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.