IAB Tech Lab Advances Open Measurement For In-App Viewability, But Buyers Lag

The next version of the IAB Tech Lab’s open-measurement SDK (1.3) debuted on Tuesday, with support for in-app audio, more granular brand safety controls and a fix for impression counting discrepancies between vendors.

But despite progress on the supply side, “very few DSPs are making use of OpenRTB signals for open measurement,” said Joe Ranzenbach, director of product management, mobile and video at Integral Ad Science and a member of the IAB Tech Lab’s Open Measurement (OM) Working Group.

Most supply-side platforms (SSPs), including longtime holdout MoPub, have either integrated or are in the process of switching to the OM SDK, which allows publishers to work with multiple viewability vendors without multiple SDK integrations – a perennial pain for pubs.

But the buy side isn’t as far along in doing the legwork to make the open measurement signal available to advertisers. Many DSPs haven’t enabled buyers to target against ad inventory that supports open measurement, mainly because they don’t want to limit their impression volumes.

Private marketplaces are a workaround, but they require extra work to set up across the open exchange, because you need a separate PMP for each supply source.

But OM SDK 1.3 should help create a tipping point for the availability of impressions that support open measurement as adoption picks up into 2020, Ranzenbach said.

So far, more than 50 companies have certified their OM integrations with the IAB Tech Lab, including Google, Pandora, Hulu, InMobi, Gameloft, NBCU, TikTok and Teads.

“The main thing now comes down to being able to explicitly target toward open measurement inventory, and that’s up to the buy side,” Ranzenbach said. “Giving advertisers the ability to optimize towards open measurement inventory is likely to further incentivize the remaining supply side minority to integrate the OM SDK.”

New additions

One of the primary orders of business within OM SDK 1.3 is to deal with the discrepancies between publishers, vendors and ad servers for counted impressions.

Although the Media Rating Council announced a “begin to render” standard for digital display last year, some vendors still count impressions based on when an ad starts to load. Different vendors have access to different types of information, depending on where they sit in the ecosystem, and “it’s not always completely transparent what’s happening,” Ranzenbach said. This leads to inconsistencies in the count.

OM SDK 1.3 enables two separate and distinct events – one for “begin to render” and one for “ad loaded” – so that it’s clear to measurement vendors and publishers exactly how the impressions are being counted.

The new version also introduces content URLs for mobile in-app so that advertisers can apply more specific brand safety controls to block or whitelist particular app content for anything that has a corresponding web URL.

Historically, buyers could only block content at the app level rather than by certain pages or topics, because the only identifier they had access to at the impression level was a general app ID or bundle ID.

“In the event of a tragedy like a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, it’s not uncommon for advertisers to shut off all news for in-app, because there’s too much brand safety risk there,” said Ranzenbach, who personally submitted the proposal for this update around a year and a half ago.

“With version 1.3, there’s a new space within the API that allows a content URL to pass through, which brings control beyond the app level,” he said.

OM SDK 1.3 also enables audio ad formats – the first new media type introduced for open measurement beyond video, native and standard display. It allows publishers to flag elements or mechanisms, known as friendly obstructions, that are intended to sit on top of an ad, such as video player controls, so that verification vendors don’t mistakenly mark the ads as unviewable.

Web version scheduled for release in Q1

Although the Open Measurement working group will continue to gather feedback, the OM SDK is starting to get to a pretty good place, Ranzenbach said.

IAS, for example, has seen open measurement ramp up significantly on the impressions it measures in-app, from around 1% last September to roughly 60% of all in-app impressions in September of this year. But that still leaves a decent chunk of impressions, and there will always be laggard publishers who take a long time or neglect to update.

With in-app mainly sorted, the next agenda item for the working group is a web version of open measurement focused on video due out in Q1, possibly followed by a version specifically for connected TV.

The first version of the Open Measurement SDK emerged from beta in April 2018. IAS originally developed the code for the OM SDK and later donated it to the IAB Tech Lab in the hope that a neutral, open source standard would encourage wider adoption.

Each of the major verification vendors, including IAS, Moat, DoubleVerify, Comscore and Nielsen, have since joined the effort and signed an agreement that none will push, promote or update their own legacy proprietary SDKs.

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