Video Viewability: The Standard That Isn’t A Standard

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ViewableVideoOn Monday, the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) advisory to avoid buying in-browser video impressions on the basis of viewability will end.

Although the MRC defines in-browser video viewability as an ad that is at least 50% in view for at least two continuous seconds, there’s little agreement in the industry on what, exactly, constitutes video viewability.

One issue is that viewability for video is about more than just visibility.

“Video viewability is a different animal (from display) and it’s more worrisome in some areas and less worrisome in others,” said Ted McConnell, EVP of digital for the Advertising Research Foundation. “With video, it could be autoplay, below the fold, sound off, sound off below the fold, semi-completion or it could be a robot.”

The MRC recognizes that the current definition of viewable, as it pertains to video, is still a work in progress.

“At some point, creative execution comes into play in terms of engaging and keeping the user playing the ad,” said David Gunzerath, SVP and associate director of the MRC. “We wanted to find that moment within the ad execution in which the (publisher) can add other metrics, but use this as an initial baseline building block.”

And members of the video ad community is indeed appending the MRC’s take on viewability with their own metrics. This makes the MRC’s definition less of a standard and more of a suggestion. As a result, video viewability is still very much a free-for-all.

“The IAB and MRC definition (of viewability) is the same,” said Katie Seitz, VP of strategy and operations for Tremor Video. “But different companies are adding in additional factors (like ‘non-human’ traffic or ‘active-tabbing’) that can drastically change numbers and that’s where the variance happens.”

Because of the highly immersive nature of video ad formats, there are many metrics that are potentially useful to brands to determine what’s the optimal in-view time for a particular campaign, like whether the user started the video themselves or if it was autoplay, said David Hahn, SVP of product management for Integral Ad Science.

“Determining ‘is it viewable or not’ is a very minimum standard and I think will be used largely for billing and reconsideration purchases,” he added.

The MRC advisory lift is not a “blanket solution,” agreed Alexis Berger, VP of sales and marketing at Kargo, a mobile brand advertising platform. “Brands still need to be diligent about where they spend their money and hold partners accountable for delivering a clear picture of what’s being bought and how it’s being measured.”

“We know we will never make video profitable on a click-only basis, so no matter what KPI we’re using, we’re going to use this viewability data as a proxy to act against,” one marketer said. “Being able to hone in on the wasted impressions and effectively eliminate them from the buy in a traditionally more expensive medium is worth a lot to us.”

Vendors are aware that video viewability is a concern. TubeMogul, for instance, founded an OpenVideoView consortium and partners with about 25 other vendors.

In the meantime, the MRC’s list of accredited companies both for digital display and video, while extensive, is still a work in progress. At the time of writing, Videology, Telemetry and Moat were the first to be accredited for viewable video impressions with about half a dozen more to be added June 30.

“We took some time to understand – among the accredited vendors we had audited –  why there were differences (and one was) the granularity of the measurement,” Gunzerath said. For instance, were vendors measuring the ad or the container on the page in which the ad appeared?

“We spelled this out when we lifted the display advisory in March,” Gunzerath added. “Video was kind of following the same path, but we had all these learnings from display that could be applied to video. We hadn’t finalized the threshold and the standard for what constituted a viewable video impression really until January of this year, so when we lifted the advisory for display in March, we decided … to give vendors a little more time to account for these final thresholds.”

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