Taking The Long View On Viewability

frostprioleau“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 Frost Prioleau, CEO and co-founder of Simpli.fi.

It’s that time of the year when industry analysts and self-appointed pundits (including yours truly) gaze into their crystal balls and predict the future of online advertising – at least for the next 12 months.

This year, that picture may be clearer than in the past. Prepare for the year of viewability.

With the Media Ratings Council expected to lift its advisory on using viewability as a metric by the end of the first quarter, and Google announcing that “advertisers can buy reservable inventory on the Google Display Network,” it doesn’t take a futurist to see that the momentum around viewability as a delivery and performance metric is poised to accelerate in 2014.

The measurability around digital advertising is one of the medium’s great strengths. Measurability cuts both ways, however, enabling advertisers to gauge not only where and how ads are seen but also where they aren’t. While it’s a common headline that “40% of online ads are never seen,” you’d be hard-pressed to find the same story about television or print advertising. Traditional media still gets the benefit of the doubt, while digital advertising is often held to a higher standard.

How big of an impact might viewability have on the programmatic world? If 40% of programmatic ads are “unviewable,” and 80% of advertisers decide they don’t want to buy such ads, there would be a 32% increase in dollars chasing “viewable” ad units, and an 80% decrease in dollars chasing unviewable units.

So, in short, the answer is significant, for all stakeholders involved:


  • Higher-quality inventory at an increased CPM: Just as scarcity drives prices higher for television and print inventory, there will be a finite number of ads deemed to be in view. And those ads will command premium pricing.
  • Increased confidence in programmatic display should shift budgets toward the channel: With the ability to specify viewability, digital advertisers will have more reason to move spending.
  • The death of high-volume and low-cost methods to gain last-touch attribution for CPA campaigns: Viewability measurement will expose the current tactics that use high volumes of low-cost, unviewable inventory to win in a last-touch attribution environment. For many brand marketers, they will see that the emperor has no clothes.


  • Publishers adapt to demand for viewable ads with redesigned experiences: Page design will shift to allow more ads to be viewable on initial load, pushing desired content further down the page and, in turn, producing more viewable ads.
  • Exclusive editorial becomes ever more important: Consumed content will increase the volume and probability of viewable ads, which will make engaging and high-quality editorial content a competitive advantage once again.

Advertising Networks And Platforms

  • Discrepancies will continue: Measuring viewability will add one more area for potential discrepancies. Different ad servers, attribution tools and platforms will measure viewability differently, creating reporting discrepancies. Industry associations will move to standardize measurement to a relative unit, like a digital gross rating point.
  • Technology for viewability measurement will increase in sophistication: Hopefully the day is not too far away that Google’s AdX, as well as the other exchanges and supply-side platforms, begin providing viewability status in bid requests so bidders will definitively know ahead of time whether the ad is in view, as opposed to relying on probabilities.

As an industry, digital advertising – and programmatic marketing, in particular – should welcome viewability standards as a sign of a maturing market. The ability to quantify actual impressions viewed is a missing link between the reach offered by digital marketing and credible return on investment. Last time I checked, the return on investment (ROI) of an unseen ad was still zero.

And if performance search marketing has taught us anything, where ROI can be proven, the budgets follow.

Follow Frost Prioleau (@phrossed), Simpli.fi (@Simpli_fi) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!

1 Comment

  1. In-view information for the current impression in the bid requests is a strange concept for me…
    – IAB viewability definition requires that the banner is in-view during at least one second. Even if you wait 1 second before calling the bid request, it does not mean that the banner WILL be viewable.
    – A lot of banners are viewable below the fold (people scroll down). Some banners (sometimes up to 20%!) above the fold are not viewable.

    In-view information is a probability at the moment of the bid request, not a yes/no status.

    The information that needs to be passed to bidders is a viewability ratio. It can be used to compute bid prices very simply: if only 10% of ads are viewable on the current placement, the bid price should be 10 times lower than the maximum bid price.

    This being said, I loved your article a twitted this quote: “Last time I checked, the return on investment (ROI) of an unseen ad was still zero.” 🙂