Second Thoughts On Viewability: The Viewer's

A year after Madison Avenue began applying industry standards for defining the viewability of digital ads, plenty of views have emerged on the subject. But until now, none of them have represented the point of view of the most important stakeholder: the people who are supposed to look at those ads. To understand the perceptions of digital media users, media planning and buying software developer Strata fielded a consumer survey and found that when it comes to digital video, viewability is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

The industry standard for online video ads is that at least 50% of the ad has to be viewable for two seconds for a viewer to be able to see it. According to two out of five consumers, no amount of time mattered, because they simply skip video before they can even recognize the brand or product being advertised.



Among consumers who say they don’t skip online video ads, three-quarters said they need at least three seconds for them to be viewable -- a duration that is 50% greater than the standard recommended by the Media Rating Council and adopted by Madison Avenue.

While the Strata study -- based on a poll of 654 online users 18 or older -- simply represents consumer perceptions of their own perceptions, it could give some advertisers second thoughts, coming at a time when billions of dollars worth of advertising could be put at risk over seconds of digital exposure.

Or as Strata’s report concludes: “The advertising industry’s definition of an online video ‘view’ does not allow enough time for three-quarters of viewers to identify the brand or product being sold.”

The MRC’s two-second guideline was never meant to be a measure of actual consumer perception, but was recommended as a minimum threshold in order for a viewer to have an opportunity to even see it.

“We arrived at the two-second threshold included in the viewability guidelines after extensive study of hundreds of millions of data points in various environments and contexts,” explains the MRC’s David Gunzerath, adding: “This allowed us to identify norms for when individuals begin to recognize and act upon digital video ads, things that can only occur subsequent to the establishment of the opportunity to see the ad.”

Whether people can or cannot actually see them may be a subject of perceptual debate, but it is something that can be measured scientifically utilizing biometric techniques including eye-tracking and neuromarketing methods. According to several leading measurement services contacted by MediaPost Weekend, their data supports the two-second rule.

Virool, a video ad tech firm, recently integrated facial tracking technology from RealEyes to its platform. The technology has only been in place for several months, but Virool tells MediaPost that after measuring “thousands” of sessions, the technology “shows emotions are quite neutral for the first [roughly] four seconds of a video, and really start to kick in between four to six seconds.”

RealEyes itself has actually put a value on those crucial first moments of a video advertisement. The first eight seconds of the video, per RealEyes’ CEO Mihkel Jäätma, are responsible for 20% of the overall performance of the video ad. RealEyes measures performance via social engagements, such as likes, shares, tweets, etc.

But as MediaPost asked more companies for the magic number -- “How long, on average, does a video ad need to stick with the consumer?” -- it got more answers.

Affectiva, another emotional tracking firm, said, “Some physiological responses happen at the order of one to three seconds,” before hedging that statement by adding, “but they can be longer than that.”

On the other end of the spectrum, eye-tracking and emotional tracking firm Sticky analyzed an AT&T video ad campaign for MediaPost and said that after nine seconds the emotions of joy and surprise “went through the roof.”

Jeff Bander, president and CRO of, said: “Some videos are serious, some are meant to scare, others to make a person feel good. [There’s] no set time [for emotions to kick in].”

Lijo Joseph, senior director of performance media at Beeby Clark+Meyler, said that the agency tries “whenever possible” to get the brand within the first five seconds of the video ad via overlays or within the video asset, “especially when we run skippable videos on YouTube.”

One to three seconds. Four seconds. Five seconds. Eight seconds, nine seconds — you name it. “There is not set time,” to quote Bader.

And that’s the point. Viewability, as defined by the MRC, is not meant to set a time for video advertisements to be effective. It is meant to set a time for video advertisements to at least have a chance to be effective. The industry needs to understand this before it can move forward in earnest.

The Strata survey brought to light this important discussion. And while that discussion appears to revolve around an existential question — i.e. “should the viewability standard be changed?” — it’s rooted in something more important: “What is the balance of art and science?”

The science has concluded that a video advertisement needs at least two seconds to even have a chance to make an impact. The “art,” as art is wont to be, is open to interpretation.

Next story loading loading..