Viewability Deficit Heavily Impacts Publishers' Bottom Line

A year removed from the MRC lifting the advisory against transacting on viewable impressions (display), the discussion about viewability has reached a fever pitch. Yet to date, the conversation hasn’t captured publishers’ stakes in the issue. The pressure is on from brands and agencies that demand viewability to justify their spending, but publishers also need to ask themselves about the potential revenue they’re losing from poor viewability.

Publishers have responded to buy-side demands for viewability by finally looking seriously at their viewability scores, and by making promises to deliver. In November, GroupM said it would only pay for ads that are 100% in view. The IAB countered by saying 100% viewability is an impossible figure to measure right now, and instead recommended publishers aim for an average of 70% viewability across a campaign. While 70% viewability sounds reasonable, the reality is that publishers industry-wide just aren’t there yet. Average publisher viewability scores hover around 50%.



While on principle most publishers want to raise their numbers, they could still benefit from some clarity about what is being lost when they lag behind industry standards. Measurement is essential in gauging performance and overall value for the buyer, but sellers needs something equally tangible to bring more transparency to their own bottom line.

For publishers to understand and act upon the importance of their viewability scores, we also need to start talking seriously about the “viewability deficit”: the amount of inventory that does not meet this new threshold. It’s also, by extension, a measure of potential revenue a publisher is losing because the inventory fails to meet the threshold.

For instance, if the average publisher viewability score is around 50%, that means on average publishers will lose around 50% of their revenue. A missed opportunity of this magnitude is clearly a serious problem. So publishers clearly need to mitigate their viewability deficit.

Good news: There are consistent and well-understood reasons why inventory fails to meet viewability standards, and they fall into a few easy-to-understand categories:

Page design: determines which ad units appear where, and how quickly they'll reach the viewability threshold. You can increase your viewability score by placing more ads above the fold. Of course you sacrifice user experience. Balance is key.

Consumer behavior: If the user leaves a page before scrolling down, then that below-the-fold ad won't become viewable.

Technology: How quickly ads are served and rendered, as well as when, in relation to other page elements including content, widgets, etc. This factor can dramatically influence your viewability score.

Increasing viewability requires careful attention and diligence, but obviously the payoff is genuine. What publishers can do most easily is fix the technology component.

As an industry, we have the means to fix this problem. But first, publishers must come to a new understanding of how they stand to benefit from taking an active role in fixing things.

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