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Advertisers are being pitched cost-per-second campaigns to take them away from impressions

Publishers crave a way to monetise the amount of time a reader spends on an ad, and one startup believes charging on a cost-per-second metric is the way forward.

Using a metric that directly represents the underlying asset of attention is the Holy Grail for many publishers frustrated by their inability to equate the value of an ad to the attention it gets. In a market where concerns around whether an ad is seen or not has got all its stakeholders thinking about viewing times on screens, there’s an acceptance that buying campaigns on impressions needs to be replaced by value-based pricing model.

Ad network Parsec thinks it has the answer, claiming it is the first to let advertisers only pay for the time a reader chooses to spend with their mobile ads, i.e. using the cost-per-second model. It charges on a cost-per-second metric partly because the amount of time that someone chooses to spend with an ad is the best proxy for attention at the moment.

An algorithm ensures that the more time readers spend with an ad, the more likely that ad will run, even at lower cost-per-second bids. It’s a model designed to tip the scales in favour of the creative so that no matter how much money is behind an ad, only those that people are likely to look at for longer will get served.

Media is delivered via in-house formats, though in future Parsec hopes to support any ads that chief executive Marc Guldimann calls ‘politely interruptive’. That means ads are visible for as long as a user chooses - think skippable video, or feed based advertising.

One challenge the ad network will need to overcome in order to make its metric mainstream, is how it convinces publishers and advertisers to sign up to a process that gives it control of the creative and the media buying as well as owns the format. It’s not a perfect long-term solution but Guldimann believes a more hands-on approach is needed to get it off the ground initially.

What the ad network does is it tell advertisers that when they buy on time-based metrics there’s no risk to the return-on-investment (ROI) they would get with an impression, and theoretically gives publishers a way to ensure better ads surface on their sites.

“In order to drive adoption of a new metric you really need to take control,” said Guldimann. “We’re buying on CPM and taking risk on the performance of media and creative, and delivering a guaranteed amount of attention. We’re taking the responsibility.”

The Economist and the Financial Times are among a small pool of major publishers testing time-based ad trading, however both are working with a company called Chartbeat that develop tools for publishers to use. Meanwhile, smaller advertisers such as San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau are testing the metric, and Guldimann insisted it’s only a matter of time before the larger ones get on board. BMW launched is first campaign with Parsec at the end of January.

Despite a growing appetite from publishers to use time-based metrics, not everyone is convinced it’s the best proxy for value. The Guardian’s commercial director Nick Hewat has previously told The Drum that measuring attitudinal, and not behavioural, responses like time is key to unlocking the true value of a publisher’s inventory.