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Viewability as a Currency – We’re Almost There ... but Not Quite Yet!

A few months ago, the Media Rating Council sent out a press release announcing that it is lifting its advisory on measuring viewability for digital display and online video. The topic of viewability and using it as a currency is an extremely hot topic among advertisers and agencies. As such, media partners and technology platforms are in a race to accommodate the marketplace demands. 

In the last year, the MRC and IAB issued best practices guidelines for viewability. As these entities continue working on technical requirements to enable verification companies and media partners to forecast, measure, and optimize based on the viewability of ads, they are actively encouraging media partners to adapt to iframes via "SafeFrames." On the IAB website, it defines SafeFrame as “a managed API-enabled iframe that opens a line of communication between publisher page content and the iframe-contained external content, such as ads. Because of this line of communication, content served into a SafeFrame is afforded data collection and rich interaction, such as ad expansion, that is unavailable in a standard iframe.” In order for the industry to rely on viewability statistics reported by the ad verification systems, media partners need to adopt and integrate the use of SafeFrames into their ad servers, inventory management systems, and reporting platforms.

When considering viewability metrics as a currency, it is likely that there will be discrepancies between an advertiser/agency’s ad server systems and the media partners. This is no different than how the industry looks at standard impression and click counts between display ads now. MRC has identified the following reasons why discrepancies in viewability metrics may exist among measurers:

  1. Granularity of measurements: Measurers may make viewability determinations based on sub-second “snapshots” of different lengths, and these differences can result in counting discrepancies among measurers.
  2. Non-rendered served ads: MRC has determined that served ads measured using a “Count on Decision” methodology, which is a method in which the count occurs relatively early in the ad serving process, often do not actually render on the user’s screen in today’s online environment.
    • MRC intends to work with IAB later this year to revise the measurement guidelines for counting served ad impressions to eliminate Count on Decision as a recognized legitimate client-side counting approach. It will encourage measurers who use Count on Decision methodologies to migrate at the earliest possible time to an accepted client-side served ad counting approach in which the count occurs later in the process.
  3. Order of processing and processes applied: MRC has specified that the order in which the viewability thresholds should be applied when determining whether an impression is viewable is: 1) Space: determine that the 50% pixel threshold is met; then 2) Time: determine that the continuous second threshold is met. Application of ad verification procedures (and audience measurement) also can affect viewable impression counts.
  4. Ad versus ad container measurement: Viewability measurers may differ on whether they measure the ad itself or the ad container (i.e., the iframe) in which the ad appears. While measurement of the ad itself is generally preferable, both approaches are acceptable.
  5. Out-of-focus conditions: Differences in how viewability measurers account for ads that may be in the viewable space of a browser window, but are in an out of focus browser tab can result in differences viewable impressions counts. MRC has specified that measurers should segregate such out-of-tab-focus ads from their viewable impression counts, and will allow accredited measurers a limited amount of time to adapt their systems to be able to distinguish these if they do not currently have that capability.
  6. Human error: Throughout past years, the primary reason for discrepancies in served impression counts was human error in operational areas such as campaign setup or ad trafficking. Similarly, human error in viewability tagging or other operational processes can result in discrepancies in viewable impression counts.

As we consider viewability as a "currency" for our digital buys, advertisers and agencies need to take into account the following considerations:

  1. Media partners currently have very limited technology tools to forecast inventory against viewability. Such forecasting allows them to only serve ads when they’re viewable and auto-optimize campaigns based on viewability. Although there are some vendors out there that are able to do this, a good majority of media partners have yet to adopt this technology.
  2. Programmatic platforms have started to integrate pre-bid viewability; however, this may limit the amount of inventory available.
  3. With viewable impressions, limited inventory may lead to increased CPM rates in the marketplace. Demand for only viewable impressions will most likely reduce the amount of “true” ads a media partner has available. As such, competing buyers will be vying for a reduced inventory availability pool.
  4. Additional resources and responsibilities are needed to actively monitor, actualize, and resolve discrepancies based on viewable statistics.
  5. Currently, there is a gap in “contracting” and reporting viewability stats within our industry’s buying and reporting platforms, preventing advertisers and agencies from contracting and actualizing cost based on viewability. While many ad server companies have begun to provide this level of transparency in their UIs, systems are not yet equipped to report and reconcile the information easily.
  6. As the industry continues to evolve digital currency, we need to determine an easier way to audit, actualize, and report delivery that includes multiple buying variables (including ad verification, audience measurement and viewability).
  7. Additional fees may be incurred depending on the technology vendor used for viewability measurement. Similar to ad verification, media buyers may be able to negotiate for media partners to cover viewability fees. However, the cost can be quite prohibitive and it may not be in the best interest of the media partner to cover such costs.

As the industry continues to evolve viewability, technology vendors that provide these services are working with the IAB and MRC to figure out a solution that will enable media partners the ability to forecast inventory and only serve when an ad is viewable and/or meets the advertiser’s audience criteria. Only then can we truly start using viewability as a currency without too many "Band-Aid" processes.

Even though the advisory has been lifted, there are still barriers that may make it difficult to transact on. Advertisers and agencies should continue to recommend and purchase media that enables us to have more transparency on where we place our clients’ ads, and strive to make media partners accountable. However, it is recommended that teams collaborate closely with their analytics and ad ops teams to develop a process and solution to address viewability and ad verification, ensuring that there’s a seamless process to report and reconcile the data easily.

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