The WIR: Netflix’s Ad Strategy Begins Paying Off, Human Securities Uncovers a Massive Ad Fraud Operation, and Google and Magnite Announce Layoffs

Tim Cross 20 January, 2023 

In this week’s Week in Review: Netflix posts strong results, Human takes down a massive fraud operation, and tech layoffs come to Google and Magnite.

Top Stories

Netflix Thanks Ad Tier for Q4 Bump
Netflix amassed 7.7 million new subscribers in Q4 2022, the streaming giant revealed in its earnings call on Thursday – its first since launching an ad-supported tier at the end of the year. The subscriber boost represents a 4 percent increase on Q4 2021, and a 2 percent rise in quarterly revenues.

The results spark a glimmer of hope for a company that lost almost one million subs in 2022, hoping for “renewed momentum” under revised leadership, as founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings stepped down as chief exec to become executive chairman. CPO and COO Greg Peters will join Ted Sarandos as co-CEOs.

The company credited the ad tier for “most of our subscriber growth” but declined to share AVOD subscription figures or ad revenues. “We need to move on to the walking phase,” said Peters, suggesting further leverage of Netflix’s first-party log-in data to differentiate its personalised ads and content recommendations.

Peters also pointed to paid account sharing as a key profit driver for 2023, with plans to clamp down on password sharing later this quarter. “Our goal this year is to convert password sharing into paid accounts,” said the new co-CEO.

Human Securities Takes Down Fraud Operation Running 12 Billion Ad Requests Per Day
Human Securities announced on Thursday that it has uncovered and taken down a massive ad fraud operation which, at its peak, was generating 12 billion fraudulent ad requests per day. Human says this is the biggest operation ever uncovered by its Satori Threat & Intelligence Research team, which also uncovered Methbot, 3ve, and Pareto.

Human has dubbed the scheme ‘Vastflux’, as it exploited vulnerabilities which arose from changes in the Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) standard. Vastflux worked by buying ad space on mobile apps, and then injecting malicious code into any ad slots it won. This allowed it to stack up to 25 video ads on top of each other, receiving payment for all ads while only showing one to the user. Over 1,200 apps and 120 publishers were targeted, with fraudulent ads running on nearly 11 million devices.

Human says it took various steps to mitigate the scale of the attack over the course of 2022, and has now taken it down completely.

Google and Magnite Announce Wave of Layoffs
Google and Magnite became the latest tech companies this week to announce waves of layoffs, amid a period of turbulence within the wider tech sector.

Google has announced that around six percent of its total global workforce, equal to around 12,000 staff, will be let go. CEO Sundar Pichai said that during the last two years, a period in which Google saw dramatic growth, it “hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today”. Pichai didn’t say which areas would be affected, but did say that AI remains a priority.

Magnite also announced six percent cuts globally. The company said these cuts were more to do with recent mergers than wider economic conditions, saying it was eliminating multiple identical positions. “The reduction in force is primarily associated with the elimination of duplicative roles resulting from the integration of our CTV platforms and the realisation of acquisition operating cost synergies, consistent with our previously announced integration plan following the acquisition of SpotX, Inc. in 2021,” the company said in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Week in Tech

French Regulator Fines TikTok Over Cookie Consent Mechanism
French data regulator CNIL has fined TikTok €5 million for making it harder for users to reject cookies than accept them. The company also failed to give users sufficient information on the purpose of different cookies, the authority concluded. “Several clicks were required to refuse all cookies, as opposed to just one to accept them,” CNIL explained.

Samba TV Offloads Media Sales Business to MIQ
Samba TV has offloaded its media sales to ad tech firm MiQ, in order to focus on its data and measurement business. The move anticipates the upfronts season where Samba, along with measurement specialists iSpot and VideoAmp, will position themselves as alternatives to de facto currency Nielsen. “Today’s announcement reinforces our strategic focus on the next generation of currency-grade measurement and media optimisation for our partners across every screen, platform and channel,” said Samba TV co-founder and CEO Ashwin Navin.

Programmatic Advertising’s “Unknown Delta” Drops to Three Percent in Second ISBA/PwC Study
Advertiser trade group ISBA, alongside the Association of Online Publishers and PwC, on Wednesday announced the results of a follow-up study to 2020’s landmark investigation into programmatic supply chain transparency, which found that fifteen percent of programmatic spending ended up in unknown hands. And while there’s still plenty of work to do, the new study reveals that significant progress has been made: this unknown delta in this new study was just three percent. The results from this second study, which ran across nine months last year, also suggests that more money spent through programmatic pipes is now reaching publishers. In the 2022 edition, 65 percent of spend ended up with media owners, up from 51 percent in the previous version. Read more on VideoWeek.

