Is A Single Viewability Standard Possible?

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 Bradley Timmers, director of product management at Integral Ad Science.

The last four years have seen digital advertising adopt viewability as a primary measure of media quality, with numerous agencies, publishers and ad tech vendors adopting the MRC’s standard.

Even with wide adoption, one question still looms large: Is it possible to apply a single standard of viewability across every platform and campaign?

Thus far, the argument in favor of a single standard has come primarily from industry leaders such as P&G’s Marc Pritchard. Pritchard has called for overhauling the digital advertising supply chain in favor of simplification and transparency. As part of that crusade, he’s become one of the leading voices advocating for all players to transact on a single universal viewability standard, specifically the MRC’s.

Pritchard and his peers have a point. There’s a strong case for sticking with the MRC standard and making it universal.

First, it would considerably simplify measurement and drive efficiencies. Applying one rule to every campaign and platform would level the playing field and provide clarity for marketers. The MRC standard has also proven to be a good, though not the best, proxy for audience impact – a recent study by Cadreon confirms as much – and it’s well understood by most marketers.

Detractors argue that while a single standard makes life easier for the buy side, it also unfairly disadvantages the sell side of the digital advertising ecosystem. A single standard demands that all inventory, on any platform from Snapchat to Hulu to CNN, be held to the same standard. That’s a tall order, given the structural differences between digital environments and content experiences.

An ad presented on a publisher’s article page via desktop has a fundamentally different opportunity to be seen than one served inside a mobile news feed or in a full-screen Snapchat ad. For instance, is an impression that was 100% in view for three seconds on Snapchat worth more, less or the same as one that was 60% in view for seven seconds on CNN’s website? If the audience and contextual targeting are the same in both cases, the answer will depend solely on how we evaluate viewability itself.

The user experience for platforms like Facebook and Twitter is a news feed, and users simply don’t dwell on content within a news feed on mobile in the same way they do with a traditional website on desktop. Any viewability standard that includes duration in its definition will thus be harder to achieve on a news feed.

There are signs that the buy side recognizes this and is willing to make some allowances for it: Late last year, GroupM decided to waive the requirement for its own viewability standard that video views be user-initiated with sound on for ads on news feeds. This would seem to indicate a shift toward a complex standard that evaluates different platforms differently, based on the user experiences of each.

While it’s probably true that we can’t treat all platforms as being the same when measuring viewability, there’s an even more intriguing notion that has been emerging from the market: We can’t treat all buyers the same, either.

Not only does GroupM have its own viewability standard, but so do Publicis, HP, Nestle and now IBM. These companies are not creating their own standards just for the sake of doing so; they’re finding that these standards drive improved business outcomes and are therefore worth optimizing on.

While the MRC standard will always have value as a baseline for media quality, brands and agencies are ultimately in the best position to discover, through data-driven research, what definition of viewability works best for their goals. Those publishers and ad tech vendors that can support a variety of bespoke viewability standards will accordingly become the most valued partners of sophisticated media buyers.

Follow Integral Ad Science (@integralads) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Universal measurement standards is on the wish-list of marketers for years, Pritchard’s speech just changed the priority to immediate. While it is a good start, the pace of adoption for anything in the measurement metrics depends upon how Google, Facebook & Amazon respond to these wish-lists in their respective ad-platforms.