“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Alex Calic, Chief Revenue Officer at The Media Trust.
Based on the velocity of articles written on the topic last year, "viewable impressions" has displaced "ad verification" as the hot delivery topic in the ad tech industry for 2013. But when you consider how the media consumption habits of Internet users are changing, viewability fades in near-term importance.
Consumers are spending ever more time on social networks -- more than any other category of sites on the web -- and as such are becoming accustomed to a content experience that differs significantly from what is offered by typical website content management systems. The traditional web page is an adaptation of legacy print media, which pieces together multiple columns of static content with blocks of ads in a portrait layout. Led by Facebook’s News Feed, social networks are popularizing a different approach that displays standardized units of content, in the form of text, links and images from a user’s social graph. Those content elements appear in a single column that updates with new information in real time.
The pace of adoption of mobile devices is furthering the spread of this stream-based approach to presenting content, as digital media companies attempt to package all of the information embedded on a traditional web page into a mobile app or website with very limited screen real estate.
An early example of this was the September launch of Atlantic Media’s Quartz (left), a digital-only business media property built specifically for the mobile web that has already reached 1.4 million unique visitors.
The relevance of new digital experiences to the viewable impressions debate lies in how the content and associated ads are being presented to users. Both Facebook and Twitter have shown how this combination can work in the age of social streams and mobile devices -- with Sponsored Stories and Promoted Tweets respectively.
Both ad units are integrated into the content feed from a look and feel perspective, and both target users based on their social graph relationships. The ad units themselves can be fixed in the flow of the content stream, moving down the page as the feed refreshes with new updates, or can be fixed at the top of the feed. In either case, since the content cascades down from the top of the app or web page the ad is always being presented, and thus seen, in the user's viewing area.
The stream-formatted approach to content presentation is also starting to make its way on to traditional digital media websites like ESPN, which launched the beta of its SportsCenter Feed in September (below). ESPN, which has traditionally been an early adopter of digital technologies and experiences, is taking a similar approach to Quartz in delivering a real-time, ad-supported, news feed with the added capability to consume subsets of the stream via content-specific tabs -- as well as the ability to add skins to the background that further promote the content sponsor.
In all of these stream examples, the ad creative is muted in contrast to the typical flashy ad unit and consists of a single advertiser. So what the advertiser loses in "wow" factor (or "ow" from the user perspective) with a traditional ad experience is made up for in relevance (hopefully) and singular attention by not having to compete with other advertisers on a page and by being presented front-and-center to the user -- ensuring the ad is seen. As the real-time news feed approach to presenting media proliferates, it will alleviate the need to use verification services for viewable impressions.
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that the ad tech industry was consumed with a different delivery issue -- ad verification. The likes of AdSafe Media and DoubleVerify raised over $50 million combined in 2010-2011 to build a business around solving for this issue. In 2012 both companies replaced their CEOs while AdSafe also underwent a rebranding as ad verification became commoditized at the ad server level and a smaller problem, especially related to premium content publishers, than the industry led everyone to believe. Let’s not go through this again with viewable impressions.
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