‘Triple Threat’ Viewability For Publishers: Pass, Dribble, Shoot

mattleardiniThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Matt Leardini, vice president of search and advertising at Synacor.

As a former NCAA athlete, I still count on coaching lessons and in-game experiences to help me in business situations I face every day. What I learned on the court helps me break down highly complicated technical requirements into simple, repeatable formulas for success. For those in the complex world of ad tech now focusing on viewability, “simple,” “repeatable” and “success” are appealing aspirations.

Now that viewability is firmly on advertisers’ radars, the explosion of inventory supply means they can be more selective in their viewability requirements. For publishers, meeting expectations around viewability can keep them on their toes as they work with multiple viewability vendors, manage agency viewability requirements and forecast the revenue implications and cross-platform variances.

Meeting the viewability challenge leads me to an approach I learned at basketball camp when I was 10: the “triple threat” position. Triple threat means the offensive player with the ball has three choices and should be in a position to execute on each: pass, dribble or shoot.


Rely on third-party analytics solutions such as MOAT or Integral Ad Sciences. These solutions only remedy post-campaign reporting, so a publisher must be diligent about optimizing against the viewability rates being reported by these vendors. As a result, they need a deep understanding of each vendor’s platform and a close relationship with their client services teams so they can quickly optimize or troubleshoot.

This is not a real-time solution, but due to agency adoption, publishers need to be plugged in to the various viewability solutions.

Reminder: If audience targeting is applied on top of viewability, we’re all shooting in the dark. The MRC standard of 70% viewability means 30% of impressions aren’t viewable. If the target audience skews toward nonviewable, such as 24-year-olds blazing through the web at two seconds in-view and using smaller screens where maybe 50% of each ad is seen, baseline viewability metrics are meaningless.

Keep in mind, when you pass the ball, you cannot predict what your teammate will do with it.


Address viewability in pricing metrics head-on by taking the ball and moving it proactively down the court. Two easy ways of doing this: Bill off of viewable impressions and change pricing to cost per click (CPC).

Billing off of viewable impressions will create some wasted inventory for publishers and is only applicable to direct sales. Since some well-known agencies are calling for 100% viewability requirements, publishers will want to consider the math. Demand-side platforms and supply-side platforms do not disclose which buyers are buying viewable impressions vs. ROS inventory, so the publisher has no visibility into this pricing on a real-time basis.

Knowing a publisher is happy with 70% of a campaign’s impressions being in-view, while the popular advertiser stance is 100% of a campaign’s impressions being in-view, a publisher has the option to not charge for the 30% of impressions deemed as not in-view. This solves a reporting need, but publishers should ensure that their sales teams don’t get the ball stolen from them when an agency insists upon inventory that is 100% viewable at 70% viewability pricing. This is a 30% cost reduction, which is the equivalent of hard foul at midcourt – unnecessary and unsportsmanlike.

In terms of CPC, has anyone noticed that nobody is complaining about viewability on Google search results? CPC pricing ensures the user has engaged in the advertiser’s creative. That’s it – no conversion measurement, no long-tail attribution and, most importantly, no viewability requirement.

Moving to CPC is a scary proposition for publishers. So much of their inventory is transacting at cost-per-thousand-impression (CPM) pricing, audience pricing is also based on CPM and there is a perception that branding campaigns drive lower click-through rates than direct-response creative.

That said, it is scarier to think about turning down RFPs when viewability is a requirement. It is simple math for the publisher: Look at your historical placement click-through rates and the advertiser’s budget. What is the CPC you end up with?

Most display units cannot compete with Google search results, but that isn’t the point. CPC is an easy metric to work with and provides the advertiser with absolute assurance that their creative was seen by the user. Keep in mind that when you dribble, you may get roughed up on the way to the basket, so be prepared to pass or shoot when the time is appropriate.


This one is easy. You receive an agency request for viewability, go to your ad server and check the “viewability” box during the trafficking process. Success.

Oh wait, that doesn’t exist. It is a common misconception, but publishers lack out-of-the-box viewability targeting from their ad server. That’s because concerns with ad load latency have prevented ad servers from adopting a real-time solution to viewability targeting. The ideal solution would be to target viewability no differently using geotargeting for a campaign in the publisher’s ad server. For example, this might mean only showing an ad to users in Chicago based on their IP address.

The lack of a “check box” ad server feature leads to publishers launching proprietary in-view ad products, more vendors entering the marketplace and a whole lot of frustration and confusion. Publishers need to be proactive and identify placements on their properties that can be optimized. We all struggle with the optimal use of white space, functional site navigation above ads and user experience features that keep users coming back to engage with their content. Publishers need to explicitly partner with the design team and establish an open communication flow of ideas to achieve the shared viewability objectives.

Net/net, set up to score. Keep in mind that when you shoot, your shot may get blocked, but at least you seized the opportunity.

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

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Pinelli (MRC)

    Thanks, Matt, for this piece on an important topic. One note on the details above. The 70% viewable rate you refer to was an IAB suggested level of performance, not MRC’s standard. The MRC standard for desktop viewable impressions states that at least 50% of the pixels in the advertisement need to be appear on an in-focus browser tab on the viewable space of the browser page for at least 1 continuous second for display and 2 continuous seconds for video. The MRC standard is intended to set the baseline for what can be considered ‘viewable’. For more information, please see the following: http://mediaratingcouncil.org/081815%20Viewable%20Ad%20Impression%20Guideline_v2.0_Final.pdf