Viewability Holds Up As Programmatic Goes Up

The first-half figures for global display and video viewability are in -- and as far as the UK goes, it's a familiar story of not being the worst, but also not being anywhere near the best.

The global picture, comparing first-half 2017 with 2016, shows that display is treading water with an average global viewabiilty improvement of just 0.6%. The news is far better with video -- it's up 4%. The WFA is attributing this to shift in advertising budget to premium sites that have a record of delivering higher rates of viewability.

At the top of the display league table we have Sweden with a 52% average viewability performance across all devices. Russia comes last with just 32%. In video, the familiar name of Austria is top of the table with 72% -- the country is typically the leader or very close to being leader in most viewability research studies. At the bottom of the pile for video we have Indonesia, with just 35%.

Firmly in the middle we have the UK with an average display viewability of 47% of ads served and 56% of video ads.

It's easy to look at this and ask the question that everyone is probably wondering. How can the UK be the top European marketing digital marketing and yet still languish in the middle of a global viewability league table?

Ironically, the answer is almost certainly in the question. Nearly four in every five pounds spent in UK digital display is programmatic. Against this rapid rise, just treading water and maintaining position is an OK performance for the UK because the march of programmatic means more display and video ad units are being traded by automated machines and that is where downward pressure can be inadvertently placed on viewability.

In direct buys, you can imagine the metrics you would typically look for in a campaign will be higher because there is a direct relationship rather than a bunch of pre-programmed computers bidding in nanoseconds to secure the right kind of spot. As programmatic's share of spend rises, it is testament to the improving technology that viewability is being maintained rather than dragged down.

As the WFA says about video shooting up 4% globally, a move toward premium content is potentially a reason how an increase in programmatic is not leading to a decrease in viewability.

As an Integral Ad Science report earlier this week revealed, programmatic has closed the gap on direct buys in terms of brand safety and fraud. Direct is slightly safer, but only marginally so. There is still a significant gap -- of around 8% -- between direct buys and programmatic in viewability, in favour of going direct. 

It's likely that this will be the toughest gap for programmatic to bridge. Premium sites that offer best viewability can be picked out, but viewability relies on what the customer does as much as anything else -- particularly with today's longer ad formats that require scrolling to uncover more than 50% of the ad's pixels. Brand safety and fraud is something that the technology can make a call on before deciding to bid, and that's why it's significantly closer to direct buys. Viewability is a much harder call.

It's worth remembering that the WFA figures are for the first half of 2017 and the figures may have improved in the UK. It's also worth bearing in mind that crucial point. As programmatic increases, just treading water on viewability is not a bad performance in itself. 

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