Reclaiming The Value Of Viewability

As the CEO of an advertising technology company in New York City, I work and speak with an interesting mix of publishers, brands and agencies on a daily basis. I make a point of soliciting candid feedback on the topic of viewability. After all, it’s the hot industry topic right now and I imagine that everyone has a view – it should be an easy discussion, right? Not so much. Every time the word “viewability” is mentioned, cue the uncomfortable silence and shifting all around the table.

Let’s take a look at lessons learned from those often-awkward conversations and explore how we – advertisers, publishers and tech providers – can work together on the industry’s biggest challenge:

  • Both sides are disconnected, but sharing similar pains. On the agency side, I often hear comments about how viewability isn’t understood – that performance is baked into campaign ROI and that the standards, which are shifting, are difficult, if not impossible to effectively deal with at scale.  For publishers, there's an equal amount of uncertainty and shifting. They ask: How do we create viewable impressions? Brands asked for inventory, we created it.  How do we now deliver on commitments saddled with viewability goals? Can we profit from viewability?
  • Current viewability standards are a good starting point, there’s still a ways to go. This may be one of the most interesting takeaways. The current viewability standards from the MRC and others are a starting point and seem to imply that this is an issue that will take time to ingest and process (which I agree with). When some agencies announced they were demanding 100% viewability for their clients, the industry let out a collective gasp. Are they nuts?  Is that possible?  What’s required to make that happen?  What’s the pricing? 



Based on the strength of response, the MRC may have gotten things right by getting us back on the rails as an industry.  These standards are not ideal as they still allow for significant media waste, but they allow publishers, agencies and brands alike to process the issue and adjust investments.

  • Pricing is a big part of the issue. At its heart, the viewability problem online stems from the structure of ad products. Standard ad forms are not designed to capture attention.  They work much like TV and print do.  If someone is sitting in front of the screen or page, they receive the message.  Right?  Wrong.  Waste like that belongs in an ecosystem where there is limited data, not on the Web.  Banner ads and pre-rolls were not constructed with viewability in mind and not priced according to their impact. They should be.

There's a huge misalignment of incentive and a bit of willful naiveté when it comes to the value of money and the attention it buys. Advertisers get what they pay for and viewability costs money. CPMs of $3 for video can get you $3 worth of viewable impressions. As the rule of thumb goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is – premium is premium for a reason.

  • Publishers already have basic tools to help with viewability within grasp. High-quality, attention- grabbing ad products (that are not shaky banners), do exist.  For instance, interstitial and higher impact video ad units are, by definition, highly viewable. Some in the industry worry that these ads will compromise the user experience and consider them “nonstandard” – but in 2015, they’ll actually drive a huge body of viewable impressions. My suggestion for publishers? Aggressively pursue high impact ad units, but apply them intelligently and judiciously. Most of you know that the consumer doesn't like receiving advertisements in general, but they will tolerate and embrace brand messages that are well-applied and relevant, in formats of all types.

Every side in the industry is in a position to come together to solve viewability – after all, we’re already halfway there. The most important thing to note is that viewability must receive its fair value. Actual viewable impressions deliver brand impact and drive a higher ROI, and it’s important that publishers are allowed to recognize the value they are creating for brands.  Real attention costs more.

The proper alignment of the viewability ecosystem will come from a better valuation of real attention that is driven by a better viewable ad experience. If advertisers support higher impact formats as the tip of the spear and pay for quality, publishers will build them, and consumer habits will ultimately change. We might not just solve the viewability problem, but help reset the value of Web publishing itself.
1 comment about "Reclaiming The Value Of Viewability".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 19, 2015 at 6:09 a.m.

    Either way one slices it, an advertiser has a perfect right to pay only for ads that a user can actually see. When it comes to video, when an ad is on the user's screen for only a few seconds, that does not permit the advertiser who is using a 15- or 30- second message to tell his story---whatever it may be. If the publisher is charging the advertiser $25 per thousand users "reached" and only 25% of them actually have the opportunity to see the complete message, then the actual CPM is $100. If online ads were the only place where a marketer could advertise, then he might have to live with such pricing. But this is not the case. There are plenty of alternative media options--like TV, radio, magazines, etc. Each of these prices its CPMs based of what amounts to 100% viewability. That does not mean that every TV viewer or radio listener or magazine issue reader will bother to pay attention to every ad----but they could---if they chose to. Online publishers need to accept the fact that technical problems which cause ads to be unviewable are their problem, not the advertisers'. If the technical problems can't be solved , then adjust your ad rates downward to be competitive to other media options-----or prepare to see your ad revenue growth slow significantly. Bogus "industry standards", such as an ad is " viewable" if half of its content is on the user's screen for at least one or two seconds, just aren't going to fly---at least not for many branding advertisers.

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