Usually you can rely on the figures to say quite the opposite. But the latest announcement from Meetrics is that viewability has hit a three-and-a-half-year high. It's the first time the figures have gone up in the UK for three quarters in a row.
It means that viewability rose in the final quarter of 2017 from 52% to 56% for banner ads. Meetrics makes the point that this is all the more impressive because the bumper Christmas advertising market means that viewability usually goes down, not up.
This is usually the part of an article where a UK journalist rolls out the names of markets we are lagging behind -- but actually we have now shot past Germany, Switzerland and Poland. To add a little sobriety to the discussion, the UK is still a fair distance behind Austria (67%) which leads the way followed by Italy (63%), France (62%) and Sweden (61%). But let's not forget that Germany has outperformed the UK for many years, and we are now narrowly ahead.
The big question, of course, is why?
I asked the guys at Meetrics this because it is clear that programmatic has not gone anywhere. It's usually given as the reason why ads receive poor placements. When machines buy spots from machines, there is a greater chance, compared to direct buying, that the units will appear below the fold.
There is also the issue of long mobile pages, which mean it is hard to have more than 50% of an ad's pixels when advertiser buys a page takeover or deploys massive skyscrapers at both sides of the page.
The answer from Meetrics is simple. Media buyers and publishers have risen to the challenge. Viewability has become such a massive issue that things could not be allowed to deteriorate further. Hence, publishers are making sure that attention is being given to units that are more likely to be viewable. At the same time, media buyers are putting a lot of effort into buying the best quality units.
So, the focus has been shifted firmly to improving ad placement quality because telling a brand fewer than half of the ads they have bought were seen by a human is not a comfortable conversation to have.
Despite protestations about programmatic and long mobile pages, UK media agencies and publishers have shown that a greater focus on quality can pay off.
All eyes will now be on the first-quarter 2018 results because there would have almost certainly been downward pressure on viewability at Christmas as ad volumes surge. Could we be knocking on the door of 60%? Such talk was unthinkable a year ago, but it's looking possible now. That's good news for the entire UK digital advertising ecosystem.