Unvarnished Truths About Viewability

I just had the privilege of opening a fascinating session at the IAB Advertising Technology Marketplace.  The following captures the opening address and adds some insights from the experts’ discussion.

No other topic seems to have captured the trade press’ imagination quite the way viewability has.  In addition, I would venture to say that few topics have produced as many so-called experts.

The partners in Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) want the ecosystem to move forward with the rest of measurement transformation.  Yet we’re still in a moment of viewability implementation: a very long moment

It’s easy to let myths and challenges drown out the real progress that has been made.  Here are some unvarnished truths:

Truth # 1:  Changing currency is hard.  Expect bumps in the road.

This is not the first currency change in the history of the advertising business.  There are numerous precedents, like when TV moved from Nielsen program ratings to average commercial minute ratings for purposes of advertising guarantees.  That currency change had its challenges, too — and there was only ONE measurement vendor involved!

Truth # 2:  The standard for viewable desktop display and video impressions was developed and agreed upon by leaders from across the ecosystem: advertisers, agencies and publishers. 

3MS is a cross ecosystem partnership founded by the ANA, the 4A’s and the IAB.  

MRC has oversight over the development of the standards for measurement.   

Truth #3:  A viewable impression is the functional equivalent of an ad exposure.  A viewable impression provides the opportunity to see.  

Viewability does not mean anything beyond that — not viewed, nor engaging, nor effective.  All claims regarding impact being a requirement of the viewability standard are patently false.   

Truth #4:   MRC is still conducting reconciliation work to bring vendor viewability reporting into closer alignment.  The goal is to achieve a variance of + or – 10%.  

This is not the first time that workflow has been disrupted by discrepancies.  Digital media has worked to reduce discrepancies resulting from using agency and publisher ad servers.  

There are reports from some that over time, since the last round of MRC reconciliation work, viewability discrepancies are smaller.  On the other hand, there are also reports of little improvement.  Ultimately, new data and analyses by MRC will reveal which it is.  

Truth # 5:  Measurability still needs greater consistency both within and across vendors.  The correlate is that an unmeasurable impression does not equal a non-viewable impression.
IAB and our members are developing analyses to examine variances in measurement and track how measurability is improving or not.  All our work will be fully coordinated with MRC.

Truth #6:  When buyer and seller agree on a viewability vendor in advance of an ad campaign, both parties benefit from reduced friction and manual processes.

Truth #7:  Without more consistent measurement, it is hard to know which inputs to use for inventory management, for billing, and for campaign analyses.  

Truth #8:  Viewability is a core unit of currency.  It is foundational to measurement transformation.  3MS calls for much more than just viewability.

Digital GRPs await standards. Then we must standardize GRPs across all screens.
Consensus around the metrics that matter in assessing the impact of digital ads is critical. Brand impact measurement needs work in digital, and in a cross-platform, cross-screen world.

Also, work on mobile Web and in-app viewability standards has begun.  MRC has issued interim guidance on mobile viewability. This is the beginning of measurement transformation for mobile.

Conference speakers from Google, Merkle, Rubicon Project, Yahoo and Zenith Media talked of the need for rigorous technical standards for implementing measurement processes in order to streamline implementation.  A key lesson is that rigor in testing and analyzing results of viewability measurement includes placement-by-placement examination.  Another critical point is the need for publisher and agency ad ops and sales teams to be trained in how to work with placements, technology, and viewability data.

Can we go from a year of transition to full implementation by 2016?  The speakers all want to — but said there are still some implementation issues that need our collective attention.

3 comments about "Unvarnished Truths About Viewability".
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  1. Jeffrey Millar from Tequila Group, May 13, 2015 at 3:38 p.m.

    Good Article,

    When engaged in digital mearument, we've been working hard to get pubilshers/channels to move to cost per thousand visual impressions (CPVM,) over CPM impressions. Gross impressions are an indication of channel strength, cost per visual impression gives us measrable data to gage layout, headline and content.


  2. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, May 17, 2015 at 3:04 p.m.

    So many "truths" make me wonder.

    I wonder about the sanity of an industry that actually thinks that 50% of the pixels for 1 second is useful.

    I wonder about the intelligence of the people who "approved" this standard.

    I wonder about the honesty of the media outlets.

    There is only one "truth". For an average Joe (or Jane), seeing 50% of the pixels for 1 second is useless. There is no sales message. No impact. No persuasion.

    I guess the IAB and others will now take on the age-old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 17, 2015 at 5:44 p.m.

    @Marcelo, Agreed but while we're questionning the sanity of the media industry about digital "viewability" standards don't forget that a lot of people think that a meter-based system can measure whether people are "viewing" TV content on a second by second basis, including the commercials. Many dollars have already been spent pouring over such "data" to seek insights. As Puck once said, "What fools these mortals be."

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