ISBA Opens Second Consultation into Origin Funding
ISBA has launched its second industry-wide consultation into the funding mechanism for its cross-media measurement system Origin. The first consultation confirmed that advertisers support the partial funding of Origin. Now ISBA is seeking feedback on how much the contributions should be, when they should start and how they are collected. The proposed amount covers the cost for advertisers to receive a basic level “core” report, based on a contribution of 0.1 percent of gross media spend across channels that are measured by Origin.

Attention Firm Adelaide Opens London Office
Attention measurement firm Adelaide announced the opening of its London office on Tuesday. The expansion follows partnerships with companies in the EMEA region, including MediaCom Switzerland and Xaxis Switzerland, noting “the need for an international presence is essential.” The company also announced the appointment of Ed Bristow as commercial director for EMEA.

Netflix Commits to Nielsen in US, Mexico and Poland
Netflix has extended its relationship with Nielsen to provide linear and streaming audience data across the US, Mexico and Poland. The multi-year agreement includes Nielsen’s National TV measurement data and Streaming Platform Ratings in the US, as well as cross-platform audience insights from streaming panels in Mexico and Poland. The announcement comes days after the launch of Nielsen ONE, designed to revive Nielsen’s reputation as the industry standard measurement provider. “As we move closer to providing comparable and deduplicated metrics across screens and platforms with Nielsen ONE, this agreement with Netflix is another great example of why Nielsen is well positioned to lead the audience measurement movement now and in the future,” said Kim Gilberti, SVP, Product Management at Nielsen.

Twitter Loses 500 Advertisers Since Musk Takeover
More than 500 advertisers have paused spending on Twitter since Elon Musk’s takeover, The Information reported on Wednesday, causing daily revenue to plummet 40 percent YoY. The social media firm is also planning further redundancies, which could bring the company’s headcount below 2,000, according to people familiar with the matter. In attempts to recoup the advertising losses, Twitter is offering free ad space by matching ad spend up to $250,000, the Wall Street Journal revealed. Meanwhile the company said it would relaunch its Twitter Blue subscription for Android after the scheme’s failure last year, pricing the package at $11 per month, the same as for iOS subscribers.

Adform Unveils Partner Program, DELVE and MIQ Among Launch Partners
Adform launched a new Global Partner Program on Monday, granting commercial partners access to its network, solutions and expertise. On a tiered accreditation model, the program unlocks Adorm’s ad tech capabilities for advertisers, agencies and publishers, including the DSP, SSP, ad server and Data Management Platform, and privacy-centric identity solution ID Fusion. “We are excited to kick off our Global Partner Program with trusted partners DELVE, iSocrates, MINT Square, MiQ and Value Branded Content,” said Vicky Foster, Global Reseller Partnerships Director at Adform.

FreeWheel and Comscore Expand Contextual CTV Targeting on Beeswax DSP
FreeWheel and Comscore have struck a deal to expand CTV contextual targeting capabilities  through FreeWheel’s Beeswax DSP. The pair said buyers using Beeswax can access Comscore’s Predictive Audiences and CTV brand protection offering, helping them reach the right viewers across a fragmented video ecosystem. “Comscore has the technology, profile data, and scale that Beeswax clients need to target their audiences within relevant content on premium CTV inventory,” said Nicolas Mignot, VP Publisher, Sales & Strategy, International at FreeWheel. “And, with these capabilities built directly into the Beeswax platform, it’s now easier than ever for buyers to connect with their desired audiences in a brand safe environment.”

WhatsApp Fined for Privacy Breaches Under EU Law
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has fined Meta €5.5 million for privacy breaches on WhatsApp. The charge comes on top of the DPC’s €390 million fine handed to Meta last week, over misuse of data for personalised advertising. On Thursday the regulator told WhatsApp to reassess its use of personal data for service improvements, giving the tech giant six months to comply with EU law. Meta intends to appeal the decision.

Tremor Video Taps Upwave for Measurement, Verification Tools
Advertising analytics company Upwave announced on Wednesday a partnership with Tremor Video. The deal grants the DSP access to Upwave’s measurement capabilities, analytics dashboards and audience verification tools. The features include an Automated Discrepancy Detection (ADD) capability, providing on-demand access to QAing tags. “Slow detection of tagging issues is an industry-wide issue, and leads to inaccurate measurement,” said Upwave CEO Chris Kelly. “Advertisers want proof their measurement is precise and error-free.”

