Back in 2011, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau came together to form Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS). Its first priority: Moving to a viewable impressions standard.
The industry had recognized the importance of measuring how frequently an online ad has the opportunity to be seen, not just how often it's served. 3MS enlisted the help of the nonprofit Media Rating Council (MRC), which sets standards for measurement of media and conducts audits to verify compliance with them.
So what's changed over the past five years? A lot. Here are six things you need to know about viewability:
1. There's a Desktop Viewability Standard
The MRC guidelines call for desktop display ads to be considered viewable if 50% of pixels are in view for at least one second. For display ads with 242,500 pixels or more, 30% of pixels must be in view for at least one second. For desktop video ads, 50% of pixels must be in view for at least two seconds. Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with the parameters. The global ad-buying firm GroupM, for example, prefers a more stringent standard for all measurable impressions on any platform.
2. A Mobile Viewability Standard is Still in the Works
MRC issued interim guidance for mobile last May and expects to release a draft for public comment by the end of March. In the meantime, the group is studying issues like viewers' cognition of content and ads on mobile devices as well as the time it takes ads to render on them.
3. Implementation of Viewability Remains a Work in Process
Though discrepancy issues overall have been declining, there are still reporting differences among measurers, even those accredited by the MRC. The nonprofit's goal is to reduce measurement variances between vendors to 10% or less.
4. Viewability has Limitations
The metric tells advertisers an ad had the opportunity to be seen, but it doesn't reveal anything about an ad's effectiveness or how a user engaged with it. Likewise, viewable impression rates likely don't matter to advertisers who only want to pay for an action, like a click, says George Ivie, CEO of the MRC.
5. Many Factors Drive Viewable Impression Rates
According to Ivie, they include: placement of the ad on the page; user behavior including scrolling, "back-outs" and "x-outs"; latency in the rendering of a page or ad; user device screen size and settings; and the type of user interface type such as a browser or application.
Ivie points out that viewability is a different issue than invalid traffic and fraud. "It's true that some automated agents are simulating viewable impressions or keying on viewable impressions-in that sense they may seem related," he says. "But that can be solved for if an entity does a diligent job protecting against invalid traffic and fraud as well as optimizing for viewable impressions."
6. The Ecosystem is Slowly Digesting Viewability
Sherrill Mane, SVP, research, analytics, and measurement at the IAB, says viewability has become table stakes. "Publishers know their ads need to be viewable and agencies and marketers want to buy viewable ads," she says. "We're hearing if you're a publisher and your inventory is not highly viewable based on whatever testing is happening on the buy side, you're not even being considered for buys."
Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next (DCN), an association of premium publishers, says most such publishers are negotiating deals with ad buyers on at least some of their inventory that states viewability will be used to determine the delivery of the impressions.
On the programmatic front, adoption of viewable impressions remains sluggish. "Programmatic and exchange environments can be among the higher-risk environments for viewable success if not carefully monitored and stewarded by all the practitioners involved," Ivie says.
Media veteran Bob Porcaro, meanwhile, is watching the slow transition from the buyer side. "I think everyone's trying to get to a place where there's an agreement on if it's not within the viewable parameters you don't pay for it," says the EVP, managing director of the media planning and buying agency GRP Media. "We're just not there yet."