Video Audience Measurement Is More Broken Than You Think

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

There has been a lot of debate over the years regarding consumer audience measurement across platforms, across providers, across different types of video, etc. The ARF just concluded its annual AUDIENCExSCIENCE 2024 conference. Unsurprisingly, about 50% of presentation titles included the letters A and I. But many presentation titles also referenced how measurement works or could work across platforms, audiences, creative formats, etc.

Our industry clearly is concerned about the fragmentation of the delivery of messages and absence – mostly – of any kind of coherent measurement approaches that solve for it. That was consistent across the many topics presented this year. And last year, and five years ago. And I agree that it is a vexing and real challenge.

In the olden days (“Come, children, Grampa explains”), Nielsen measured our viewing behavior with a panel of households who had the Nielsen box. The box captured what channel the TV was tuned to, and for how long (in 15-minute blocks). The panel recorded, in a written diary, who was watching.



Sure, there were problems with the system. Were people faithfully recording how they “really” watched TV in those diaries? Are 15-minute intervals representative for commercial breaks? When cable came along and created the first wave of fragmentation, people questioned if there were enough households in the panel to capture what people viewed.  And how about zapping behavior during ad breaks? And so on.

But in today’s world, we know EXACTLY where people watched something. We just can’t combine the metrics together to figure out the totality of their viewing behavior. And… what defines “viewed” is a super-low threshold that I would call almost meaningless.

In order to view something, the ad needs to be viewable. In the old TV era, there was no question about this. TV ads were always viewable. But in the current environment, “viewability” needed a definition.

According to the Media Ratings Councils viewability guidelines, for a video ad to be considered viewable, it must meet the following criteria: At least 50% of the video player must be visible on the viewable space of the browser window. For video ads shorter than 30 seconds, the ad must be played for at least 2 continuous seconds. For video ads 30 seconds or longer, the ad must be played for at least 50% of its total duration, with no less than 2 continuous seconds. The audio component of the video ad must be initiated and played for the duration required for viewability.

The main thing is the 2-second rule. If it passes the 2-second threshold, it is considered “viewable. But is it?

I would like you to consider your own viewing behavior. If you can skip an ad, do you? You would still be considered in the “viewable” category if you do, because most ads are only skippable after five seconds. If you can fast-forward, do you? Do you mute during the ad breaks? Do you grab your phone during ad breaks?

And of course, ad fraud, such as bot traffic and impression laundering, can artificially inflate viewability metrics, leading to inaccurate reporting and wasted ad spend.

So next time you review your media buy, consider the reality of the numbers you are looking at. In my mind, they are probably nothing more than an approximation of an inflated, unduplicated reality. In that sense, the old Nielsen TV world was a lot more precise.

2 comments about "Video Audience Measurement Is More Broken Than You Think".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 12, 2024 at 10:13 a.m.

    Maarten, I differ with you regarding what we know today about the audience---the TV audience, specifically. All we know is that a particular device displayed program or ad content on its screen at a given point in time. Far too many equate that with "viewing"--which is sometimes true but often isn't.

    What's missing, before we attend to other issues, is fixing this glaring gap in our knowledge. The only way to do that is by some sort of observational methodology---not by assuming that it happened when there are slight electronic manifistations that can be detected or the very rare clickthroughs. Worse, when a TV set is involved--which is how most TV ads are exposed---- about 40-45% of the time two or more people are "watching" the prorgam content. Who are they---and who is the solitary viewer when the household has three residents? I'm speaking about the commercials, which, typically, are avoided  by about two -thirds of the program viewers.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, May 13, 2024 at 7:30 p.m.

    Maarten, the statement "But in today’s world, we know EXACTLY where people watched something." is a very bold claim.   Opting in is a signal of intent but it does not GUARANTEE that they watched.   They may have watched all, some of, or just a glimpse.   With the 2-second threshold passed most data I see relies on two-seconds and put it in the "watched" category.   Data I am seeing in AU that is reported across a month shows that for many sites the average daily viewing number is lower than the average ad.

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