SeenThis Joins Ad Net Zero, Supports US Expansion
Swedish ad tech firm SeenThis announced on Thursday its commitment to join Ad Net Zero, the Advertising Association’s carbon reduction initiative. The company will also support the group’s drive to establish Ad Net Zero in the US this year. “With indirect emissions stemming from digital advertising, it’s important we learn more about our industry’s carbon footprint and engage in conversation, while also implementing innovative solutions,” said SeenThis CEO Jesper Benon.

Comply With Digital Services Act or be Banned, EU Tells TikTok
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton threatened TikTok with a ban if it neglects to comply with new content rules, following a call with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Thursday. The warning references the Digital Services Act, which will require big tech companies to monitor and moderate their content. “With younger audiences comes greater responsibility,” said Breton. “It is not acceptable that behind seemingly fun and harmless features, it takes users seconds to access harmful and sometimes even life-threatening content.”

The Week in TV

TF1 Commits to Content Investment, Extends Rights Agreements
TF1, AnimFrance, SATEV, SPECT, SPI, USPA, SEDPA, SACD and SCAM have signed an agreement to honour a set of government decrees for broadcasters issued in 2021, in efforts to keep pace with industry transformation and changing viewer habits. Under the terms of the agreement, TF1 will invest 12.5 percent of its revenue in original content, including 5.4 percent in independent documentaries and 5.2 percent in animation. The arrangement also expands the broadcaster’s access to linear and non-linear rights across all genres covered by the obligation. “This will enable the Group to develop non-linear exposure for its content and, in the medium term, to add significant catalogue depth to its digital offers,” TF1 said in a statement.

ITVX and World Cup Drive ITV Streaming Boost
ITVX has delivered a 55 percent YoY increase in ITV’s streaming hours in its first month, according to ITV, with online users up by 65 percent. ITV CEO Carolyn McCall noted the importance of the World Cup, as well exclusive commissions attracting “harder to reach” audiences. “ITVX has also landed really well with advertisers who see the increased value of the scale and reach of the audience they can now target in a high quality, brand safe and measurable streaming environment,” she said. However, the FT has reported “little affection” among investors for the broadcaster, whose share price has halved since 2018.

Activist Investor Nelson Peltz Eyes Control at Disney
Activist investor Nelson Peltz is attempting to force his way onto the Disney board, after the media giant declined to nominate him as a director, according to the FT. The report predicts “one of the biggest proxy fights in the US in years”, as Peltz’s Trian Fund Management launches its ‘Restore The Magic’ campaign to address “self-inflicted” challenges at Disney. According to the campaign website, Trian is “NOT looking to replace [CEO] Bob Iger” but is “FOR ensuring successful CEO succession within 2 years.”

EBU and WBD Win Olympic Rights Until 2032
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has awarded 2026-2032 European media rights to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD). The deal covers four Olympic games, securing FTA reach through the EBU, and continuing WBD’s handling of the Olympics that began in 2018. “The EBU and its members provide unparalleled broadcast expertise and reach across Europe, and WBD, through the recent combination of Warner Media and Discovery, represents one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies across all programming genres and platforms,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

Apple Could be Aiming for Premier League Rights
Apple is eyeing a bid for Premier League rights, according to the Daily Mail. The tech giant struck landmark deals with Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer (MLS) last year, and missed out on NFL Sunday Ticket rights that ultimately went to YouTube. Sky Sports and BT Sport’s Premier League arrangement expires in 2025, and owing to the value of the flagship football rights, any deal is set to dwarf even Apple’s $2.5 billion payout for the MLS contract.

DAZN Signs Distribution Deal with Amazon
Amazon and DAZN have agreed a global distribution partnership that will see DAZN’s direct-to-consumer sports streaming service available as a new Prime Video Channel, the two announced this week. This means that DAZN’s content will be available through Amazon’s interface for an additional monthly fee. The rollout has started with Spain and Germany, and will continue with Japan and other markets.

