Why The New Viewability Standards Are Flawed

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is promoting the recently established viewability standards for both static display and video ads. My focus today is on the video ads. The standards contain both a pixel and duration minimum. For videos, the standard is a minimum of 50% of the pixels in the ad must be viewable within the browser, and must be in view for at least two continuous seconds. The idea is to prevent waste on the part of advertisers who understandably don’t want to pay for video ads that are “below the fold” and are often not seen by the viewer.

Standards were created for several reasons, including the need for a leveling of the playing field for publishers. They are all vying for ad spending from brands, and can better compare their offerings if there are viewability standards in place. The idea is to also give brands a better sense of ad impact, since the standard won’t count ads that are not seen, which of course have zero impact for the brand.

So what are my main objections to the standard? I certainly applaud the progress being made, and understand the need for firm standards, but I see some serious flaws. Fundamentally, I feel the IAB is misguided in their recent decision to consider video ads to be viewable impressions if fifty percent of the player containing the ad can be seen for only two seconds. Here’s my reasoning

·       Two seconds isn’t long enough. For our industry, viewability is a complex issue, and it should be measured in a more complex algorithmic manner. It’s not enough to say an ad in view above the fold for more than two seconds is enough to count it as a viewed ad. Consider Google’s proprietary PageRank algorithm.  The PageRank algorithm ranks websites in their search engine results by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine how important websites are.  This is not the only algorithm used by Google to rank the search results, but it was the first algorithm.  Google doesn’t share all of their algorithm’s with the public in an effort for protect the integrity of their search results.   It is my strong belief that the viewability standard of video ads should be similarly structured in order to protect the integrity for the advertisers.

·       A revised definition. If not the IAB’s standard, then how should it be defined? That’s a fair question. Ideally, the viewability would be based upon a measurement service that used a weighted algorithm to give a rank to ad inventory with detail down to the permalink URL. Each permalink and overall root URL could receive a score based on tracked events. I believe the IAB should provide this weighted ranking as a free service in order to protect the results and remove corporate interests from the process. I encourage the IAB to not specifically and publicly define the standard, similar to Google’s PageRank, but the viewability measurement service could track and score events such as auto muted, low volume, player position, player size, inactive browser tabs, OS type concentrations, geo-data, mouse activity, blacklisted known IP’s, and many other events.

 ·       What about the MRC? The IAB should work with the MRC (the body that established the viewability ratings) and act as a sort of referee through the creation of independent viewability and inventory scoring metrics. This is a better path than for-profit entities building the verification standards, which have obvious potential conflicts of interest. Let’s spend more initial time on a robust standard now, which will have long-term payoffs for all sides of the industry. 

·       Online video isn’t the same as TV. Some contend that TV ads aren’t held to high standards in terms of viewability, and they’re certainly correct. The “viewer” could be outside playing with the dog or playing a game while the TV is on in the other room. Our industry is different because we need to ensure quality and brand safety through policing of the inventory. This inventory is under the control of mobile app owners and distributed websites, and needs to be properly managed in order to ensure the ads deliver value.

The standards will of course need to evolve, and ideally we will be able to see advanced metrics such as how often an ad is viewable with all of its pixels and the entire ad is seen. Are my concerns likely to gain traction amongst the digital ad community? I understand that developing standards is difficult and instituting new ones that are algorithmically based might be a tough sell. However, the payoffs are immense and I think the IAB and ad agencies have an opportunity and obligation to work together to build better standards.

11 comments about "Why The New Viewability Standards Are Flawed".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 14, 2014 at 8:13 a.m.

    I agree that the IAB standard for viewability for video ads is unrealistic but as regarding TV ads, there exists a perfectly fair standard. Whenever a TV commercial is shown, it is presented in its entirety or the advertiser gets some form of compensation for the truncation of the message. Often, this justifies a full rebate or a "make good" ad. The going CPM for "untargeted" online video ads is about $22-23, while "targeted" ads average about 50% higher-----in both cases this is considerably higher than TV CPMs if a sensible mix of broadcast and cable is utilized across all dayparts. If it is true that 50% of online video ads are not "viewable" while an unknown proportion of those that fall within the IAB's standard can only be seen for a few seconds, CPMs will soar to such heights that branding advertisers will have to think more than twice about investing significant sums in online video buys----or the sellers will have to slash their ad rates. Of course, it is true that a considerable percentage of TV commercial "viewers" are absent from the room or not paying any attention. We estimate that this occurs about 40-45% of the time, so TV CPMs are, as a result, somewhat misleading. But how many video ad page "viewers" pay attention to a video ad even when it is "viewable"? Certainly not all of them. Let's face it, online video sellers need a standard that is the same as TV's----total message viewability---if they are going to siphon off major portions of existing TV ad budgets. This requires a more realistic assessment of pricing strategies to make online----even when it offers superior targeting and interactive capabilities-----viable from an ROI standpoint. It doesn't make sense to pay three times the cost per real viewer for an online buy when all you get is a 25-35% improvement in targeting.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, August 14, 2014 at 8:58 a.m.

