IAB Ireland has said it remains "extremely concerned” by incorrect reporting of digital audio audience numbers and has vowed to more regularly review its commercial standards after Maximum Media, the publisher of Her and Joe.ie, was caught using a click farm to boost the performance of a sponsored podcast.
Maximum Media is alleged to have boosted branded content, the AIB Capital B podcast, in 2017 by using a click farm to artificially inflate listens to the show.
The issue forced founder and majority shareholder Niall McGarry from the board late in November. Shortly after his exit, IAB Ireland condemned ad fraud claiming it "deprives advertisers of reaching valid audiences and denies publishers revenues".
“Such dishonest practices are inherently wrong and devalue the good work and reputation of our trade organisation and our members," it said at the time.
However, other than encouraging the industry to conform to a set of standards, and condemning bad actors, the body does not have the regulatory remit to investigate the claims.
IAB Ireland has since held an ‘emergency board meeting’, and met with Maximum’s remaining top execs, including executive chairman Justin Cullen and chief commercial officer Gillian Fitzpatrick.
The IAB said Maximum used the gathering to "assure... its commitment of full adherence to its Publishers’ Commercial Charter" which requires members to maintain standards on non-human traffic, ad fraud, brand safety, audience segment composition, viewability, reporting and verification.
Despite Maximum Media's reassurances that it is acting in accordance with the IAB's standards, there is lingering concern from ad buyers. Simon Hunter, an associate director at Mediacom, questioned whether "social media brands" will submit to more stringent measurement such as IAB 2.0, which the core audio players are using.
"It does a raise a larger point about social media brands more generally as concern continues about the value of views or listens in general from them and where they come from and how ‘real’ these people are," he said.
“It is a tough time for publishers but they should be focused on transparency and quality and so incidents like this will make buyers more wary than they might already be.”
Showing the industry reaction, Ireland’s largest media agency Core has suspended dealings with Maximum.
The news has arguably damaged its strongest brand, Joe. Though the UK entity has "operated in isolation" from the Irish operation, one staffer - who wished to remain anonymous – said there's concern that the incident across the Irish Sea could overspill.
A source at Joe.co.uk stressed to The Drum that its UK business will continue to operate independently under the leadership of managing director Gavin Johnson. The multimedia business continues to run numerous shows and podcasts sponsored by the likes of Paddy Power, Guinness, 32Red, Open Money and recently brokered a major new partnership with Hotels.com.
Maximum Media said: "We had a very open and productive engagement with the IAB last week, and are now focusing on moving forward from this incident.”