Commentary

What's With The Pushback Against Viewability?

I wouldn’t have thought there would be much controversy over the push to make ads viewable. We should want people -- real people, and the people relevant to the message -- to see ads. Right? Apparently not, according to an article in The Information this week (it’s behind their paywall, but I highly recommend subscribing for some of the best analysis of the tech industry out there). The piece by Tom Dotan, “Controversy Rages Over How to Combat Phantom Ads,”  points out that many people in the ad industry are concerned that the MRC’s new-ish guidelines on what constitutes “viewability” aren’t realistic.

Now, this is sort of incomprehensible to me, considering I’ve said that I think the MRC guidelines could actually benefit from being stronger, and I know I’m not the only one. But apparently, there are folks in the agency world who are concerned. They think they won't get scale if they insist upon 100% viewability, which leaves me to wonder: They do realize that non-viewable ads aren't adding to the scale of anything other than their spreadsheets, right?

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When I think more about it, I see where 100%-viewability critics are coming from, though I still don’t agree with them. The ad industry is addicted to fraud. As I’ve stated before, low quality and fraudulent impressions depress the price of quality content. It makes us all look good on the surface, because it juices up everybody’s numbers, and makes it look like there are eyeballs out there that there simply aren’t. We’re effectively covering our ears and screaming “EARMUFFS!” when anyone tells us that this isn’t actually sustainable, and that it isn’t actually helping brands achieve their goals.

The article in The Information brings up a very good point: The ad industry is complex. And it’s confusing. “[T]he highly fragmented nature of online advertising doesn’t lend itself to getting definitive answers,” Dotan writes. “Between the multiple ad exchanges that can occasionally serve a single piece of inventory and differences among browsers, a report from one type of ad measurement software can vary wildly from another. Adding in the difficult-to-track world of mobile advertising makes the problem even more complicated.”

 But if making beneficial changes in our industry was easy, we’d have done it already. Whenever there’s some new kind of regulation or guideline anywhere, whether it’s regarding our car inspections or our curbside trash pickups, we kind of freak out at first. Setting a benchmark for ad viewability is no different, really.

It’ll take effort to achieve those seemingly lofty goals of 100%-viewable ads, but it’s worth it. The viewability problem is getting worse, which has a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem because it impacts supply and demand. “It won’t scale?” Just an excuse.

17 comments about "What's With The Pushback Against Viewability?".
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  1. Carol Lewis from Riverton Media LLC, September 5, 2014 at 2:42 p.m.

    Thank you, Joe!!!! "They do realize that non-viewable ads aren't adding to the scale of anything other than their spreadsheets, right?"

  2. Bill Guild from ChoiceStream, September 5, 2014 at 3:25 p.m.

    I don’t think anybody is against the ultimate goal of 100% viewability. The real controversy is focused on whether or not it is a good idea to hold hard and fast to 100% viewability at this point in time. It is currently not possible to determine with 100% accuracy whether an ad is viewable. Non-viewable impressions are hidden among a bunch of viewable impressions. Therefore, for any partner to achieve a report of 100% viewability from a third party, that partner would have to avoid all of the impressions that have any chance of being non-viewable. The result would be to avoid lots of viewable impressions and thereby reduce real reach. Working toward 100% viewable impressions is good for everyone. Insisting on 100% viewable impressions right now hurts advertisers.

  3. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc., September 5, 2014 at 3:42 p.m.

    Yes there actually is... the simplest and cleanest solution is to NOT show the ad until the entire ad container comes into view. Most ads and videos are called by javascript these days and the solution that no one talks about, which will INSTANTLY solve all viewability issues is the above. But this will reveal just how small a fraction of the current universe of ad impressions is actually ever in view. No one wants to be the first to expose the house of cards that had been built up over years.

  4. Sharon Peyer from HitBliss, Inc., September 5, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.

    Augustine is correct. At Hit Bliss, we designed built and launched precisely that type of ad experience. Our an ad platform guarantees both viewability and user attention resulting in 20x higher brand lift vs. other online video services. But even with these (3rd party validated) results, scale is challenging due to the complexity of the ad industry, including the ad agencies' legacy infrastructures and economic models. It's not worth agency employees' time to make several small buys vs. one big buy - even if the aggregate performance of the smaller buys is "off the charts" better. And so the agencies themselves promote more wasted ad spend... Which is the opposite of progress.

