Since the ANA, IAB and 4A’s launched Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), a great deal of progress has been made, specifically in moving digital measurement from a “served” to “viewable” impression standard. The Media Rating Council (MRC), an organization long known for securing media audience measurements that are valid, reliable and effective, is helming the shift from served to viewable ad impressions for online advertising transactions.
On Nov. 14, the MRC issued its first Viewable Impression Advisory. The document and the efforts behind it are a monumental achievement in the history of media currency development and change.
The advisory clearly states, “MRC believes it is premature to transact on viewability in advance of a fuller understanding of the points detailed in the following paragraphs.”
The document then goes on to say that the “MRC strongly advocates that the buying and selling communities educate their members on the basic findings from the large-scale pilot test,” before citing some of the specifics. In particular, MRC points to a critical lesson learned from the pilot: “Of paramount importance to changing the currency is achieving consistently higher levels of measurability.”
MRC has developed a timeline that calls for additional learnings and analyses to be generated through the first quarter of 2013. Testing of the SafeFrame solution for cross-domain iFrames is also scheduled to happen during this time. (Cross-domain iFrames are one of the primary reasons for lack of measurability.)
A new guideline for viewability will be released for public comment in the first quarter of 2013. MRC advocates a parallel data test period when both current and new data are evaluated simultaneously by all players in the market prior to transitioning to new currency.
The advisory also describes how evaluation of the proposed viewability thresholds is proceeding. The pilot results indicate that the proposed “50 percent of pixels in view for one second” is a reasonable threshold for most display ads. However, larger ads like the IAB Rising Stars require additional testing and consideration, both of which are underway.
There are also certain user behaviors, such as clicking, that should be deemed indicative of viewability -- and MRC is working on identifying those behaviors, along with the correct metrics and methods for measuring them, so that they may be part of the standard.
It's also important to note that video ads are not part of the pilots currently being reported. That said, video ads are a big part of the next steps in improving the measurement and currencies used in online advertising. While streaming video is likely to be highly viewable, there remain questions and tests around both sight and sound and how they should be incorporated into the standard. This is particularly important to the notion of ensuring comparability of video impressions across media platforms.
Those who are not familiar with how the MRC works, or what is required of the MRC by law, have questioned the idea that a measurement vendor can be audited and accredited when there is no agreed-upon industry standard. Let’s parse out what the confounding elements are.
First, it's important to distinguish between a transactional standard and a methodological standard. Transactional standards determine the currency used to buy and sell media. Methodological standards set the requirements for the quality and precision of the measurement tools used in the media marketplace. Some of the tools are, in fact, currencies -- but not all.
For decades the MRC, which was originally formed at the behest of Congress, has been the institution looking out for the fairness, quality and precision of tools and currencies for all media and has been setting standards. What’s new is that the digital marketplace has created a need for the MRC also to address how transactional standards are developed and set.
A distinction has to be drawn between verifying and ascertaining that a measurement vendor has a methodology and product that can produce a given metric. There are many metrics that are possible to audit. That goes for the methods, too. MRC audits assess methodological standards of precision and quality and provide requirements for disclosures by the vendors. This can be done without an industry agreed-upon transactional standard.
In closing, let’s remember MRC’s words in the advisory: “Moving to a new, as yet not fully measurable currency on a wholesale basis at this juncture could do more harm than good.” And, let’s keep the testing and collaboration on track.