A Common-Sense Look At The New IAB Viewability Guidelines

You probably took note of the Media Research Council (MRC) and IAB guidelines on viewability that were released earlier this week. Here’s what you need to know -- and what plenty of people in the industry are still missing.

There’s no questioning that these guidelines are important -- for those who stepped in late, establishing a better definition for “impressions” is something that the IAB has been talking about for a while but hadn’t formally put into action. This was certainly necessary, given that our hazy definition of the “impression” is one of the reasons why online advertising is basically in a state of disrepair. With our main unit of measurement defined so loosely, there’s rampant deception, fraud, and intentional waste being used to keep prices down and also killing quality content and creativity. And the MRC actually had to “lift a ban” on viewability as a metric in order to release these guidelines. Think about that. That’s how badly the industry wanted to avoid addressing these issues. I could go on and on about this (and indeed, on many occasions I do).



1. The video ad guidelines aren’t what many people seem to think they are. Video, less of a focus of the guidelines than display, is the 800-pound gorilla here -- near-valueless video views aren’t going to slow down until standards go much further than these ones. A lot of people are bringing up the fact that “viewable” is now defined as two seconds of a video instead of one, but this is actually not true. What it actually says is that the video must be 50% in the viewable stream for one second, with no audio requirement -- the video has to be playingfor one second, but it doesn’t have to be viewable for that time. Keep in mind that a television commercial impression is still 30 seconds, with 100% share of screen. These new guidelines are raising the bar for value, but not by much just yet.

2. Under the guidelines, all things “viewable” are not created equal. A lot of things are being valued equally under this “viewability” metric that frankly just aren’t equal. Half a video ad viewed for a second is effectively put on the same playing field as a 30-second video ad, and that just isn’t a case of equal value. Granted, the MRC/IAB guidelines are clearly testing the waters for the bigger change that we need. When the IAB puts out guidelines for anything, there’s always room for iteration, and that’s even more so the case here.

3. It’s still a volume-driven system. The current guidelines still make it advantageous for publishers to fill up their sites with as many ads as possible that are as barely viewable as possible. So we’re not going to see fewer stories broken up into slideshows, or at least not right away. I’d like to see them eventually get more “teeth” so that it stops being advantageous to divide an article up into a 10-part listicle. Some things that aren’t addressed at all (like share of screen) will have to make it into future versions of viewability guidelines, too, in order to combat this volume problem.

The system is still skewing toward the impression that’s easier to achieve, not the one that provides the best value. But it’s a start, and it’s a good one -- and it should energize us to keep strengthening these frameworks to keep improving advertising.

3 comments about "A Common-Sense Look At The New IAB Viewability Guidelines ".
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  1. Jim Rice from Piiku, April 3, 2014 at 12:13 p.m.

    Couldn't have said it better. Its a start. (Applauds in the background!)

    Perhaps one way to advance standards of measurement would be to segment because, as Joe points out, "viewable" to one is not the same as to the other. We know this. So if that is the case, then this approach to creating a "standard" can quickly be relegated to be "not so useful." And this stands to reason.

    In the days when ads were simple (video on TV; display on a newspaper or magazine page) these one size fits all standards sort of worked. But that is clearly not the case today. That is why this discussion.

    This reminds me of the days when I was much younger and involved with ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). They have groups and subgroups developing standards through a well defined process. And it works. Why? Because one method of testing and measuring as a standard does not fit all. So they have a process by which more complex and innovative tests and measurements that are effectively "non-standard" can be created, evaluated and made a standard if they gain the necessary consensus.

    Perhaps IAB should explore the idea of segmenting a bit here like ASTM. It would be encouraging if they were to recognize that "viewable" is not a one size fits all metric. Thinking that it is our can be all that meaningful is simply not reality in my view today with so many different kinds and variety of inventory and ad units.

    However, like with ASTM, segmentation should drive more innovation and less renegade activity because meaningful and honest KPIs that are gained by concensus would put the proper light on the true exchange of value between the publisher and the brand in a more refined and frankly, honest way. It simply makes the exchange of value between brands and publishers much more measurable, reportable and transparent which we all should want.

    So something to consider. Segmentation, in my opinion, will help sharpen the blade of standardized measurement that will encourage innovation rather than rely on a blunt instrument that out of the gate, is not well suited for the task at hand and what the industry really wants and needs.

  2. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, April 3, 2014 at 12:26 p.m.

    TV does not charge when a spot is determined to be viewable it charges the advertiser when it runs...unlike the INTERNET, tcv spots are virtually always viewable, but who really knows if anyone is viewing...

  3. Duke Fanelli from ANA, April 4, 2014 at 3:37 p.m.

    Joe, thanks for your thoughtful insights. It’s important to clarify that the viewability guidelines are being implemented by the MRC, not the IAB. The guidelines are based on recommendations and input from the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) cross-ecosystem initiative, founded by the ANA, 4A’s, and IAB. We created 3MS to revolutionize the way digital media is measured, planned, and transacted across the advertising industry. Therefore all three organizations support the new viewability standards as the entire industry works towards implementing clear standards-based metrics for interactive advertising. Please check out for more information.

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