Clearstream Promises to Bring Transparency to Video Ads

A new startup called Clearstream says it’s time to tame the “Wild West” of online video advertising.

According to co-founder Brian Mandelbaum, the idea came from his time at ad agencies, including Razorfish and Saatchi & Saatchi. The problem, he says, is that there’s no good way to distinguish between high- and low-quality ad placements. When you buy space in a video ad network, that ad could be running before a video on a premium site, but it could also be stuck in a banner on a random website.

“The advertiser is getting screwed,” Mandelbaum says.

To bring more transparency to the industry, Clearstream has created a rating system for any site wanting to run video ads. Either the publisher can pay Clearstream for a certification, or an agency can require that a publisher get certified. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative evaluation, Mandelbaum says Clearstream gives two ratings, one for general quality, and one for relevance in a given content category, such as sports.

Contrasting Clearstream with existing services, Mandelbaum says companies like Nielsen and comScore are interested in collecting data on who’s watching an ad. Clearstream, on the other hand, helps advertisers understand the “what, where, when, and how.” And while there are services for evaluating the brand-friendliness of a page, Mandelbaum says a web page can have little to do with the video that’s playing — which is why Clearstream applies ratings on a stream, publisher, and agency level. He also calls existing systems “almost extortion” where “the only person who wins is the verification company” — while with Clearstream, even the publisher benefits because they get data on how to make their video content more brand-friendly.

When discussing his vision, Mandelbaum likes to focus on his agency background, but there’s another eye-catching item on his resume — he was a contestant on the fourth season of The Apprentice, getting fired during the eight episode. When asked about that experience, Mandelbaum gamely tries to connect it with his new startup, saying The Apprentice helped him learn how “to listen and to be able to build against what the community wants.”