How Does Adland Solve Video Ad Problems Like Facebook Auto-Play? Should It Bother?

There has been a lot going on in viewability this quarter, with the IAB repeating USA guidelines that to be considered viewable half an advert needs to be viewed for at least a second. This raised two huge questions. With the consensus suggesting that half of all online adverts are never viewable, yet will be considered served, what on earth have advertisers been paying for? Booking a CPM campaign on the basis that half will never even stand a chance of being seen has to rate as the biggest swindle in corporate history, surely? The second and even bigger elephant in the room, however, was video. What do you do about video?

I chatted at length with the IAB about the thorny issue and it seems a decision on what makes a video advert viewable is not going to be broached for at least a few months, although there has been a more optimistic rumour recently that a guideline may be published in June.

With the half an advert for a second ruling, the IAB pretty much just rubber stamped what was already widely considered a viewability metric. Where there is no commonly accepted fair practice, such as video, it seems things take a lot longer. The IAB in London puts this down to having to work with new broadcast and video partners who all have different input, depending on their background.

But while we're dealing with proverbial elephants in the room, let's move on to how difficult video adverts can be to provide a metric for -- particularly if a publisher is doing all they can to artificially inflate viewing figures.

Let's face it -- I'm talking about Facebook here, and other sites that play videos automatically as a page loads. The so-called viewer has had no idea they were supposedly watching a pre-roll for an upcoming blockbuster movie or had taken in the video creative for a new after shave playing in a skyscraper.

It will come as little surprise that Facebook rolling out the ability for selected partners to have their videos play automatically in a recipient's timeline has meant that video consumption has increased dramatically. Quite how much of the eightfold year-on-year Q1 increase announced yesterday is down to auto-play is open to conjecture.

The point, however, is that it's a step back to the dark days of the Net when office workers were forced to suddenly reach for the volume slider to mask a booming video they hadn't realised would fill the air when they took a sneaky look for a summer holiday. Sure, Facebook doesn't play audio automatically -- but for a site that is actively cutting brands' organic reach on the basis that it prevents timelines being "spammy," it's a little odd to force viewers to watch videos they haven't selected, often from people or organisations they do not "like."

The inconvenience to the viewer, however, is multiplied when it comes to those trying to put together a metric to decide whether a video has been viewed. 

To give the IAB their due, it is a conundrum. Should a video that plays automatically be considered as viewable, or even viewed, or should it be required to have first run for a preset amount of time? Should a view only be counted if the content has been engaged with, such as hitting a play button or turning the sound on? Whatever you decide to do, you then have the issue of pre-rolls being considered as viewed because the viewer had no option than to wait five seconds before they could "skip ad." 

It's a tough question, and one that is made all the harder by the world's biggest social media site adding a layer of complexity that really didn't need to be there -- what was so wrong with hitting the play button?
Here's a thought. It's one that's at the back of the IAB's mind. With broadcast partners involved in coming up with a viewability metric for video, could viewability actually become a moot point? 

What if the involvement of video and broadcast partners meant that online went more the way of television and reach among the target audience became the established parlance when booking campaigns?

It's just a thought at the moment, but if videos are going to be allowed to play automatically and people are going to continue to have to watch a snippet of an advert before they get to see a cat do something cute on a skateboard, then maybe measuring interaction isn't the way forward. Maybe we'll just spray video and not bother to bill according to interaction, but instead just go for reach. Instead of saying "100,000 people saw the advert," maybe the report mechanism will be that 10% of hip London 18- to-24-year-olds saw the advert, or in a research scenario, could recall. It's not a prediction, but it is a thought that is gaining momentum among those currently trying to agree a video viewability metric.

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