Is Viewability The Price Of Programmatic And Mobile Leadership?

Only in the London adland scene could there be jubilation that the pendulum has swung mildly toward value for money. Brace yourself for the announcement. Just 49% of UK display ads are unviewable, meaning that for the first time in just over a year, slightly more ads have a chance of being seen than those that don't.

The proportion? Well, it's hardly anything to write home about about but Meetrics, well-known for its viewability studies, now says that in the second quarter of this year 51% of UK display ads were deemed viewable. As a reminder, this means that half of an ads pixels were on screen for a second. After three consecutive quarters of the proportion of viewable ads declining, it may be some cause for celebration, although we're still slightly down on first-quarter 2016 when 54% of ads were viewable. 

This still puts the UK way below its European partners. In Germany viewability is running at 57%, it's 58% in France and a whopping 69% in Austria.

Interestingly, we get a steer on what could be behind the UK's near 50:50 chance of an advertising getting its message seen through a break down of programmatic buying versus direct. As you would imagine, direct is more reliable, with a 59% viewability figure, compared to 52% for programmatic. As a matter of interest, Meetrics worked out that just over two in three video ads -- 69% -- are deemed viewable (half an ad's pixels on screen for two seconds).

So programmatic is clearly having an impact here. The UK leads in machine buying of ads, and so it will come as no surprise that opening up campaigns to computerised buying through a variety of advertising networks is going to be less reliable than more expensive direct buys.

However, there is another issue here -- and it's something that's come up when I've talked with Meetrics in the past but rarely gets a mention -- mobile. 

We're now in a mobile-first media landscape in the UK, while our European partners are getting there. That means we have the first view of what that looks like, and increasingly it's all about long pages people can thumb up and down rather to avoid clicking through multiple menus. That means pages are long. The second point is that a lot of publishers are trying to simplify advertising spots by offering page take overs and underlays. 

The problem with this is that, of course, when you have a page that is at least twice the size of the mobile screen, it's hard to get beyond 50% of the pixels in view. 

So, there you have it -- in my opinion, the reason why the UK leads in unviewable display. It's the biggest digital advertising market within the EU, and it is a leader in both programmatic and mobile. Both of these being with them compromises on viewability and so to lead in both is only ever going to see a dip in viewability. 

There is the obvious question around what can be done to improve it, but just as important is the need for advertisers to measure viewability and ask for compensation. At the moment it is said to be a mixed bag of brands that measure and that don't, and so it's believed that those asking for refunds are in the minority.

Of course, it's a shame because compensation is always after the fact. Digital marketers would far rather have the bang for the buck as they spend it because the campaign might well be about a specific time-limited event that cannot be rescued a month of two later when an Excel sheet is poured over.

But if, right now, you want a best guess on why the UK is doing so poorly in viewability, I'd look no further than programmatic and the elongated pages of a mobile browsing.

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