To Grow Up, Ad Tech Must Learn To Rethink Viewability

Nowhere is the need for ad tech's maturation more clear than with viewability, one of the key metrics for all stakeholders in our ecosystem. In fact, some in the industry still insist that publishers and brands deliver 100% of impressions, 100% in view, 100% of the time." Before we can even discuss “flawless viewability,” we need to change the way we define the concept. To do this, we’d do well to consider three areas in which progress is sorely needed.

Improve Measurement Accuracy

In every campaign I’ve seen where third-party verification companies track ads for viewability, there has never been an instance where all impressions were measurable and thus verifiable. The impressions may well be viewable, but if the technology can’t measure it, then no one knows. Anywhere from 20% to 50% of campaign impressions can’t be measured for viewability. The digital advertising industry has grown much faster than the technology needed to accurately measure its delivery.

Take, for example, the way that we process video ad requests—most of which are more than a simple video file. Displaying video often requires iframes. These iframes can become embedded in other iframes, a reality that is the result of the ‘daisy-chain’ effect of our RTB connected ecosystem. The obvious problem here is one of attribution and measurement. How is an iframe embedded in another iframe measured when multiple inventory sources are at play?

Moreover, even in cases where different certified viewability vendors measure the same inventory, results may vary. A site can be measured by three different third-party vendors on behalf of three different client campaigns. Even though all three third-party vendors are certified to measure viewability, they can each report drastically different results

Before we talk about absolute viewability, we must first develop the tools to measure viewability accurately. 

Reconsider Who Is Responsible

Publishers are ultimately responsible for providing the human traffic that is of value to marketers.  And while all of this is true, these points about publisher responsibility relate more closely to discussions of fraud then they do viewability. That’s because viewability is a different beast. And if we’re being honest, responsibility for achieving viewability is distributed between publisher and marketer.

The varying responsibilities can easily be understood when we consider the current Media Rating Council (MRC) standards for viewability:

· Video advertisement must be at least 50% in view: Of the current standards, this is clearly the one publishers must account for. If a video ad is played on a part of the page a consumer can’t even see—for example, below the fold—this is a disservice to marketers whose message isn’t being viewed by users.

· Video must be played for at least two seconds:This type of engagement can’t be a publisher’s sole responsibility. Content must be attractive enough for consumers to stay through the ad. And marketers, on their end, need to do more than port 30-second television spots into online video.

· Video ad must be playing on an active tab:We’ve all done it. You go to watch the latest “Daily Show” clip, and when a 30-second ad pops up before enjoying the comedy, you immediately open another tab until Jon Stewart comes on. This is a user behavior that neither marketer nor publisher can control; both have to be taken into account. 

What, then, to do about our standards? Marketers and publishers need to work more closely together to make sure a viewability standard is assessed by efforts on both sides. Marketers could also pare down their definition of viewability to actions that can be controlled by publishers. Otherwise, the current standard will leave both sides exhausted, and unable to secure 100% viewability.

Augment The Current Standard

There is, however, another option.

The industry can agree that the current standard is not working for either publishers or advertisers. My proposal: implement a new standard by which 100% of ad pixels must be in view at the time of ad load. Advertisers can be assured there is the opportunity for their (entire) ad to be seen, while eliminating the behavioral aspects of the two seconds and the active tab requirements, effectively alleviating the need for publishers to control user behavior.

Only then will the industry have a chance of transacting at the dream of 100% viewability instead of the IAB recommended 70%.

5 comments about "To Grow Up, Ad Tech Must Learn To Rethink Viewability".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 5, 2015 at 9:55 a.m.

    Eric, you make a fair point but I am a bit confused. In the case of a 15-second video ad, are you saying that 100% of the pixels of its first frame must be on screen? If so, how do we know what happens next? If your answer is that advertisers must fashion better ads in order to hold the user's attention, they all know that and try their best so this is not an acceptable answer----- many product categories as well as specific campaigns are simply less interesting to viewers than others.

    In TV, each advertiser has the same chance to have an ad seen---100% visibility---even if some ads generate much higher viewership and ad recall/ sales motivation than others. That's what they want from digital---equal opportunity.

  2. Steve Baldwin from Didit, August 5, 2015 at 5:15 p.m.

    I dislike video ads and either drag the window off the screen or put it behind something else. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

    I also MUTE the audio on any video ads and often keep this on if I'm going to a site where this sneaky stuff goes on. This is just to avoid any surprises (the audio on these ads is often very loud; I do this to protect my speakers as well as avoid annoyance).

    Here's my question: have any studies ever been done on HEARABILITY - i.e. the percentage of ads that play where the audio has been disabled? Perhaps I'm the only one who mutes the audio when I'm in ad land. But I'd like to have this claim backed up by some real actionable data.

  3. Eric Bozinny from YuMe, August 7, 2015 at 4:55 p.m.

    Hi Ed, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    The goal of the viewability standard is to press the advantage of digital in its ability to measure much more than is possible for a television ad. However, my point is that if the marketplace decides to link a viewability standard to payment of the ad impressions, the standard needs to be redefined as not to punish the supplier for actions outside of its control.

    In your example about TV, I would argue that not all ads have a 100% chance of being seen. Viewers can leave the room, mute the sound, change the channel. However, what is provided is the *opportunity* to be seen. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether to watch or not. The current standard is defined such that even if a supplier shows a fully visible ad to a user, they bear all the risk of what the user decides to do (switch tabs, close the page, etc.). I don’t mind if advertisers want to transact on a tougher standard (like the current one, which takes control from the supplier the ability to optimize and improve ‘the opportunity to see’), but I feel that should be something the advertiser must be willing to pay more for.

    The current standard is, by definition, the minimum by which an impression is deemed to be viewable (and thus, implicitly, valuable). A streamlined definition as I’ve outlined would provide a baseline to TV, and metrics exist today which will tell advertisers how many times users watched the entire ad.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 7, 2015 at 5:46 p.m.

    Eric, I believe that we have a fundamental difference of opinion regarding what's viewable and what isn't. Which is fine. What a boring world it would be if everyone agreed about everything. As for digital advertisers having to pay more---higher CPMs----if they want users to have a fair opportunity to see their ads---especially video ads----that's also fine. The problem is that if digital video's "viewable" CPMs rise to three or four times those of TV---and, by TV, I mean the average for the whole medium, not just the highest priced broadcast network primetime and sports fare----then there may be a problem convincing branding advvertisers to divert large amounts of their "linear TV " spending to digital.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 7, 2015 at 6:04 p.m.

    Typo alert; yep, I did it again. I meant "advertisers" not "advvertisers" in the last sentance, above. Curses.

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