100% Mobile Viewability Guarantees ‘Will Become Table Stakes’

mobileviewabilityIt’s time for the next can of worms: mobile viewability. And the mobile ad vendors are already on the scene.

Less than two weeks after the Media Rating Council (MRC) issued its long-awaited interim guidance on mobile viewability measurement, three separate mobile media sellers – Millennial Media, 33Across and JUICE Mobile – have announced their intention to offer a 100% viewability guarantee on mobile inventory.

But that doesn’t mean that 100% of the inventory they sell is viewable.

“What it actually means is that they’re only going to charge for ads that have been measured to be viewable,” said Anne Hunter, SVP of global marketing strategy at comScore. “They’ll certainly be serving ads that are not viewable. You can’t guarantee 100% viewability, but it is possible to only bill for 100% viewable impressions. It’s something we’re seeing more and more of.”

Both Millennial Media and 33Across will primarily rely on Integral Ad Science for verification, although, as the MRC stated in no uncertain terms in its guidance, “No organization has been accredited as yet by [the] MRC for mobile viewable impression measurement.”

The MRC’s provisional guidelines hew quite closely to the council’s existing standards for desktop display and video – 50% of pixels in view for one second for display, two continuous seconds for video – although it does make a distinction between mobile web and in-app.

While the MRC had previously stated that ad impressions served via in-app environments were assumed to be viewable, the new guidance recognizes the nuanced difference between a loaded ad and a served impression.

There are also nuances between the different 100% vendor guarantees on offer. While Millennial Media is making its assurance around in-app only, 33Across is extending its guarantee across tablet and mobile web. JUICE Mobile said its guarantee will cover both in-app and mobile web inventory or your money back.

JUICE Mobile CEO Neil Sweeney was candid about his company’s pledge – it’s not revolutionary, it just make sense, he said.

“Paying for what you’re actually getting – that will become table stakes soon, and buying nonviewable ads will be on the endangered species list. If you don’t offer it, you’re not going to be on the buy going forward,” he said. “Sure, there’s a little bit of ‘me tooing’ going on, but it’s also true that the legitimate guys will put out this guarantee and the other guys won’t.”

And there’s a good reason for that – when an exchange only charges for viewable impressions, someone else has to pay for the additional impressions it takes to meet the guarantee. Sweeney said JUICE Mobile will be eating that extra cost for now. In the case of Millennial Media, advertisers will pay a premium for the 100% viewable product.

“The premium reflects the reality that there are costs associated with the complexity of delivering and measuring these campaigns,” said Andrew Bradway, senior director of business development at Millennial Media. “Over time, we expect the premium to decline as the MRC and the IAB release further guidelines and there’s a broader shift in the industry toward mobile viewability and only billing off of viewable impressions.”

But that might take quite a while.

Integral Ad Science, for example, has developed a mobile viewability solution for which it’s seeking MRC accreditation. The tool revolves around MRAID, the ad container used by most publishers and app developers, including MoPub, Twitter, Google, InMobi and a host of others to render and serve rich media programmatically. Millennial uses Integral’s in-app MRAID verification technology to underpin its guarantee.

But, in the past, in-app was considered viewable by default and the guidelines around MRAID did not define a minimum percentage of pixels that had to be onscreen in order for an ad to be considered viewable. Now that the MRC has delineated a set number of pixels for in-app – a minimum threshold of 50% – Integral is going to have to come up with a methodology to meet that new specification, said Jason Cooper, the company’s GM of mobile.

“We’ll have to build something to meet these requirements,” he said. “And then we need to go to companies, tell them that this is how we’re cracking it and get their feedback. Once we get certified by the MRC, we then have to go back to all of the networks and vendors and have them fold it into their SDK – it all takes a lot of time. But we can’t wait around until all of that is sorted. People still want to spend money in mobile to enrich their audience and MRAID is a good step in that direction.”

In the meantime, more mobile ad companies are sure to hop aboard the 100% mobile viewability bandwagon, but 100% isn’t the only show in town.

“As a human being and someone who’s been in advertising for about 15 years, I generally believe that you should only charge for the ads that are being seen and the industry is broadly moving in the right direction,” said Ryan McConville, COO of mobile ad company Kargo. ”But it’s also easier for the long tail to offer a 100% guarantee.”

Kargo’s bread and butter is what it calls “breakthrough ad units,” things like animated site skins, in-app editorial integrations and social rich media. The company, whose publisher client list includes CBS, Univision, Meredith, Turner, Hearst and Vox, announced in November that it was working with Moat to guarantee 80% viewability on several of its mobile ad products, including hover units, adhesion units and interstitials.

“There is some lag time in these units. They’re heavier, but they’re effective and they’re cool, so we’ve found that advertisers are willing to give us that 20%,” McConville said. “Of course we want to move toward the best viewability scores we can possibly get, but it needs to be said that there’s a difference between helping our clients win OMMA awards and running banners.”

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  1. Frazier Gibbs

    Lots of “ifs” and uncertainties in this story which leads me to believe, especially with Millennial Media, that this is just a marketing ploy with no real substance. The type of client which is likely to want only viewable impressions is not going to pay a premium because they will likely prefer to buy site direct with a small number of publishers.

  2. An important fact was omitted from the article which is that the mentioned companies do not currently measure in-app viewability according to the MRC criteria outlined in the provisional guidelines. As far as I’m aware there is no widely adopted advertising SDK (certainly not MRAID) that can currently measure percentage of viewable area of the ad container, even less so of an actual rendered ad.

  3. Donnie

    We already have enough ad platforms that overpromise and underdeliver. How about just putting trust in the ad platforms that tend to deliver the best results already — like Airpush, or InMobi, and maybe one day Facebook. But MM? They should come up with more innovative stuff before they make any sweeping guarantees.