The Billion-Dollar-Per-Second Mobile Viewability Question

odedponcz-updatedData-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 Oded Poncz, founder and chief technology officer at Ubimo.

The families in “Game Of Thrones” (GOT) fight gory, bloody battles to sit on the Iron Throne and rule the seven kingdoms of Westeros. They’ll stop at nothing to cash in on their claim to the throne, and as we hang on to the edge of our seats, we still don’t know who will reign supreme.

When thinking about the kingdom in which “Game Of Thrones” is set, I can’t help but compare it to digital advertising – a kingdom of sorts dueling over viewability. And just as the GOT season finale ended with competing clans on the brink of a vicious battle for survival, rival interests are also clashing in digital ad land.

Their prize: mobile advertising budgets. For more than a year, the Media Rating Council (MRC) has worked tirelessly to define what constitutes a “viewable” mobile ad impression. But when the MRC released the first version of mobile viewability standards earlier this month, the data and fundamental workings upon which these standards were built were kept private. The anonymized data and measurement formulas used as part of the process must be publically released.

Efforts to influence the definition have been hotly debated by industry stakeholders with vested interests. Advertisers and media buyers, for example, want to gain maximum onscreen brand exposure time. Desktop publishers have an interest in setting the viewability standards on mobile high – if not higher than current desktop standards.

Meanwhile, mobile publishers would like to define a very short window for an ad to be displayed before it is classed as viewable. And viewability measurement vendors want the standards to be compatible with their technologies.

Considering the amount of ad dollars at stake, it is no wonder so many voices have joined this debate, in a bid to influence the guidelines as they define what does and doesn’t constitute a viewable mobile ad.

The rules and norms for mobile devices compared to desktop are vastly different. The most significant difference is that on desktop, you can fit many ads on one screen, but on mobile, a single ad occupies both the entire screen and the audience’s full attention. The MRC understands that mobile and desktop are different, and as such, it established a committee to determine the guidelines for independent mobile viewability standards.

The MRC wanted to determine how much time it takes before an ad can be considered viewed on a mobile screen. This process involves understanding the time it takes for a user to interact with an ad, and subsequently deducing the user’s “reaction” time, in order to infer the point at which the ad became viewable on the screen. Being that this methodology involved deductions and assumptions, it is critical that all stakeholders have access to all of the fundamental assumptions of the MRC, so that they’re not considered arbitrary.

In an ideal world, in order to arrive at the point of true mobile viewability, all of the different stakeholders would provide their own anonymized data to the MRC so that everyone could gain a much better understanding of real-life reaction times to better inform the viewability standards.

The industry needs to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach to viewability. On desktop, 10 ads displayed on a page could all be considered viewable after just a second. Using that standard, could a single ad appearing on a mobile screen be considered viewed in less than a second?

While I firmly believe the viewability standards on mobile by definition should be lower than the standards used for desktop, I also firmly believe that data doesn’t lie. To create standards that will receive widespread acceptance in the industry, the MRC must fully disclose the basis on which it is devised. Until we have complete data transparency, we can’t make the best decisions for the future of advertising, across any medium.

Let the data speak for itself.

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  1. Hi Oded, thanks for your attention to this important topic. MRC would encourage you – and readers – to review the addendum we published alongside the Mobile Viewable Impression Guidelines on June 28:

    Beginning on page 9, you’ll find a summary of the data and the analytical approach we utilized in developing the Mobile Viewable Impression Guidelines. As you know, we agreed from the outset that a simple one-size-fits all approach wouldn’t be appropriate, and that our consideration of viewability measurement in mobile needed to take into account the specific nuances of mobile behavior. We did that. Specifically, pages 12-14 showcase the findings from our data evaluation, which was based on an extensive amount of compelling data voluntarily supplied to us in confidence by a wide range of cross-industry contributors. We agree with you – in an ideal world, we’d be able to assess data from every stakeholder in the industry. Of course, we plan to continue to monitor and evaluate the mobile environment and to consider additional data going forward to ensure our guidelines remain appropriate. We invite you to continue to contribute your knowledge (and your data) to this important conversation.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for your feedback on the topic, and continuing to champion mobile viewability for the market.

      To clarify, the article was intended to highlight what I think was a missed opportunity to create greater transparency and trust around mobile measurement.

      The addendum you referred to is indeed a great step to prove the quality of the standard. It shows the logic, methodologies and ground assumptions but it lacks the full raw data that you applied these methods to. The community can agree and support the methodologies but are not able to verify if the underlying data is skewed, which can create doubt. I think that In the era of big data there is no better way to prove a point than to show the data that led to it.

      We appreciate all the efforts of the MRC -and look forward to continuing to share our voice and expertise, but hope that we can create more transparency in the future to continue to progress mobile measurement at the same pace as the evolving mobile market.