  5. Joe Marchese from true[X], September 5, 2014 at 4:48 p.m.

    This might be one of my favorite comment strings ever! So much good discussion.

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 5, 2014 at 8:06 p.m.

    The online folks have to realize that the question of "viewability" is not just an "internal" issue, it applies across media, notably to TV. Ultimately, online video ads are going to compete on a serious basis with traditional TV for a share of advertising budgets. Traditional TV commercials are almost always viewable in their entirety. If there's a rare technical glitch the advertiser is given some form of compensation----usually a "make good" spot. With "raw"online video CPMs averaging two to three times higher than TV, while less than half of their ads appear on the user's screen for at least two seconds, the resulting "viewable" CPMs are so far out of line, relative to TV, that this disparity is going to smother future online video ad dollar growth-----unless online CPMs drop dramatically or viewability rates are significantly increased. There's no way the online ad selling community can dance around this problem. It's got to be faced and dealt with.

  7. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc., September 5, 2014 at 8:14 p.m.

    Ed, I think it is just the opposite (to what you said). Even though TV ads are "viewable" because they take up the entire screen that the user is staring at, what is seldom said is that DVR penetration is 70%. And DVR users watch exactly 22 mins of every 30 min show. Why? Because they skip EXACTLY ALL the ads.

    So while "viewability" of online video ads or other digital ads is not exactly apples to apples in the TV world, ads-not-seen would be a good way to compare. If you compare it this way only 30% of TV ads MIGHT be seen; while 40% of video ads are seen.

    http://www.slideshare.net/augustinefou/viewability-of-tv-ads-vs-digital-ads-2014-by-augustine-fou

    Finally, if you use YouTube for video ads, you get 100% viewability in-stream AND you don't pay unless the user DOESNT skip your ad.

  8. Augustine Fou from Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc., September 5, 2014 at 8:21 p.m.

    And if you take the figures from TVB research: Network Primetime TV CPM (cost per thousand households) - $24, and then divide by the 30% that is viewable/viewed you get $80 effective CPM.

    And if you take the CPM/CPV figures from Turn for video ads - $12 - and divide by the 40% that is viewable you get $30 effective CPM.

    I won't even go into how video ads kick TV ads b*tt in every other aspect like effectiveness (not just my opinion, but based on aggregated research).

  9. Sharon Peyer from HitBliss, Inc., September 5, 2014 at 9:47 p.m.

    Ed, I think the "online folks" here completely understand that viewability is a cross platform issue. How could it not be? I'd be curious as to your response to Augustine's comparative analysis above. It certainly makes sense to me. And there are better video ad models than truview out there (20x better) as I pointed out earlier. The problem is that in a top model like that, quality must come "at the expense" of scale. But this is simply a short term issue. As more buyers do the rational thing and move to quality you begin to have quality at scale. Unfortunately though, to the media buying folks, scale alone is the holy grail. It's not about quality for them. It's about not getting fired. And in the online video, advertising space, not getting fired is best assured by getting clients to allocate big, TV-like budgets to online video and promptly spending all of the client's budget with TV-like or slightly better results.

  10. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 6, 2014 at 6:03 a.m.

