Viewability Hits A Record High -- Should We Be Bothered?

Happy St George's Day, that annual festival of people reminding friends with memes across social media that George wasn't English, never came to England and certainly never killed a dragon.

It's a moment where you can stop and think or just think "what the heck" and raise a glass. It's a bit like that with viewability. 

On the one hand, we have a report from Meetrics this morning revealing that it is at a record high. On the other, we have research from publishing ad-tech firm Sovrn that suggests it is overrated as a metric and can mean advertisers forget about below-the-fold ads that can have nine times more engagement than those above.

First the metrics from Meetrics. UK banner viewability is up in first-quarter 2018 from 56% to 59%. It's good news for advertisers and shows the continuing trend to focus on premium content is paying dividends. As ever, however, we always need to point out Austria is still way ahead, on 71%, with Sweden, Italy and German in the mid 60s and with France just ahead of the UK at 60%.



That puts the UK in fifth place in the EU, and this mediocre performance is often attributed to programmatic being more mature here. Hence, there is a move within programmatic circles to focus on familiar, premium publishers with good track records on viewability. 

So as near as darn it, six in ten banners are viewable in the UK -- a market where a 50:50 performance, or worse, was the norm until recently.

However, just consider this. Sovrn is saying viewability is relied upon too much as a metric steering budget holders where to invest. The problem is, this leads to premium websites being hotly contested while many others in the longer tail of content can be left behind. The theory is that these sites are often the hobbyist and specialist publishers, rather than the national newspapers and major magazines. That means advertisers end up going for generalist interest, rather than focussed, more lean-forward hobbyist interest. 

Sovrn's research suggests that many viewable banners may well be in windows that are opened but never viewed or on pages that are immediately navigated away from. 

However, an ad below the fold has become viewable because a reader is interested in the page's content and so is far more engaged. Hence the figure of nine times better engaged.

It's a tough one. It's hard to quantify engagement, although Sovrn has given it a very good go. It's also hard to know whether those more engaged readers did something with that engagement to make up for potentially more people seeing an ad above the fold. 

The point that viewability is not the beginning and end of the discussion is valid and it might remind some advertisers that non-premium sites may still have a lot to offer, even if that doesn't include a viewability performance that is up there with the premium guys. 

Personally, regardless of the merit of either way of thinking, I can't see advertisers moving away from the very simple premise that they want to maximise their chances of having inventory seen. It's a gut feeling, but I can't see budget holders accepting anything other than spending on campaigns that have the best chance of being seen.

To have a chance of any kind of engagement an ad has to be viewable and then viewed. As the F1 teams always say you can do whatever you want in a race but if you don't cross the line, it's all for nothing. Or, as the mantra goes, "To finish first, first finish."

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