Can't See the Forest OR the Trees: The Video Viewability Problem

Earlier this year, TubeMogul CEO Brett Wilson estimated that roughly 50% of video ads are actually viewable. Many of these video ad placements are hidden on pages that aren’t accessible to viewers. Advertisers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on video ads that will never be viewed by anyone, never mind relevant consumers.

To put this into perspective, imagine a brand spending a major budget to advertise on billboards along major highways. Instead, the vast majority of the ads appear on billboards in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Yes, the Mojave represents a significant area of land, but most of it is inaccessible, uninhabited, and miles away from the places where potential customers actually spend their time.

This is allowed to happen online because brand advertisers do not have the capacity to see where their ads are running. They choose partners based on opaque KPIs without an accurate view of where their ads will actually run or any insight on the quality of views.

The root cause of all this is an acute lack of quality inventory. Hulu, Vevo, and other premium publishers simply do not provide enough content to support the enormous demand for reach. Legacy advertisers are still used to the level of distribution television provided for decades, and the industry as a whole has not reconciled the difference.

Many videos, therefore, wind up being triggered by bots (hijacked computers), running on file lockers (highly trafficked sites that run illicit versions of major TV shows and films), or being placed within pop-unders, below-the-fold units, or in other non-visible areas.

The ad viewability problem is compounded by the fact that there is no industry standard for video ad effectiveness. And, as viewers continue to migrate toward mobile apps, the ad-hoc standards used for browser-based consumption grow more outdated each day.

The IAB, MRC, and others are already at work on developing new standards, but it won’t be enough. Advertisers must take matters into their own hands by demanding a higher level of accountability.

One simple way to do this is to require complete site lists, rather than representative samples. In other words, advertisers need to say, “I’m not spending a dime with you unless you can tell me exactly where and how my videos are going to be viewed.”

If one major advertiser set this standard, the rest of the industry would soon follow suit.

In my opinion, advertisers have the right to know exactly where their videos are going to run. They have the right to know how their videos will be presented, and where they will be placed on each page.

The industry is more than capable of delivering on these basic tenets. As advertisers get serious about their online video investments, I predict they will be the ones to make it happen.

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3 comments about "Can't See the Forest OR the Trees: The Video Viewability Problem".
  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein , January 13, 2014 at 11:02 a.m.
    As soon as you figure out the online accountability dilemma, be sure to share the details with Target and Neiman Marcus. This is chaos theory at its finest.
  2. Seth Ulinski from TBR , January 13, 2014 at 11:37 a.m.
    Part of the challenge is due to a focus on media cost (i.e. lowest CPM) instead of quality placements that are actually viewed by audiences; those who understand this will allocate investments accordingly (in most cases, you still get what you pay for). Bot/fraud detection tech should also help but is an added cost to consider- unfortunately some don't mind appearing in the Mojave as long as they can bill for it.
  3. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , January 14, 2014 at 6:20 a.m.
    Can any media tell advertisers in advance exactly where their adverts are going to run? I thought contracts always allowed advertising decisions to be overridden if circumstances changed - e.g. when a major news event disrupts the TV schedules.