Why Have We Only Mastered Viewability Measurement On Desktop?

azadjacobsData-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 Azad Jacobs, head of business operations at Drawbridge.

Marketers increasingly and understandably want paid media to be viewable, and with that desire comes the need for third-party measurement and validation. Unfortunately, as we continue to see, the digital advertising ecosystem has struggled to deliver proper tools for today’s multidevice, mobile-first consumers.

Viewability has been measured and optimized on desktop for years, but even there it has its own shortcomings, as evidenced by the fact that not all desktop impressions are measurable for viewability. Mobile web and app environments present even more challenges, which the current suite of measurement tools built for desktop don’t sufficiently tackle.

Mobile is the linchpin to a true cross-device viewability solution, yet no one has solved this riddle. Brands, agencies and even technology providers need to start thinking about mobile viewability separate from desktop.

Challenges Abound

I see several problems, not all of which are mobile-specific. First, desktop web and mobile web are similar in name only. With mobile screens being smaller than computer monitors, industry best practices encourage purpose-built mobile sites sized for smaller real estate. Yet many mobile websites remain scaled-down versions of desktop sites, which require pinch-and-zoom functionality. In the zoomed field, some ads may be left off-screen entirely while intense scaling make others illegible. Either way, ads are not actually being seen but can still be measured as viewable if on-screen for more than a second.

Another issue: mobile apps. US consumers spend 86% of mobile Internet time within apps, but few products accurately measure in-app viewability. That’s because in-app measurement requires direct integration between developers and the measurement company. Developers use software development kits (SDKs), which have unique idiosyncrasies. Depending on how these SDKs are integrated, existing viewability issues can be compounded or new obstacles created.

Many larger-format ads rely on image caching to speed the loading of the actual creative. So ads are stored locally on the device in order to render them quickly. When it comes to measurement, locally stored ads can cause inaccuracies in viewability. Was the ad actually in view, or did it load in the background? Measurement solutions have no way to determine this without lengthy integrations, and few of those exist.

Ad viewability identifiers, such as pixels and JavaScript, are also hindered in app environments. JavaScript code relies on the MRAID placement, which requires measurement firms perfectly integrating with developers’ SDKs. Some programmatic mobile platforms aren’t up to par in standardizing this process, and so in turn many developers and publishers integrate directly with the measurement solutions, compounding the fragmented landscape.

Another hurdle, batch processing, is the equivalent of an annoying yellow traffic light. Viewability is an always-on measurement because marketers want to know in real time that their campaigns are reaching real humans. Unfortunately, viewability reports are often processed in daily batches. This makes it difficult for programmatic, machine-learning systems to dynamically optimize delivery to achieve higher viewability rates. Recently, pre-bid solutions have surfaced that rely on historical aggregated data but still only showcase reporting in batches and don’t enable real-time optimization of observed traffic.

Finally, measuring viewability of rich media and video on mobile is a challenge. Mobile SDKs have yet to standardize with rich media and video vendors and, therefore, reported viewability of this media is often inaccurate. For example, even if mobile SDK restrictions stop a rich-media ad from rendering, the placement might still be on-screen and measured as in view.

Mobile video is particularly difficult because in order to send data back, viewability measurement tools must be built inside the player and abide by multiple industry standards. Often it’s more efficient for a third-party server to host the video, which poses higher expenses and difficulties for ad networks or demand-side platforms to deliver viewability measurement.

Asking For The Wrong Thing

Lately, ad agencies have been saying that they only want media that is 100% viewable. Well-intentioned, sure, but ultimately there are constraints that negate the ability to truly achieving this benchmark.

One hundred percent of media can’t be measured, especially within mobile app environments. Marketers are utilizing a desktop-centric approach in a mobile-first and cross-device world. What we should strive for first is 100% measurability, then we can focus on 100% viewability.

The onus to close this gap is on everyone. Viewability measurement vendors need more mobile-ready, or even mobile-first, solutions. Then we can become adept at delivering and measuring 100% viewable media.

In the meantime, the ecosystem has started to adopt tactics to cope with this viewability conundrum. While there are several overarching best practices, each viewing platform, such as video, mobile web or apps, is different and requires a unique approach.

For instance, integrating with pre-bid media solutions helps meet the needs of marketers by offering cross-device viewability measurement, optimization tools and guarantees.

Adopting media placement strategies based on historically performing inventory helps reward inventory with high viewability and avoid questionable inventory.

For video placements, targeting by size can help identify viewability of the placement. For example, larger video servers are often placed in high-viewability areas and see higher completion rates.

These tactics will help in our quest for greater viewability, but the true solution requires a shift in ecosystem standards, as an industry. We’ll have to work together. We need to establish standards across supply-side platforms, rich media vendors, viewability measurement firms, ad servers, demand-side platforms and everything between.

No single party can solve this problem because there are multiple problems to solve. It’s time for industry leaders and standards bodies to come together to get the right viewability standards and measurement solutions in place.

Follow Drawbridge (@Drawbridge) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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