Canela Media Launches Kids App, Fast Channels
Latino-owned streaming company Canela Media has unveiled a new app for children’s programming, including seven FAST channels. Canela Kids is a free mobile app for Spanish content, featuring Barbie, Hot Wheels and Garfield titles. “As a Latina mother that is proud of our roots this project is very meaningful for my own family and it is my personal hope that Canela Kids will be equally meaningful for all Latino families who want to retain their language, learn more about our culture and have an impact in the future of building a more equitable USA,” said Canela Media co-founder and CEO Isabel Rafferty Zavala.

The Week for Publishers

YouTube Officially Begins Testing FAST Channels
YouTube has officially begun running tests of free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels in the US, offering constant linear feeds of content within its Movies and TV tab. YouTube told TechCrunch that it is “running a small experiment that allows viewers to watch free ad-supported linear channels alongside the wide variety of content we offer on the platform”. The Wall Street Journal meanwhile has reported that YouTube is in conversations with entertainment companies and creators about featuring their content on FAST channels.

Morning Brew Acquire Short-Form Video Business Our Future
Newsletter publisher Morning Brew has acquired short-form video publisher Our Future, a specialist in social media platform TikTok. Our Future, which was founded as a podcast in 2020, pivoted to short-form video in 2021 and claims to have racked up one billion video views across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. Our Future will become a sub-brand of Morning Brew, with plans to expand its existing series and develop a broader portfolio of IP.

Reuters Resumes Paywall Plans
Reuters is resuming plans to introduce a consumer-facing paywall, following an expanded deal with the London Stock Exchange Group’s financial data business Refinitiv which will also see Reuters create 100 news jobs. Reuters’ previous plans for a paywall were put on hold, as Refinitiv complained such a move would compromise its own data licensing deal with Reuters. The two say they have now charted a path forward which will allow the paywall to go ahead.

Twitter Strikes Nearly Forty Deals with News Outlets
Despite its current struggles, Twitter says it has struck up nearly forty new deals with news and media companies, which will see media owners and sports leagues provide tailored content specifically for Twitter. All US major sports leagues are said to have deals in place, as well as sports publishers CBS Sports, Turner Sports, ESPN, FOX, Univision and Telemundo. A number of news publishers and entertainment media companies also have deals based around tentpole moments and events, according to Axios.

Reach Titles Go Newsletter-First
Nine titles owned by UK publishing group Reach are going ‘newsletter-first’, Press Gazette reported this week, after a successful trial period. This approach means that for these titles, the newsletter is now considered the flagship product rather than the website, viewed as their primary means of engagement with audiences. Its ‘Live’ brands in Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire are all adopting this approach.

Axios Reports Success from Subscription Model
Business news specialist Axios’ paid subscription strategy is paying off, Digiday reported this week. Axios has gained more than 3,000 subscribers to its Axios Pro package, which only offers annual subscriptions, and this has generated around $2,000,000 in revenue.

Sunday Mirror and Sunday People Set to Share Majority of Content
The Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, two newspapers owned by UK publisher Reach, will begin sharing the majority of their content, with everything except the splash and pages four and five set to be shared. This is a cost saving measure by Reach. The titles already share the same web property –

The Week For Agencies

GroupM Confirms Layoffs Across North America and EMEA
WPP’s media arm GroupM this week confirmed to Digiday that it’s making a series of layoffs across North America and the EMEA region, affecting between 114 and 126 staff. The layoffs are attributed to internal mergers which have taken place over the past year, including the merger of Essence and MediaCom into EssenceMediacom and the formation of GroupM Nexus.

Publicis Launches ‘Working With Cancer’ Pledge
The Publicis Foundation is launching a cross-industry coalition called ‘Working With Cancer’, designed to erase stigmatism around cancer in the workplace. Publicis Groupe has made four pledges, and encourages other businesses to do the same:

  • Publicis will secure the job, salary level and benefits of any Publicis Groupe employees diagnosed with cancer for at least 1 year, so they can stay focused on their health treatment as the priority.
  • All Publicis Groupe employees with cancer will be individually accompanied when they return to work through personalised career support.
  • All affected Publicis Groupe employees will have access to an internal community of volunteers (peers) who are properly trained to provide support, through the Marcel platform.
  • All Publicis Groupe employees in a primary caregiver role for a patient in their immediate family will receive custom personal and professional support to navigate the flexibility and time arrangements needed to maintain their energy at work and as a caregiver.

P&G’s Fabric Care Brands Saved $65 Million Through In-Housing
FMCG giant P&G is planning to bring more media buying in-house, as the company’s US fabric care brands team has reported significant savings from its own in-housing efforts. The fabric care team has saved $65 million through in-house media buying and planning while increasing frequency, P&G CFO said on the company’s quarterly earnings call.

