The Interactive Advertising Bureau is promoting the recently established viewability standards for both static display and video ads. My focus today is on the video ads. The standards contain both a pixel and duration minimum. For videos, the standard is a minimum of 50% of the pixels in the ad must be viewable within the browser, and must be in view for at least two continuous seconds. The idea is to prevent waste on the part of advertisers who understandably don’t want to pay for video ads that are “below the fold” and are often not seen by the viewer.
Standards were created for several reasons, including the need for a leveling of the playing field for publishers. They are all vying for ad spending from brands, and can better compare their offerings if there are viewability standards in place. The idea is to also give brands a better sense of ad impact, since the standard won’t count ads that are not seen, which of course have zero impact for the brand.
So what are my main objections to the standard? I certainly applaud the progress being made, and understand the need for firm standards, but I see some serious flaws. Fundamentally, I feel the IAB is misguided in their recent decision to consider video ads to be viewable impressions if fifty percent of the player containing the ad can be seen for only two seconds. Here’s my reasoning
· Two seconds isn’t long enough. For our industry, viewability is a complex issue, and it should be measured in a more complex algorithmic manner. It’s not enough to say an ad in view above the fold for more than two seconds is enough to count it as a viewed ad. Consider Google’s proprietary PageRank algorithm. The PageRank algorithm ranks websites in their search engine results by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine how important websites are. This is not the only algorithm used by Google to rank the search results, but it was the first algorithm. Google doesn’t share all of their algorithm’s with the public in an effort for protect the integrity of their search results. It is my strong belief that the viewability standard of video ads should be similarly structured in order to protect the integrity for the advertisers.
· A revised definition. If not the IAB’s standard, then how should it be defined? That’s a fair question. Ideally, the viewability would be based upon a measurement service that used a weighted algorithm to give a rank to ad inventory with detail down to the permalink URL. Each permalink and overall root URL could receive a score based on tracked events. I believe the IAB should provide this weighted ranking as a free service in order to protect the results and remove corporate interests from the process. I encourage the IAB to not specifically and publicly define the standard, similar to Google’s PageRank, but the viewability measurement service could track and score events such as auto muted, low volume, player position, player size, inactive browser tabs, OS type concentrations, geo-data, mouse activity, blacklisted known IP’s, and many other events.
· What about the MRC? The IAB should work with the MRC (the body that established the viewability ratings) and act as a sort of referee through the creation of independent viewability and inventory scoring metrics. This is a better path than for-profit entities building the verification standards, which have obvious potential conflicts of interest. Let’s spend more initial time on a robust standard now, which will have long-term payoffs for all sides of the industry.
· Online video isn’t the same as TV. Some contend that TV ads aren’t held to high standards in terms of viewability, and they’re certainly correct. The “viewer” could be outside playing with the dog or playing a game while the TV is on in the other room. Our industry is different because we need to ensure quality and brand safety through policing of the inventory. This inventory is under the control of mobile app owners and distributed websites, and needs to be properly managed in order to ensure the ads deliver value.
The standards will of course need to evolve, and ideally we will be able to see advanced metrics such as how often an ad is viewable with all of its pixels and the entire ad is seen. Are my concerns likely to gain traction amongst the digital ad community? I understand that developing standards is difficult and instituting new ones that are algorithmically based might be a tough sell. However, the payoffs are immense and I think the IAB and ad agencies have an opportunity and obligation to work together to build better standards.