Earlier this year, viewability was just 47%. After rising to 51% mid-year, it has now finished the third quarter at 52%. OK -- so the needle moving in the right direction for two quarters in a row can only be good news. The big issue is, how on earth can we celebrate a near 50:50 chance of a banner ad having the chance to be seen? We can't really, can we? The issue is on a plateau, and seeing a slight rise in the industry's favour -- but any sales pitch that says only 52% of your investment will be seen isn't built on particularly solid ground.
Put it this way. The UK is dragging behind the rest of Europe. Italy and Austria are way out ahead with 68% and 67%, respectively. France and Germany sit in between the UK and these leaders with viewability rates of 59% and 58%, respectively.
Now, we might get a better idea of what's going on here through remembering that the rates that Germany is seeing right now, were nearly where the UK was just a little over 18 months ago. In first-quarter 2016, UK viewability was 54%. Clearly, something has happened since then. It's normal, at the moment, to see viewability as an issue with small mobile screens as well as the large takeover ads that are seen on the desktop. Larger ads and smaller screens add up to greater difficulty in delivering 50% of an ad's pixels for a full second -- the IAB standard.
However, these are banners we are talking about here. They should be the easiest to ensure that they will arrive at the top of the page before any scrolling makes them shoot out of view. So it's unlikely that mobile and larger ads are to blame here.
Interestingly, Meetrics -- the company behind the research -- points to programmatic. It's a pretty obvious candidate, when you think about it. The more automated buying becomes, the more chance there is for quality and viewability to drop. So the UK is the most advanced when it comes to machines buying ads from other machines, and so viewability drops.
However, it's worth noting that Austria and Italy are up the top of the tree here. They also have programmatic, although obviously not at the adoption rate of the UK, but the people at Meetrics point out that both countries are stricter on viewability being built in to contracts with Italian advertisers insisting only on payment terms built around viewability rates.
The same Meetrics researchers believe that the last two quarters of UK viewability growth have been attributable to advertisers and agencies taking a much firmer line around paying for quality, viewable ads.
So you can blame the technology all you want, and you can point the finger at screen and ad size -- but ultimately, this comes down to advertisers insisting on a better deal. Paying for what you receive is standard in the leading EU countries for viewability, and so it seems strange it is not more commonplace in the UK.
When you look at what has pushed the viewability figure back over the 50:50 mark in the UK, it appears to be agencies and advertisers pushing back on networks and publishers. Surely this demonstrates that this is the way to improve further. It also shows that brands are learning to flex their muscle, which can only be a good thing.
Accepting ads that don't appear because of a wonderful thing called "progress" has been called out. There can be no going back.