure that each dollar a client shells out brings back the return on investment they want.

While emerging media such as broadband offer greater precision to trace whether ads have been seen, post-Enron legislation has put pressure on both agencies and broadcasters to be accountable for proving the return on investment they promised their clients.

Clients pressure ad agencies, who in turn pressure TV networks, to prove that their ads produced the intended effect on consumers. While that is impossible to precisely determine, one way to start is by making sure that the ads ran when, where and how the agencies wanted.


Each ad-tracking company varies in the technology they use (most pick up watermarks embedded in ads), but their goal is the same—to help advertisers, agencies and broadcasters more precisely track their campaigns.

“We spend more time as an industry—both broadcasters and agencies—figuring out where things ran and how to get paid than we do in the process of planning, selling and thinking about buying. It shouldn’t be that way,” says Steve Saslow, vice chairman of Verance, a San Diego-based firm that provides ad-tracking services to radio and TV. Verance’s competitors include AudioAudit (which Nielsen acquired this summer to complement its own tracking service, Sigma), and TNS’ BVS (Broadcast Verification Service).

Verance, which has movie-studio clients, recently inked a deal with Court TV, the first cable network to sign on to its ConfirMedia Online ad-tracking service. By delivering online reports of which ads ran when on a particular station, the service lets agencies and broadcasters resolve any discrepancies within 24 hours of when ads should run.

Traditionally, both parties have to wait weeks for ad invoices to come in the mail, at which point they are often too late for networks to make good on deals for time-sensitive clients. The services are particularly crucial to retail and entertainment advertisers, whose ads are often time-sensitive—an ad promoting a movie’s opening weekend isn’t worth much if it runs late.

“Agencies spend an inordinate amount of resources in time and labor sorting out discrepancies manually,” says Court TV’s Senior VP, Sales Strategy, Debbie Reichig. An electronic service is “overdue,” she says. “Advertisers want to know that their media spend is working, and the industry is responding to that call.”

Reichig said Court TV chose to partner with Verance because the company builds custom applications for each client and has a “clean” interface. Verance also puts the bulk of the expense on the media side, having broadcasters pay for the service and staying virtually free to agencies. Verance charges networks .25% of a media buyer’s ad budget. Others operate on different scales.

Media-buying agency Carat started using Verance in first quarter to track spot advertising for their biggest client. By second quarter, it is hoping to use the service to track national spots.

Carat, whose clients include Radio Shack and New Line Cinema, chose Verance in part because the service charges the TV networks, not the agencies, according to Billie Gold, director of programming research at Carat. “Who knows if that model is going to exist if the networks won’t start paying for the service down the road, but right now, it’s an added bonus to us that helps us do our job better,” Gold says.


To be sure, ad-tracking technologies are not new, but in responding to greater pressures from within and outside the advertising industry, they have come up with increasingly sophisticated technologies to track ads, especially for spot and cable advertising. Teletrax, which launched at NAB in 2002, says it is the only service that can provide global tracking.

The company, which in the past has watermarked NBC’s news video to help track its usage by local stations, has seen a significant increase in interest from broadcasters. Its TV clients include ABC, Tribune Entertainment and NBC Universal Domestic Television.

“What we can provide is transparency and accountability to any stakeholder of any piece of broadcast video,” says Teletrax President Andy Nobbs. “We’re giving granular understanding down to the second about what’s airing when and where.”

Still, according to Nobbs, these services are just the first step to answering advertisers’ pleas for absolute accountability that viewers see their ads.

“We help to complete the jigsaw,” says Nobbs. “I don’t think we’d ever say we provide the whole picture. You need to make sure you have the relevant building blocks in place first. The last thing the ad industry needs now is bad data overlying bad data.”