    I'm sorry, Augustine, but I disagree with your analysis. Let's start with the CPM part. You cite TV's primetime CPMs as your basis, meaning the broadcast TV networks. That's taking the highest cost form of TV and making it representative of all TV. The fact is that if you count all kinds of TV, including cable and syndication, and all dayparts---daytime, early evening, late evening and weekends, plus prime, the typical national advertiser, who uses many dayparts and network types, not just the most expensive ones, is paying about $10 per thousand viewers, not $24. As to your second point, while I agree that a certain percentage of the TV audience is not paying attention or has left the room when an average commercial is aired, national TV is now rated on a commercial minute basis by Nielsen. That means that any DVR "zapping" is deleted. We estimate that approximately 40% of the reported commercial "audience" is probably not in the room or is totally distracted, not 70% as you postulate. Indeed, the average recall rate, according to Nielsen's IAG studies, for a 30-second TV commercial is about 45%, which supports my contention that 60% of the reported audience probably sees the typical TV commercial. If it is true that 50% of the claimed online page view audience, has no chance to even watch a video ad, while an unknown percentage, who are "exposed", can see it for only a few seconds, there's no way to get around the obvious cost efficiency disparities with TV. Let's say, for the sake of this discussion, that roughly 40% of the online page view audience has a chance to watch a typical online video ad in its entirety----I am probably being generous here. Do we assume that every one who might be reached actually pays enough attention to the ad to be aware of its message? Of course, not. Even if the ad attentiveness factor for those who can see the video ad in its entirety is the same as for TV---which is a stretch, considering all of the distracting elements on a typical ad page, you come up with an effective online video ad CPM of about $75; the comparable all- daypart figure for TV is $17 and even for for primetime broadcast network, using your TvB figure of $24 as a starting point, it's about $40. I'm sorry, but if the stats being bandied about regarding online ad "viewability" are correct, then online sellers have a real problem if they expect to compete for ever larger slices of TV ad budgets. Something must be done to justify the CPM disparities. Note: I'm not saying that online must charge exactly the same CPMs as TV----it does offer interactive enhancements and better targeting mechanisms, after all. But, ultimately, advertisers who craft TV commercials, which is what video ads are, want to tell a complete story to their "audience", not make disjointed presentations lasting a few seconds.

  11. John Grono from GAP Research, September 8, 2014 at 9:19 a.m.

    Ed, are you also factoring in that a computer screen can have more than one ad on it - thus 'splitting attention'- whereas a TV ad gets 100% of the TV screen for the ad's duration.

  12. Chris Pizzurro from Canoe, September 8, 2014 at 9:23 a.m.

    That is why I like (and full disclosure here as VOD technology vendor Canoe) set-top box VOD. Being on a TV, VOD has all the impact of prime time TV, whenever viewed. And, being on a closed cable system that only counts delivered ads, has none of the fraud issues. Plus all ads come up full frame and viewable. And now in over 30M HHs, scale is not an issue.

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, September 8, 2014 at 10:46 a.m.

    John, I alluded to that in my comments, above, but didn't want to make a big issue of it. I wish the the Media Post format allowed for separate paragraphs so such points could be singled out----but it doesn't.

  14. John Grono from GAP Research, September 8, 2014 at 11:15 a.m.

    Sorry Ed, I missed that. Joe ... BRING BACK PARAGRAPHS!

  15. Joe Marchese from true[X], September 8, 2014 at 1:15 p.m.

    John - Wish I could!!

  16. josh Cook from EverwildMedia, September 15, 2014 at 2:29 a.m.

    As a content producer and media consumer, much of your discussion around the best methods of ad spending are a little over my head. But I will say for the years I had a DVR, and then when I cut the cord and just had Netflix, I didn't watch a single commercial. Then Hulu and Hitbliss happened. Hulu is straight forward and I can't avoid the ads. It's ridiculous to think advertisers are spending so much more on the ones I was able to skip over on the DVR. Hitbliss, meanwhile, had the most innovative ad-supported structure I've ever seen. If your eyeballs on ads are supposed to pay for what you're watching, then they figured out how to turn me into Alex from Clockwork Orange with my eyes forced open. You couldn't leave the screen, you couldn't change the screen, you couldn't mute the screen. I thought that Hitbliss would be the model that advertisers have wet dreams about.

  17. Kyle Solomon from Adosia, September 23, 2014 at 9:39 p.m.

    @Augustine Fou - That's exactly what we do here at Adosia... on traditional CPM our platform waits until the ad container comes into view before making the call to our ad server (increase opportunity for viewability as much as possible). In doing this, we achieve ~85% viewability on traditional CPM regardless of ad placement. This is still not perfect, but helps greatly with bridging the gap between our standard CPM and viewable impression offerings

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