Sense & Viewability

Viewability! The made-up buzzword of the online industry that gets everyone talking. Makes sense though, right? Advertisers want their ads to be seen, so the industry has built tools to report on whether those ads have been viewed or not. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple…

TV is the established ad medium, and by far the most researched. If we think of viewability against TV campaigns, the assumption is that an ad is played before or during a programme, and therefore it’s likely to have been viewed. Of course this doesn’t take into account the viewer leaving the room to make a tea, or checking a phone for updates to an online social life [though BARB panellists are required to track when they leave the room if they are ‘active’ as a viewer]. This is the medium’s equivalent existential problem of whether a tree falling in the woods with no-one there to hear it actually makes a sound.  We’ve never known the answer, as TV reporting doesn’t work that way. We take it in good faith and assume that if the ad was broadcast, then that ad was viewed.

In the online arena, however, we have the ability to report back on whether the tree made a loud noise as it landed - i.e. whether the ad was actually seen. However, the viewability isn’t as straightforward as you would think, and with online video there are more variables to consider.

Firstly we have the VPAID vs. VAST dilemma. For those not privy to such acronyms, these are the tags used by the industry to serve video online. VAST was created to ensure a standard template for online video advertising across all types of video players. VAST is, however, limited in regard to its interaction ability within the ad unit and doesn’t allow the reporting on viewability.  VPAID, on the other hand, allows a rich-media, interactive user experience with instream video ads and reports on how the user interacts with the unit, including viewability.

Interestingly, publishers that do take up VAST on their programmatic buys tend to be those with ads that score well in terms of viewability, such as broadcaster or professionally-produced original online content. These publishers prefer VAST to VPAID as they are unwilling to relinquish control of the ad units on their pages – which is understandable, especially considering broadcast standard compliance requirements.

The inability to report on viewability in VAST environments creates a significant problem for total campaign reporting: if the broadcaster or publisher is operating via VAST, then potentially a large portion of the entire campaign run cannot be reported upon in terms of VPAID viewability. 

Now let’s consider the metric itself: IAB and MRC standards for Viewability in VOD require that 50% of the ad pixels be viewed for 2 seconds. I’ve often wondered whether this is in part responsible for the rise in In-Read video formats, which now appear in nearly every article I read online.  These new ad formats tend to have guaranteed viewability, but if the reader scrolls right past them or closes the window after 2 seconds, those numbers could potentially be misleading.

For Pre-Roll campaigns, advertisers are now becoming wise to viewability.  They want improved statistics showing that their campaigns are actually being viewed, but it is becoming increasingly expensive to do so because publishers are just as aware of the value of viewable impressions.  Quantcast’s recent study showed that only 3% of European ad inventory is available at an 80% + campaign viewability goal, with that figure rising to 6% with 70% + goals. For VOD campaigns, this is putting a further squeeze on an already supply-constrained marketplace.

Videology recently launched a VCPM product which will allow advertisers to tap into the upper echelons of Viewability gold. Clients will be able to plan, buy and execute against a guaranteed price for a guaranteed number of viewable impressions as measured by 3rd party vendors Moat, DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science or Videology’s proprietary MRC - accredited solution.  In addition, the platform will offer the flexibility of doing so using either the MRC Standard (see above) or an Extended Viewability Standard (100% of pixels on screen for at least 50% of the video duration, with audio on and the play initiated by a human). This is a great start, but we are starkly aware that there is still a wealth of impressions in the VOD market that cannot be measured using this approach because they are served as VAST.

So, what should you do? Firstly, make sure that your publishers are premium and that your traffic is human. Minimising bot traffic with third-party vendors maximises your chances of an ad being viewed and is more cost-efficient for your campaigns.

Avoid cheap inventory. It is possible that those impressions are sitting somewhere at the bottom of a page or worse, may not be human at all. This is money wasted.

KPIs are king. Remember that viewability isn’t the only metric available to report upon – use it in conjunction with others. Completion rates and view-through rates still provide a great indication of how your campaign is performing.  

You need brand uplift? Make your campaign KPIs Viewability and completed views. Look at viewability performance by quartile. Better yet, buy on a CPCV rate and optimise towards viewability. You need engagement?  Make your KPIs CTR, Viewability and include a call to action in the creative.

Collectively, we need to collaborate to create better and more universally accepted standards for measuring and activating against viewablity requirements. There are no fast fixes but it is in the interests of both publishers and advertisers to agree how we define and score against this critical metric without penalising or embellishing either the value of publisher inventory or advertising effectiveness.

Common sense should prevail.

Dave Randall

VP at Videology

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