Real-Time With Eric Franchi, Co-Founder Of Undertone, On Viewability

Buyers and sellers alike are more aware of "viewability" -- or whether or not an ad is able to be seen without needing to scroll, change tabs, etc. -- than ever before, and I recently exchanged emails with Eric Franchi, co-founder and chief evangelist of Undertone, on the topic.

Franchi said he believes all ad networks are auditing their publishers for viewability, and expressed concerns over advertisers asking for viewability from their media partners despite the Media Ratings Council (MRC) cautioning them to wait.

I asked Franchi if viewability means something different to sellers than it does to buyers, what it might look like in 2014, and who holds the most responsibility when it comes to this hot topic.

RTM Daily: You've indicated that you believe all ad networks track their publisher's viewability performances, and that it's not some secret sauce. Are those viewability ratings publicly available?

Eric Franchi: My point was that, despite the MRC advising the industry not to transact on viewable impressions, it’s happening anyway. Some marketers and agencies are asking for viewability on their campaigns in various capacities, from being the goal/KPI of the campaign, to being the actual currency. Any media seller who is not measuring their inventory proactively is flying blind, so to speak.

However, whether or not their data matches up with the buyer’s data is a much different story -- there can be tremendous discrepancies between vendors. That is one of the reasons why the MRC advisory is in place and any kind of ratings are premature. A big focus for the MRC in Q3 leading up to Q4 has been the Vendor Reconciliation project, to help study and align vendor results, a gating project to lifting the advisory.

RTMD: If they aren't available, what are the pitfalls and benefits of making them available? Don't advertisers deserve to know exactly what they are buying?

Franchi: I agree that advertisers deserve to know what they are buying, and many are already employing viewability measurement technology as I mentioned earlier. But at the same time, it’s important to understand that this is an industry in a state of transition towards a viewable standard, with a lot of work to do before we get there. I think that once viewable impressions become standard, viewability ratings might be interesting and helpful. Then again, at that point if advertisers are transacting -- as in only paying for -- viewable impressions, ratings really don’t matter.

RTMD: As far as a buyer's concerns in the programmatic space go, where do you think viewability should rank?

Franchi: One application of programmatic where viewability might rank very high is if an advertiser is buying very broadly on an audience basis across exchanges. The sheer number of sites and placements involved -- and let’s face it, there are a lot of questionable sites and placements that are available across the exchanges -- would merit some kind of technology solution.

Technology, and possibly Big Data, will play a key role here, specifically in RTB. Viewability cannot be determined at the time of bid response process (it is a metric measured after an ad has delivered, not before). So using historical data together with real-time signals will be key via technology. 

RTMD: Does "viewability" mean something different to the sell-side?

Franchi: It shouldn’t. Only through a single definition across the board can it become standard. The generally accepted industry definition for display ads is 50% of the pixels in a viewable space of the browser for at least one second. Video and other high-impact formats are a bit more complex and are still being discussed.

RTMD: What can ad networks do to quell concerns? Is there anything more they can do?

Franchi: Education: and this goes for all sellers, not just networks. Help clients understand the viewability space and challenges within. With numerous solutions available in the ecosystem (some accredited) as well as many articles/data points being shared around the current state of viewability, clients could get lost and miss the big picture.

RTMD: What does the timeline of "viewability" look like? It wasn't even a thing in 2011, was it? What will it mean in 2014?

Franchi: Right now the MRC advisory is supposed to be lifted by the end of the year. I would not be surprised if we see it extended into 2014. That would make 2014 a transition year where we see increased adoption of viewable impressions.

RTMD: Who holds the most responsibility on this topic? Buyers, sellers, agencies, ad nets, or some group in the middle?

Franchi: Ultimately, advertisers want the opportunity for their message to be viewed, and it is the responsibility of the ecosystem to provide it. Achieving this requires coordinated efforts by all those in the value chain: agencies, various vendors and media sellers working cooperatively with industry groups like the IAB and MRC. The adoption rate of SafeFrames by publishers and others in the ad serving chain will also be key to addressing this issue.

RTMD: People obsesses over "Big Data" and how much they know about consumers. I call it "Big Data Swagga." It seems like concerns over viewability flies in the face of Big Data Swagga. Do you agree?

Franchi: I basically agree. Viewability gets down to the core of what advertising is -- giving marketers the opportunity to have their message viewed. All the Big Data in the world is useless when the ad never has the opportunity to be viewed. Big Data could then do things like help in ensuring viewability in the programmatic example we talked about earlier.

RTMD: Thank you for your time.

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