In Integral Ad Science’s Q4 Media Quality Report, networks and exchanges had an average viewability of 42.6%. So while advertisers are excited about implementing more programmatic buys into their media plans, there’s a seemingly inversely correlation between the amount of programmatic media they’re looking to execute and the overall amount of viewability. This is causing advertisers to scratch their heads and ask, “Can I attain my viewability thresholds with programmatic media on my plan?” And probably even more importantly, “If my target audience isn’t seeing most of the ads I buy programmatically, why even bother with the programmatic channel?”
There are three primary ways that media buyers have been working to increase the viewability of programmatic media. First is increased diligence in optimizing open exchange buys toward viewability; this primarily consists of cutting site placements with low viewability. Most DSPs now have viewability metrics built directly into their system, making the optimization process easier. But anyone using a DSP can tell you that in many cases it’s impossible to optimize toward a 70% viewability threshold without severely cutting scale.
Second, media buyers are moving programmatic media from open exchanges to private deals. But while private deals do tend to have a higher viewability than IAS’ average for exchanges, most still fall short of the 70% viewability threshold.
Probably the best tool available for achieving high viewability for programmatic buys is the viewable CPM. For example, Google introduced the ability to bid via a viewable CPM on its display network, and IAS has a viewability pre-bid solution that plugs into most of the major DSPs. However, these technologies are still built around the probability of seeing an ad, not necessarily whether or not someone actually saw an ad. Therefore, an advertiser may miss out on ad placements with low viewability that are next to good content that help drive conversions when ads are seen. Either way, it’s still the closest the industry has gotten to buying viewable impressions.
But more important than using it to bid, viewable CPMs should be used as a metric for analysis to compare viewability across vendors. Consider two buys: a publisher-direct buy and a programmatic open exchange buy. Both have 10 million served impressions. The publisher-direct buy has 70% viewability and a $10 CPM, while the open exchange buy has 30% viewability and a $3 CPM (most advertisers have probably seen similar figures). The viewable CPM works out to a little over $14 for the publisher-direct buy and $10 for the open exchange buy. In this relatively realistic scenario, the open exchange buy is more efficient in purchasing viewable impressions than the publisher-direct buy.
While the marriage between programmatic and viewability is not perfect in its current form, the market is looking to change things. Publishers are looking for better ways to lay out content and ad placements to ensure better viewability. For instance, publishers are playing with infinite scroll with lazy ad loading, which delays the loading of an ad until it comes in view. Ad servers and viewability tech players are also looking for better solutions to buying on a true viewable CPM.
In the meantime, advertisers need to be prepared to rethink how they consider viewability thresholds with programmatic media. Analyzing viewable CPMs is a good first step.