On Viewability -- Understanding the Chatter Better

Since the first company was accredited by the MRC for the viewable impression in 2010, the industry has witnessed a tumultuous ride with twists, turns and confusing chatter.

To help readers understand the viewable impression speak better, here are a few clarifications on common statements I have heard misused or misunderstood.

“Should we be paying for 70% viewable or 100% viewable?” really means “Should we pay for Ads Served or Viewable Impressions?”

Ads served and viewable impressions are entirely different measurements that take place in a different location at a different point in time. An ad served is measured when an ad is called from a server, while a viewable impression is measured after that ad loads, renders, and a designated portion of the ad remains in view for one continuous second in the user’s device viewport. 

In the real world, it is close to impossible for 100% of ad-served impressions to become viewable impressions because of the distance and time delay between the serve event and the view event. Viewer abandonment, scrolling behavior and ads served to units that are outside the user’s viewport are the main reasons for this drop off.   

No one should expect all ads served to become viewable impressions. Typical ads served can achieve 20% to 60% viewability rates and if the ad unit is in view when served view rates rise to around 80%.  The IAB is currently recommending view rates of 70% or more. Whether selling ads served with a viewable benchmark, or selling viewable impressions, technology to serve only to ad units that are in view is a must. 

A viewable impression means the ad appeared on a user’s screen, not necessarily that the user viewed the ad.

Viewable impressions are reported every time an ad actually appears on a user’s screen, not if the ad was “viewed,” thus ensuring the ad has the opportunity to be seen. We are all familiar with the argument that TV also has impressions that are not viewed. “On TV they don’t know if the viewer went to the bathroom and didn’t see the ad.” That is true, but with TV we know with reasonable error rates that an ad actually appeared on a TV screen. A digital served impression is counted even if the ad did not appear on a screen at all. 

Viewability is important because an ad served that does not appear simply does not have an opportunity to be seen.  Period.

“Views not measurable,” and “Dark Viewability,” primarily mean ads served into cross-domain or blind iFrames.

The primary reason that the viewability of ads is reported as undetermined or not measurable is because they are delivered inside cross-domain or blind iFrames.

As opposed to a friendly iFrame delivery, where the buyer has access into the parent document where the ad they bought actually rendered, a blind iFrame is designed to block that access, making measuring viewability much more difficult. This forces the use of additional methods to gauge viewability, including browser hacking and browser optimization, which help increase errors and view rate discrepancies between measurement providers.  

Furthermore, in most cases, blind iFrames block the ability for the advertiser to see the actual URL of the Web page the ad is rendered on, or where the ad appeared. This lack of visibility enables fraud and increases brand safety risk. So advertisers must be aware of non measurable rates and understand that, if they are high, there are risks associated with the inventory beyond that the ads may not be viewable.

3 comments about "On Viewability -- Understanding the Chatter Better".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 30, 2015 at 1:02 p.m.

    Good points, Alan, however, it is vital that digital ad sellers accept the responsibility of selling meaningfully "delivered" opportunities to see, not whatever gets to a user's screen or doesn't even make it that far. There may be all sorts of technical reasons why a percentage of "served" ads can't be seen or are truncated in some manner. Fine. So only charge for those ad placements that can be seen as fully effective messages, not fleetingly for a second or two, with appropriate CPM adjustments. It's not the advertiser's function to "deal" with such situations, as some have suggested, or "accept" them, as others have opined. It's the seller's function to deliver what is being "bought".

  2. Alan James Edwards from RealVu, May 4, 2015 at 3:54 p.m.

    Hi Ed, I agree that the sellers function is to deliver what is being bought. That is why viewablity is so important. One or two seconds is just a minimum. This threshold is meant to be used as a currency to standardize “reach” and get us to a common GRP with other media.  More involved metrics are currently important when measuring engagement and may become improved impression measurements down the line, but with around half of online ads bought today not even meeting this threshold, at the least we need all ads purchased to display on a valid user screen ASAP.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 4, 2015 at 4:38 p.m.

    Alan, I agree that a comparable standard between media would be a good thing. But the 1-2 second rule, while only a threshold, would soon become a false standard of comparison and won't fly. In TV what we actually have is a commecial minute's "audience" as the national TV reporting base, even though the vast majority of TV commercials are 15- and 30-second spots. That suggests that for digital video commercials, which tend to lean slightly shorter than their "linear TV" counterparts, a 30-second time frame might offer some measure of comparability. In other words, to qualify as "delivered", a digital video announcement would have to be on the user's screen for at least 30-seconds, not just one or two. I realize that this definition would elimiante a huge percentage of truncated or non-existant audience "exposures" for digital but that's too bad. If branding ad campaigns are to be treated comparably on both platforms---something I assume that we both agree on---than they should afford the viewer/user the same opportunity to see a complete message.

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