The Video Viewability Debate

Outdated benchmarks don’t tell the full story about a product. Just as very few people would ever make horsepower-hour the basis for buying a car, “viewability” doesn’t present the complete story about the effectiveness of online video advertisements.

A horsepower-hour was useful for telling people who were accustomed to work animals how much utility they’d get out of a steam engine. Most automotive buyers today wouldn’t find that to be a helpful comparison.

Viewability originally arose as a way to evaluate the value of an ad for print and TV, and was based on an estimate of how many people saw or heard an ad. In the mid-‘90s, this metric was applied to display advertising. However, this application quickly became under fire due to the nuances of online media and consumer interaction. The effectiveness debate in regards to display has now moved toward performance based metrics and analysis.

Still, it’s as if history is repeating itself when trying to answer how to measure the effectiveness of online video, with viewability once again in the spotlight.

According to a recent article, the viewability debate is disrupting the marketplace. The Media Ratings Council admits that its tools for tracking viewability aren’t yet ready for prime time. Even Google’s solution is evolving, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s new SafeFrame technology isn’t necessarily going to become an industry standard.

ABC Television Network advertising executives Adam Gerber and Rick Mandler recently wrote an op-ed saying, “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.”

It all comes down to this: you cannot create a standard video measurement based on display, TV or anything else. It needs to be unique to the medium.

Not all aspects of ranking viewaiblity are equal. For example, applying below the fold, in-banner video ad metrics to pre-roll video ads in online video players as recent studies by companies like Vindico have done. Similar to search, digital video is a responsive product that should be measured based on effectiveness and completion of an action. So, some ad networks are ensuring high ROI through processes and complementary technologies, such as predictive, or “semantic” search.

Video effectiveness can be measured by examining these key quality elements: user verification, centralized video player location on the webpage, assessing video completion rates, and ad performance. Working with third parties such as comScore to ensure validity and by ensuring that partners have verification processes in place can also help advertisers to evaluate ad impressions based, verify quality of the audience and brand appropriateness. These processes involve the monitoring of content with both technology and human intelligence to discard any suspicious clicks.

Moving to a performance-based model to evaluate effectiveness requires brands to examine video completion rate, the percentage of viewers watching the entire video, and ad performance, ensuring that advertisers only pay when ads are viewed.

Today’s concept of viewability delivers a form of measurement, but it is just a starting point. The debate about the definition and validity of using viewability as a guiding metric will continue if we want to get it right. With advertisers budgeting campaigns based on a cost-per-view, it is essential for the industry to examine other core metrics to measure the effectiveness of online video ads.

1 comment about "The Video Viewability Debate".
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  1. Luke mcdonough from AIR.TV, March 17, 2014 at 7:41 p.m.

    Agree that we should ensure that advertisers do not rely too much on one metric or another... "CTR," for example, is obviously not a useful way to compare the performance of a DR display ad to a video pre-roll.

    However, since we have no viewability standard at all, we have to live with the large number of shady publishers who currently run video ads on auto-play, with the sound off, below the fold...or in a pop-under...or behind a tab...or who run several of these simultaneously...this is unambiguous fraud.

    I hear more and more advertisers saying that they now know that they are getting robbed in this way to some degree, but they do not know how big a problem it is...but they read some things that say it is a huge problem, and so they are reticent to spend more...This is bad for everyone...and so we need a viewability standard or widely accepted product, ASAP, that gives advertisers confidence on at least this most basic level.

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