    First, the two-seconds is the MINIMUM to count as a 'viewable ad'. My suggestion would be that to be counted as a 'viewed ad' it would need to be played for a minimum of 90% of the ads duration (e.g. 27" of a 30", 54" of a 60", 4.5" of a 5"). Also, there would have to be sound or it's not counted. Finally, if it is auto-played then it doesn't count (i.e. in the non-linear online world of choice we need evidence that the consumer chose to watch that ad). But Jay, do you REALLY think that only TV suffers from the "leaving the room/nature break" syndrome. On a connected device you can have multiple browsers operating each with multiple tabs, some with video. You should only count the browser and tab that are in focus (which you can't tell server-side by the way), playing video with sound, that takes up at least 50% of the screen for a minimum of 2 seconds and for at least 90% of the ad's duration. There you go ... what do you think IAB and MRC.

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, August 14, 2014 at 9:13 a.m.

    This is the blind leading the blind in that these online "viewability" standards were codified by the same group of fools who created a display-ad format that has conditioned everyone to know exactly where not to look. Seriously, am I the only one who finds insulting this latest concession to abject failure? John Wanamaker didn't realize how good he had it!

  4. George Ivie from Media Rating Council, August 14, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.

    Thanks for addressing the critical issue of viewability standards, Jay. I wanted to clarify that as an independent industry body, the Media Rating Council (MRC) is responsible for setting and implementing the Viewable Impression Guidelines. The Guidelines were created in consultation with Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS, a cross-industry initiative that includes representatives from the IAB, 4A’s and the ANA) and other cross-industry representatives.

    In the Making Measurement Make Sense initiative, industry leaders are working together to drive an enormous change. Its achievements are based on wide-reaching consensus and marketplace demand from marketers. It has required publishers and vendors to adopt new technologies and incorporated the insights of more than 300 industry participants. Its progress represents the pace of industry change when transparency, accountability, and consensus are championed.

    The thresholds are supported by a substantial amount of research, some of which existed prior to the development of the concept of a viewable impression, and other research that was developed specifically in conjunction with the viewable impression initiative.

    With the implementation of the Viewability standard, we strongly encourage parties to work with MRC-accredited vendors and ensure that their technologies are reporting against all three critical viewability metrics: viewable, not viewable, and not measureable. It’s crucial to understand that vendors voluntarily seek MRC accreditation of their products. For those vendors that we do not audit, we have no insight into the measurement methods being used, or the source of the discrepancies in measurement. A seller or buyer interested in working with a vendor to measure viewable impressions should pursue a thorough understanding of the vendor’s processes, especially if this measurement is to be the basis of a transaction.

    Readers can learn more about the Guidelines and how they were created at

  5. Sherrill Mane from Interactive Advertising Bureau, August 14, 2014 at 6:46 p.m.

    As George mentioned, the Viewability Guidelines were created in consultation with 3MS, a cross-ecosystem initiative founded by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the IAB. It’s important to clarify that the MRC develops measurement standards for media. The IAB does not act alone in measurement standards development and when it comes to the 3MS initiative, we worked very closely with the 4A’s, ANA to develop recommendations for the MRC to take forward.

    From the beginning, 3MS has focused on addressing viewability – the move from a served to a viewable ad impression – as the foundational measurement principle that will help revolutionize the way digital media is measured, planned, and transacted across the advertising industry, in order to make it a more valuable medium for everyone involved in brand advertising. Please take a look at the 3MS website for more info on its mission and remit:

  6. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, August 14, 2014 at 7:45 p.m.

    I'm not surprised to see that George and Sherrill have already chimed in here. The one comment I would like to add is to echo the point made by the erstwhile Mr. Grono, above. These are indeed minimums. The point of the standard is not to determine for advertisers what constitutes "good" viewability. The point is to quantify at what point the publisher should be paid. That is a very distinct, specific objective. Over and above the industry standard, advertisers are free-- and indeed, encouraged-- to optimize against what ever definition of uView ability makes most sense for their brands.

  7. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, August 14, 2014 at 7:47 p.m.

    Forgive the typos in that last sentence. It's that damned AutoCorrect.

  8. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, August 14, 2014 at 7:50 p.m.

    Sigh. Not erstwhile. Indomitable.

  9. John Grono from GAP Research, August 14, 2014 at 8:36 p.m.

    Too funny Josh. You do realise that mobile devices work upside down when you are in Australia!!

  10. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, August 15, 2014 at 9:31 a.m.

    The only ads I noticed on this page of MediaPost were the "native" ads for the MRC and IAB, courtesy of George and Sherill.

  11. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 15, 2014 at 10:17 a.m.

    The only organization that wasn't consulted was the United Nations. Past experience suggests that when you get too many opinions from people with divergent agendas the result is a grand compromise that satisfies everyone but is otherwise useless.

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