Where Viewability Is Today -- And Why It's Critical For Digital's Tomorrow

On Dec. 16, 2014, IAB released “State of Viewability Transactions 2015,” a position paper that put forth seven principles for viewability transactions in 2015. Since then, the press and the ecosystem at large have engaged in worthy debate and discussion about the meaning of the paper for viewability, measurement, and ongoing deal-making. 

Still, with some stakeholders jockeying for position and disparate perspectives aplenty, misleading chatter erupted -- and even more than a month out, misconceptions persist.

In order to put everyone back onto the same page, the following is a guide to the basics.

Why did the IAB issue the position paper?

We wanted to explain how viewability measurement is currently performing at an individual publisher level and provide guidance on what is realistic for near-term transactions.



The IAB membership aspires to 100% viewability of all digital ads.  However, we know that technical and measurement challenges make it unreasonable to expect that every ad in a campaign will be 100% t viewable and that individual publishers will deliver 100% viewability across a given campaign.

The position paper in no way affects our unwavering support of the MRC standard for the measurement of a viewable ad impression for display and video.  That standard is 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of one second for display and 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of two seconds for video.

In concert, we also support the efforts underway by our partners, the ANA and the 4A’s with us, the IAB, to make measurement make sense through the 3MS initiative.

And, we support the oversight of measurement standards and processes that the MRC provides to all.

What is a threshold -- and why is the IAB recommending a 70% threshold?

As used in the position paper, a threshold is a percent of the aggregate of viewable impressions delivered across a campaign. The 70% threshold would simply be applied to a given campaign, across the various line items or ad units purchased, guaranteeing that the total campaign will deliver 70% viewable impressions.

The assertion that 70% is reasonable comes from publisher-reported variances of up to 30% to 40% in individual campaigns run on a specific site.  The variances occur across measurement vendors and from the same vendors for common ad units in similar placements. We have yet to establish benchmarks and we are experiencing the kind of bounce that impairs any ability to establish a baseline.  Therefore we believe that achieving the 70% minimum is reasonable at this point in time.

The paper calls for making good with like inventory on any campaign that falls below the threshold, thus assuring an advertiser that every possible effort is being made to achieve solid viewability delivery.  In fact, in many cases, this guarantee system will provide for more than the 70% viewability.

How can we improve measurement and attain higher levels of viewability delivered to advertisers with greater consistency?

We must all focus on empirical science.  That means analyses of viewability data at individual publisher and campaign levels both across accredited vendors and across individual campaigns and publishers using a common vendor. 

The data analyses must be part of an organized effort under MRC oversight to isolate reasons for differences in measurement.  With MRC oversight, vendors can be required to alter and improve processes.

Ideally, viewability measurement discrepancies will ultimately fall within tolerable ranges of plus or minus 10%, and benchmarks can be established with confidence..

What about the unmeasured ads?

MRC has been working with accredited measurement vendors to improve processes.  And, measurability rates have been on the rise. 

That said, both display and video ads are not always fully measurable and users of the data should carefully examine measurability rates.  IMPORTANTLY, AN UNMEASURABLE AD DOES NOT EQUAL A NON-VIEWABLE AD.

Moving toward better viewability measurement, we cannot lose sight of the longer-term goal: full cross-platform comparability for all online and offline screens. 

As part of this measurement transformation, we have yet to develop and write standards for viewable mobile impressions. (You read that correctly. The current standard does not cover mobile ads.) The process of crafting a digital GRP that will truly allow for interactive to have apples-to-apples comparative metrics with traditional media is in a very early stage.

We still have a ways to go and a lot more work to do. Crafting a solid pathway toward a 100% viewability threshold is one vital step in an even bigger journey for digital media and measurement.

And, while I am offering clarity on where we are today, I cannot resist the urge to direct you to the sources of knowledge and the language of the standard.  Get familiar with the topic. Stay on top of change. Viewability is only the beginning.

2 comments about "Where Viewability Is Today -- And Why It's Critical For Digital's Tomorrow ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 21, 2015 at 11:12 a.m.

    While the difficulties pointed out are noteworthy, I think that branding advertisers need something more to guide them regarding the 70% "standard" and whether they should pay full price for each "impression"' attained using the recommended threshold. Were I advising advertisers I would ask for the media sellers and/or IAB to conduct studies of ad awareness and copy point recall ( proven ) as well as electronically derived metrics for ads under different visibility conditions. How much of a penalty does an advertiser pay in lost impact when 50% or more of an ad can be seen for 1-2 seconds, versus much tighter visibility definitions? Obviously, such a study should use identical ads in each situation and this will take time to organize. But, without such an investigation, I fear that many branding advertisers will not be willing to pay full price for many of the impressions that meet the proposed 70% standard. A little help is needed to guide them.

  2. Keith Pieper from IMM, January 22, 2015 at 4:24 p.m.

    There is a large black hole that gets overlooked and may come back to bite us: "measurable". We hear data referencing "viewability" which is a percentage of impressions where viewability *can* be measured. What about the percent that is not measurable? How large is that group? What do we know about those impressions? Most likely we know very little about those impressions because Javascript is disabled, which is necessary for any viewability or quality control measurements to work. So in other words, there is a variable portion of impressions we have no intel on and no control over. As a buyer, this unknown is a risk.

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