Reduce Unmeasurable Inventory Now: Viewable-Impression Standard Coming

If you rely on ad impressions, measure ad impressions or otherwise buy or sell digital advertising, be aware that we are reaching the end of a lengthy process. Likely by the end of December 2013, the Media Rating Council (MRC) will lift its advisoryon transacting on  viewable impressions -- hence, thereafter endorsing this new counting method as a currency.  When this happens, we expect the floodgates will open, and a currency shift will begin in practice. We advise you not to wait until this shift happens to learn that the ads on your properties or the ads you are monetizing (no matter where you are in the ecosystem) cannot be measured for viewability.  Take steps to reduce your unmeasurable inventory now.

Recalling a line in the great movie “Cool Hand Luke,” the problem of unmeasurable inventory is caused by “a failure to communicate.” Many publishers have been unable to have the viewability of their impressions verified on their pages because the ads live inside cross-domain iframes, opaque containers into which advertiser content is delivered in display ads. The original purpose of these iframes was to block ads from interacting with the page, which minimized security risks and the chance of disruptive ad behavior. However, they also kept the publisher from knowing what portion of the ad made it to the visible portion of the page and the length of time it was viewable to the user. In short, there’s a failure to communicate.

The prominence of unmeasurability was one of the main reasons the MRC issued its advisory. The marketplace must be able to consistently measure viewability in order for this new online currency definition to be meaningful.  It’s why marketers and agencies have had to wait so long for the enhanced accountability that viewable-impression measures bring to digital advertising -- accountability they are already accustomed to receiving from other media.  Reducing the amount of unmeasurable inventory is critical for the industry to successfully transition to the viewable impression as a currency, and it’s essential for publishers and other media sellers to meet marketers’ expectations come Jan. 1. Transitioning from a served-impression standard to a viewable-impression standard is the number one guiding principle in the Five Guiding Principles of Digital Measurement as defined by the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative.

Lifting the advisory also depends upon finalizing the viewable-impression measurement guidelines. The MRC and a large group of interested organizations have been developing these guidelines, and they are expected to be ready for public comment within the next few weeks. To be clear, to date, the MRC accreditation of measurement vendors for viewable-impression measurement has not used this viewable-impression measurement guideline because it has not yet been finalized. Instead, the MRC has used the best available guidance and has mandated disclosure of the measurement capabilities of the applicable vendors. However, after completion of the viewable-impression guideline, each accredited measurer is expected to fully adopt it in a timely manner.

Media sellers, for you to be ready for the shift, you must make changes to ensure that inventory is able to be measured for viewability. Here’s what you need to do:

Adopt IAB SafeFrame. The IAB SafeFrame initiative provides the industry with an iframe replacement that safely allows authorized interactions to occur between a publisher’s site and its advertising content, including information about viewability.  Specifically, SafeFrame provides metrics for the width and height of both the browser window and SafeFrame boundaries, allowing for an in-view percentage metric.

All owners of inventory should strongly consider replacing their iframes with SafeFrame.  For media owners, adopting SafeFrame can be as easy as introducing a small bit of JavaScript code into their content management system in a way that allows it to be applied to all pages.  Small and mid-size publishers have worked with their technology teams to do this, and reports have come back that the task was not difficult.  For very small publishers, ad networks are able to adopt SafeFrame on their behalf.  But for large media owners with a lot of properties managed by different content management systems, different sell-side ad serving systems, and other complexities, adopting SafeFrame across all inventories is doable, yet more challenging.  One short cut, however, is for these media owners to approach their sell-side ad servers about implementing SafeFrame on their behalf. 

Vendors of rich-media solutions should also take action.  SafeFrame replaces existing iframes. One benefit of this is that the workarounds relied upon by publishers to safely serve rich-media ads can be eliminated.  However, to be able to continue serving rich-media advertising content, both the vendor and the publisher must make the transition.  Other advantages of both parties adopting SafeFrame include: a new level of standardization that will allow rich-media advertising to be sold efficiently through real-time bidding, and the extension of rich-media advertising into inventory previously restricted because of limitations on third-party code.

Sellers of viewable measurement should also become SafeFrame-ready by enabling SafeFrame’s external component.  Doing so will make their measures directly comparable to those measurements of publishers who have adopted SafeFrame, allowing for an apples-to-apples comparison of numbers.

For more information about SafeFrame, check out the SafeFrame “Digital Simplified” video just released today.

Another option is to engage a viewable-measurement vendor not hampered by cross-domain iframes, or with innovations that can see into a large majority of cross-domain iframes.  Given the clear market demand for the viewable impression, measurement vendors are innovating ways to measure viewability in spite of the cross-domain iframe obstacle. Publishers may choose to allow the use of these vendors on their site in order to measure viewability without the need for SafeFrame and its attendant technology changes -- but keep in mind, you may be losing the other advantages of SafeFrame.

The reality of a viewable impression-based market is now speeding toward all of us. This advancement will improve marketers’ abilities to understand the effectiveness of digital advertising, and empower them to compare digital media to traditional media, allowing for more intelligent decisions about the distribution of their advertising budgets. The case is so compelling it is growing increasingly difficult for the marketplace to hold back.

The tools are now available to solve this failure to communicate -- largely caused by cross-domain iframes. Media sellers, if you can’t measure your inventory for viewability, your aversion to change could be your downfall. Act now to avoid this problem.

1 comment about "Reduce Unmeasurable Inventory Now: Viewable-Impression Standard Coming".
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  1. Marc Case from Mezzobit, August 14, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.

    It's great to see so much commentary about preparing for a viewable economy, but how many publishers have actually began the process? Now is the time for publishers to test the various MRC accredited solutions and integrate the best solution for their business. To learn more about how to prepare for viewability please contact me at

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