The Clock Is Ticking On Viewability

ericfranchi“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 Eric Franchi, Co-founder at Undertone.

Digital media does not lack topics suitable for debate and disagreement. We have a variety of forums to debate them in real time over the web, not to mention when we see each other in person. (See you in April at Programmatic I/O?)

However, it is rare that 50, 100, or more of us get into a room for an hour to debate a single hot topic. That all changed at the recent IAB Leadership Meeting in Phoenix with the introduction of the “town hall” discussions. These conversations were guided by industry leaders with an open invitation to all in attendance at the meeting to join.

One of the town hall sessions was on viewability. As most know, there is a cross-industry initiative (3MS) that is dedicated to moving viewable impressions forward as a currency. There are too many ads with too many out of view. Viewability is a critical issue for the industry, so I thought it was important to attend. I was not alone. By the time the session began, it was standing room only.

Peter Naylor of NBC Universal and John Frelinghuysen of AOL laid out the goals for the session, which were to identify challenges, hear feedback from those in the room with on-the-ground experience on viewability, and address key action items that the industry needs to focus on.

After a quick ice breaker by Naylor, the session began to resemble the Seinfeld “Festivus” episode, with everyone wanting to air their grievances about viewability.

The performance-based ad networks argued viewability should not be a factor for their types of campaigns at all because advertisers pay them based on a click or conversion.

The programmatic folks reminded us that viewability in a real-time bidding environment is near-impossible because you can’t bid on an ad after it is served (thus qualifying for viewable).

The technologists and operations people added that viewability is not reliable with iFrames, and the work involved with the SafeFrame initiative.

The publishers aired very legitimate concerns about what a viewable impression standard would mean for their site design and other ad elements.

I think you get the point.

This room was a live version of what has been playing out over the course of the past year with respect to viewability: acknowledgement of the problem with little discussion on how to progress (quite literally, there was not enough time for a full sharing of on-the-ground experiences).

While it’s clear there are challenges, it’s important for the industry to remember who we are looking to serve at the end of the day: the brand marketer. The brand marketer first and foremost wants their messages to be viewed. It is incumbent upon all of us in the industry to provide this opportunity. It’s time for action.
The good news is, there are simple steps that publishers can take right now to make progress on their own: work with vendors who can help you understand your universe of inventory, make an effort to educate both internally and externally, and create a roadmap for the eventual viewable impression standard. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that those who are early will have an advantage.

You might have noticed that I used the term “standard” in the preceding paragraph. As I was entering the room for the town hall discussion, one of the largest buyers of digital inventory in the world walked by. I asked this gentleman if he was joining the viewability session. He said “no” and continued walking. I asked him why, and he turned his head and said, “In 2014, viewability will be table stakes – a feature in client-side ad servers. It’s happening. You’ll all need to figure it out, soon.”

Soon, indeed: The clock is ticking.

Follow Eric Franchi (@EricFranchi) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Thanks E, for the good post. As you know (thru our own recent discussions on viewable impressions) the confusion — which is rampant — is hurting adoption of this key initiative. And, with all respect to the IAB (on whose Board I used to serve,) they are not helping publishers as much as they could because the IAB serves many masters — Pubs, exchanges, data vendors, etc. So, I think that your call to action — for people to push this in their own environment is key.

    But, first lets all work together to clear up some of the confusion. It is true the ability to “predict” a viewable impression is nearly impossible (or impossible) which makes planning harder and programmatic-viewable seemingly impossible. But confusion comes because all the vendors except for one — RealVu — are “pointing at the problem” versus solving it. They are, as you pointed out, after the fact reports versus serving solutions.

    In my work with a number of major pubs (including some who (happily) work with Undertone, we have seen this confusion clearing up. RealVu, working first with Horizon, has leveraged their patented Content Rendering Method to differentiate from all other vendors because the only call for (or serve) an ad when the space is viewable as defined by the 3M standard.

    This changes programmatic’s potential response. When RealVu is used (and they are now in partnership with an SSP) they keep ad calls that should not happen from happening. The result is a major saving on media and more critically on serving and data costs.

    There is a lot of confusion out there. Have seen it all and it is like Festivus. But we can get there.

  2. Great article, Eric. You hit the nail on the head; the buck starts and stops with the brand marketer. Ultimately they will hold publishers and networks accountable to make impressions viewable, but it’s up to the ad-tech community to create the ability to do so.

    That’s why in the video landscape VideoHub has heavily invested in measuring viewability data and created a comprehensive metric, the eQ score to enable publishers and advertisers to measure the brand impact of viewability, along with completion rate and player size on viewers. It’s the only way publishers and advertisers can make sure their video ads get the attention, and CPM, they deserve!

    I too was in the room during the viewability break out session at the IAB Executive Leadership meeting and the atmosphere was palpable. It reminded me of my first IAB meeting in 1998 when about a dozen networks and publishers got in the room to try to define a display impression.