Online publishers have been struggling to define and quantify for advertisers the true value of their content for about as long as I have been covering the business (since 1996 or so). In the last
few years, time spent at a media brand’s site has emerged as a metric publishers have been trying to peddle to the media-buying crowd, at least as an indication of users' overall engagement with
It seems to have been a hard row to hoe. Overwhelmed by click-bait farms and socially driven side-door traffic, a lot of online ad volume seems to course through sites cluttering themselves with as many exchange ads as they can muster. Legacy media have not made a strong, quantified case that their prestige content environments really do impact ad effectiveness.
Financial Times is trying to put a metric on quality of environment, audience and content in a newly launched “cost per hour” model that prices advertising according to time spent with fully viewable ads. Initially tested with 10 advertisers last fall (including BP, IGM and iShares), the scheme guarantees five seconds of 100% viewability to an impression. The time exposed to an ad or campaign can be calculated across the campaign for an hourly rate. FT is partnering with Chartbeat on the project.
Clearly, introducing the time parameter addresses concerns about viewability. In fact, you could argue that publishers might see in the heightened concern about viewability in the last two years an opportunity to make the argument for metrics that value context and time. The emerging standard for what constitutes a viewable unit seems to open the door to a deeper discussion between advertisers and publishers about the role of attention and its duration in ad impact.
The time metric inherently favors content quality, a measure that publishers have been (or should have been) craving. It rewards publishers who have content that engages users more deeply and consistently. FT says that this approach also helps publishers optimize their inventory against engagement, not clicks. It has been able to use the data cast off from these campaigns to serve inventory into higher-time spots and decrease the overall inventory needed to satisfy a campaign.
For the advertiser, FT contends that the same ad spend will actually yield a better eCPH under the new model than under a typical CPM approach. “Throughout beta-testing, the Financial Times has been able to deliver a minimum of 20% extra time in an average of 12% fewer impressions,” the company says in an accompanying white paper. For math nerds and ad ops folks who want to get into the thick of how FT calculated CPH pricing, this document lays it out.
FT says it has numbers to show that time does correlate with effectiveness, claiming a 50% lift in brand recall on ads that are seen for at least five seconds. The publisher is still working on metrics that show correlation of time spent to clicks and lead gen.
Publishers have been trying to change the conversation about online metrics for over a decade now, but they do so in a buyers’ market. FT says that it is working with other publishers to try to proliferate the CPH metric elsewhere.
Intellectually, we all understand that in an "attention economy,” time spent should count more than just the raw number of distractions. But that never stopped us from spending a decade counting clicks.