While I agree that viewability is important, I feel that this is a misplaced concern for a number of reasons.
First of all, as long as advertisers are eager to buy inexpensive inventory, viewability will continue to be an issue. If you buy cheap remnant inventory for your 300x250 banner ads, you simply can’t expect that a lot of those slots will be viewable.
Second, demanding higher viewability will simply drive up overall prices. Even if you could get publishers to agree that they will guarantee a certain viewability rate, the only way they will be able to survive is to charge enough for those viewable ads, so that they can afford not to charge you for ads that are not viewable. At the same time, DSPs and other ad-tech providers will need to absorb the cost of developing the technologies and business processes that are needed to measure, track and adjust for viewability. How do you suppose they will make up the cost of adding these capabilities?
Third, I feel that much of the brouhaha about viewability is just a decoy to keep us from thinking about a much bigger problem, which is that digital advertising generally sucks. Depending on how you look at it, industry-wide click-through rates (CTRs) for display ads hover around 0.1%. Let’s pause for a second to understand what this means: for every 1,000 ad impressions delivered, only one of them leads to a click.
Let’s now assume that, roughly, viewability rates are around 50%. That means if we could guarantee 100% viewability, the average CTRs should double – up to a whopping 0.2%. That would still mean that, even accounting for viewability, only two of every 1,000 impressions led to a click.
What happened to the remaining 998?
When you look at it in isolation, it sounds terrible: Half of all the ads you pay for are never even seen. However, to me this concern pales in comparison to the observation that 99.8% of viewable ads are never clicked. To me, blaming viewability is a bit like being a concert organizer, finding out that 99.8% of the people who come to your shows hate them, and blaming it on the fact that the venues for your concerts have fewer seats than they had advertised.
Ultimately, advertisers, publishers, and the entire advertising ecosystem need to address the real problem: We are flooding the Internet with largely useless, irrelevant and often annoying advertising, treating users as if they all they are doing is looking for the next place to spend their hard-earned money.
But because figuring out the real problems is hard, we all fall back on blaming things we can touch and measure, like viewability.
Viewability is being used a bit like the Bogeyman: a vaguely defined, terrifying creature that will come after children who are misbehaving. Think about the main players who have been fueling this fire: Google has been leading the pack with its reports on viewability, while several ad-tech companies have jumped on the bandwagon, touting their efforts to improve measurement or enforcement of viewability. For Google, there is no better way to promote its own services (and in particular video ads) than to point out just how bad their competition is. For the growing number of ad-tech companies, this is a great way to expand their arsenal, gain competitive advantage, and increase the price of their services.
So, while advertisers and publishers run around in the dark waiting to be rescued from the Bogeyman, these players are laughing all the way to the bank.