Commentary

5 Principles To Move Video Viewability Forward

Viewability is the hot topic in digital advertising today.

The industry has a working definition for display and video that the MRC, the IAB and others have been helping to establish.   Generally speaking, the display definition has achieved a measure of consensus. The video definition has not.

Although no standards are finalized (an MRC advisory against their use persists) and in the face of growing debate over video’s definition, some vendors are already touting viewability products for both display and video. That’s a big concern.

Buyers and sellers of advertising both win with a video viewability standard. Buyers gain assurance that the media they purchased is properly delivered and quality publishers differentiate themselves from the bottom of the marketplace. Potentially, additional analytics on engagement can be collected, and a method for comparing video advertising across platforms, including TV, is possible. Who could argue with that?

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Well… we could.

The current proposed video viewability definition -- as the authors admit -- will not work for app-based video advertising, or in much of today’s banner video advertising. That’s a problem.

App-based video represents the fastest-growing segment for premium publishers. For ABC, app-based video users are the youngest and most upscale slices of our audience. Generally, in banner video advertising enabled by ad networks has the largest scale, lowest costs, and the most problems. So the proposed standard does not work for either the high end or the low end of the video marketplace.

But isn’t some standard better than nothing? Definitely not, given the unintended consequences.

Imagine what will happen if we land with an initial standard that only covers browser based in page video play out. Clients will ask agencies ensure that their video advertising is viewable. Large swaths of the video marketplace will not be technically verifiable. Agencies will be forced to “buy around” these limitations, reducing the overall liquidity of the video marketplace and making it nearly impossible for publishers to manage their inventory holistically, or deliver their most valuable audience segments. How is this in anyone’s interest?

And there are more challenges. How does viewability interact with campaign level demographic measurement? Is it ever appropriate to compare the census-level measurement of digital video campaigns with the panel measurement of TV’s commercial pods? Should duration be part of a video viewability standard, and if so. why should it be different from display?

We have an opportunity to do this the right way. In a way that brings accountability to the market while supporting ongoing innovation. But in moving forward, we must follow some basic principles. Here are five that we believe are critical.

1. Make sure the marketplaces are understood and defined. Let’s not try to establish a single definition of viewability across all digital media. Display and video are two completely different marketplaces. The TV, print, and radio worlds are much more standardized, and comparisons within or across are much simpler. Not so much with digital.

2. Apply the 80/20 rule. The priority for an initial viewability standard should focus on the biggest problem area -- inventory that is not in view. That metric alone (based on whether ad/video player pixels are “in view”) will enhance credibility. Buyers will know their ads aren’t at the bottom of the page, or worse.

3. Don’t over-complicate a definition with varying duration components.

4. Any duration component opens the door to a subjective debate. Let’s launch a definition that everyone can support, and evolve it as the digital marketplace matures. It’s much easier to tighten the definition over time than loosen it later.

5. Recognize that the currency can be separate from the quality metric.

The goal to create a “cross-platform” standard so that impressions and GRPs can be compared is lofty -- and impossible. There are just too many differences between platforms, clutter, viewer behavior and measurement solutions. Let’s not allow that unattainable goal to drive definitional disputes over duration. If duration is important to an advertiser, they can measure it separately and use it to drive CPM negotiations with individual publishers. This is no different than how reader per copy, time spent, or viewing loyalty metrics have been used for decades in offline negotiations.

Be sure that we fully understand business issues that impact all marketplace participants. This is critical -- and here’s an example of why. In the online video space, there are a host of variable costs the publisher is responsible for from the first frame of video playing. Bandwidth to deliver the content. Ad-serving fees to decision and target the ad impression, and OCR or VCE fees to validate the audience. All those costs register on the first frame of video.

If the industry can embrace these principles, we believe consensus on a first generation definition for video viewability is well within our grasp. In the meantime, let’s take a few good steps in the right direction, and not leap before we know where we will land. It makes sense to move forward with a display standard, but take a little more time on video. What we do over the next twelve months will affect the next decade. Let’s get it right.
1 comment about "5 Principles To Move Video Viewability Forward".
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  1. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations, September 24, 2013 at 11:55 a.m.

    Hear, hear! Let's not rush into yet another hurdle on the road to marketplace liquidity. I sometimes think that because of the two-way nature of online advertising, we CAN make buying and measure 1,000 times more complicated than offline, and so we do. Especially with streaming video, one of the key "viewability metrics" is the fact that the user (in most use-cases) initiates the video stream. In that case, it's a completely different issue than display ads, which may or may not be encountered or visible in any given user session. The fact that a video (and say pre-roll) is a/clicked and b/the stream is served, ought to cover 90% of what we're going for here, no?

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