Commentary

Real-Time With MRC's Gunzerath On Viewability

Viewability remains a hot topic, and who better to discuss it with than the Media Rating Council (MRC), creators of the standard definition of viewability -- 50% of the ad being in-view for at least one second -- most use today.

But despite the MRC lifting the gates on viewability as a currency last year, it appears marketers have yet to see viewability rates rise -- at least not in any significant way.

Real-Time Daily caught up with David Gunzerath of the MRC to discuss crucial subject.

Real-Time Daily: Why did viewability rates not improve in 2014, and in some cases actually get worse?

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David Gunzerath: I think this is hard to gauge.  Industry-wide information on “overall viewability rates” comes from many different sources, so we don’t really have a good sense for what’s behind it or how complete a view it represents.  Even when it’s issued by MRC-accredited viewability providers, it represents a compilation of data over time from many sources, so I can’t say with certainty how comparable it is with the information that we audit and accredit.

That said, if you assume it’s true that overall viewability rates didn’t improve in 2014, one possible reason could be (seemingly somewhat paradoxically) because of the improvements that have occurred in measuring viewability in a wider range of environments.

Measured Rates (i.e., the percentage of impressions for which the viewable status of the impression can be determined) have undoubtedly improved significantly over the last 12-18 months; we’ve seen direct evidence of this in our audits of viewability measurers.  One can hypothesize that many of the impressions that couldn’t be measured previously--for instance, because they were in cross-domain iFrames and other challenging environments--now can be measured.

It’s very possible that ads that appeared in those challenging environments would tend to be less viewable; for example, cross domain iFrames are very prevalent in network and exchange situations, where viewability rates often tend to be lower.  Once those ads with a lower likelihood of being viewable could be measured, it put downward pressure on overall viewability rates.  If this is indeed the case, and you were able to directly compare only those impressions that could be measured for viewability in both years, I think it’s likely that viewability rates would have shown improvement year over year, as publishers have implemented new page designs and other strategies aimed at better optimizing viewability levels.

RTD: What are you expecting for 2015: Going backward, staying level, or improvement?

Gunzerath: In general, I think we’re very likely to see improvement in viewability rates over the next 12 months.  Aside from the continuing work that almost all parties in the supply chain are doing to further improvements in this regard, I also believe vendors’ measured rates have improved to the point where they shouldn’t have as much of an impact as they may have had when comparing results from 2014 to 2013 (see above point).

RTD: You noted above that different viewability vendors are still different sources, even if they are accredited by the MRC. So what is the average margin of difference that should be accounted for between the different viewability vendors you have accredited? (I.e. One vendor may measure 65% viewability on a campaign while another measures 45%. What's the average difference marketers should take into account?)

Gunzerath: Our goal is to have such differences among vendors be no greater than 5-10%, and we’ve seen that range achieved in much of the reconciliation work we’ve done over the last year.  We’re in the midst another round of reconciliation study right now, in fact.

Over the last year, the past work we’ve done around reconciling discrepancies between viewable impression measurements among MRC-accredited vendors has resulted in the identification of certain use cases that different vendors were handling differently. As we’ve provided more specific guidance to measurers on how these types of situations should be handled, we’re seeing greater consistency. 

In recent months, most of the larger discrepancy situations that have been brought to us have tended to have to do with things like unusual ad formats and other variables that depart from the more day-to-day display or video ad placements.  We believe discrepancy levels are continuing to go down, and MRC is committed to doing everything possible to bring them down to consistent levels of no more than 5-10%.

RTD: What are you currently getting more requests from vendors for: video or display viewability measurement accreditation?

Gunzerath: It’s probably still more on the display side, although video is catching up.  

RTD: The IAB wants marketers to aim for 70% viewability this year, but marketing groups want 100%. I say they should get over 50% first. How realistic are the 70% and 100% goals? The industry seems a long way off from both.

Gunzerath: Just to be clear, MRC really hasn’t been a party to this debate.  As an organization that’s focused on measurement, we’re most concerned in the near-term about ensuring that measurement vendors’ Measured Rates are as high as possible, which means that buyers and sellers will have a more complete picture about the viewability rates for their campaigns.

Also, I think there’s some confusion in the marketplace about exactly what the term “100% viewability” means: 

    • If it refers to all ads served in a campaign being viewable, MRC is on record as saying we don’t think that’s a realistic expectation yet.  For one thing, consumers have some say over the matter, as user actions (quick scrolling, etc.) can directly affect whether an ad becomes viewable or not.  But we think as publishers optimize for viewability, and as campaigns are stewarded by both buyers and sellers with viewability in mind, viewability rates will naturally rise over time.
    • If it’s an individual ad that’s referred to as “100% viewable,” that’s clearly feasible.  Our testing has shown that for most ads that meet the minimum viewability requirements, 100% of the ad is in view.  
    • And if it refers to “100% of ads paid for are viewable,” well, that’s a marketplace negotiation discussion that has to take place among buyers and sellers.

As we said in our viewability implementation guidance document last October, we think buyers and sellers should focus more on viewable impression counts than viewability rates as the transition from buying and selling on served ads to viewable ads progresses.  We also noted some other things we think buyers and sellers should do during the transitional period, such as achieve as much clarity as possible upfront on the terms and conditions to be employed for the campaign; fully understand the details of the viewability measurement tools used; and provide enhanced stewardship of campaigns based on viewability as they unfold, among other suggestions.

RTD: Do you think marketers in general are taking the topic of viewability seriously enough? Why or why not.

Gunzerath: Yes, absolutely.  I think everyone in the ecosystem fully recognizes the importance of viewability to the long-term health of the digital advertising industry, and marketers, led by our friends at the ANA, have made it clear they’re second to no one in this regard.  The simple fact is that marketers’ interests ultimately drive everything in the advertising ecosystem, and the intense focus on the topic of viewability over the last year is reflective of the seriousness with which marketers take this matter.

1 comment about "Real-Time With MRC's Gunzerath On Viewability".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 22, 2015 at 9:13 p.m.

    I respect you professional responses, Mr. Gunzerath.
    The questions leave something to be desired. And are NOT appropriate.
    The MRC should not suffer the "Creation Myth" imposed by MediaPost's RTD Blog.
    Further, the MRC and its disciplined, talented and skillful staff should not be called upon to act as prophets or fortune tellers.  Your answers are beyond competent and prudently measured.
    The Media Rating Council should not and never be co-opted by the greedy hands that feed it.
    This is close to "gotcha journalism" and very disappointing.  Blogs and News don't mix.
    The MRC should guard itself against such press seductions going forward.  
    And Nielsen seductions are no less dangerous considering NPX (National Sample Expansion).

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