Horizon Media Launches AI Tool for Retail Media
US independent media agency Horizon Media’s ecommerce company Night Market is launching a new AI tool designed to optimise clients’ investment in retail media. Horizon says that the tool, called ‘Neon’, will help increase clients’ revenues by 20 percent through AI-driven planning and buying.

S4 Capital Expects to Hit Full Year Targets
Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital said in a trading update this week that it expects to post at least £120 million in operational EBITDA for 2022 when it announces its full year results, hitting its guidance for the year.

EU Plans Anti-Greenwashing Law
The European Union is drafting a new law which would force businesses to back up sustainability claims made about their products and business practices, Reuters reported this week. The draft law would require companies to provide evidence to back up “climate neutral” and “contains recycled materials” claims. Brands which say they have a positive environmental impact in one area would also have to disclose whether they had a negative environmental impact elsewhere.

WPP Acquires Fēnom Digital
WPP has acquired Fēnom Digital, a digital transformation specialist based in North America, for an undisclosed fee. Fēnom Digital specialises in delivering enterprise commerce, order management systems, supply chain, marketing, and customer experience solutions to retailers and brands across North America, according to WPP. It will be integrated into Wunderman Thompson’s global commerce business.

Bicycle London Wins Tate & Lyle Media Duties
Independent agency Bicycle London has been awarded media duties for Tate & Lyle, following a competitive pitch process. Creative agency ELVIS meanwhile has been chosen to handle creative for Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup brand.

Havas Market Wins Brompton Account
Havas Media Group’s ecommerce specialist Havas Market has been picked by bike manufacturer Brompton as its strategic partner covering digital commerce strategy, following a competitive pitch. Havas Market was first launched back in October 2020 to specifically support clients looking to transform their commerce approach.

Running Total Opens New Manchester Office
Running Total, Total Media’s Manchester-based offshoot, has opened its new office in central Manchester this week. The agency has also announced the appointment of Ryan Jones, previously of Shop Direct and MediaCom, as its new Head of Digital.

Hires of the Week

Publicis Names Jessica Zhang Starcom China CEO
Publicis has appointed Jessica Zhang as Starcom China CEO. Zhang previously served as Chief Client Officer for Mindshare in China. “As a business leader that traverses across the creative and media space, she has an in-depth understanding of China’s consumer ecology and also has a keen sense for areas of growth,” said Publicis APAC CEO Jane Lin-Baden.

VeraViews Appoints David Murray as Demand Director
Ad tech firm VeraViews has named David Murray as Demand Director. He will lead demand sales, onboarding SSPs, DSPs and Digital Advertising Networks into the VeraViews stack, while supporting VeraViews’ mission to remove ad fraud from video advertising. Murray’s prior roles include digital and commercial operations at Hearst, Stylist Media and The Official Charts Company.

Cooler Screens Enlists Dunnhumby’s Grant Steadman
Grant Steadman has been appointed Chief Customer Officer at digital retail company Cooler Screens. The role will see Steadman lead the firm’s customer success and professional services initiatives. He joins from data science company Dunnhumby where he worked for 16 years, most recently as President of North America.

Josh Krichefski Becomes GroupM EMEA & UK CEO
MediaCom’s Josh Krichefski will take on a dual role at GroupM, serving as CEO for EMEA and the UK. He succeeds both EMEA CEO Demet Ikiler and UK CEO Karen Blackett OBE, who was promoted to WPP UK president in September 2022. “Josh has been helping lead our organisation through change for over a decade,” said GroupM Global CEO Christian Juhl.

Billion Dollar Boy Hires Community Director Sophie Crowther
Marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy (BDB) has announced the appointment of Sophie Crowther as European Director of a new Community Management division, created to enhance BDB’s talent identification capabilities in European markets. Crowther joins with over eight years’ industry experience, having held management positions at Brave Bison and MediaMonks.

This Week on VideoWeek

Counting the Facts: Why Financial and Numerical Literacy is Increasingly Important for Advertisers, read on VideoWeek

Mediaset Italia Surpasses 7.5 Billion Online Views, read on VideoWeek

Programmatic Advertising’s “Unknown Delta” Drops to Three Percent in Second ISBA/PwC Study, read on VideoWeek

Video Drove Media Budgets’ Return to Growth in Q4, read on VideoWeek

European Data Protection Board Agrees Ground Rules for Cookie Banners, read on VideoWeek

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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