Fragmentation adds to viewability woes

Web standards bodies are further lobbying ad tech vendors to more closely align how they report on ad viewability, as successive reports published this week suggest that the rise of programmatic media trading is negatively impacting the amount of ads actually seen by intended audiences.

JICWEBs – a cross-industry body representing the IAB, IPA, ISBA and the AOP which audits ad tech firms’ claims – is processing applications from companies offering ad viewability solutions, after media buyers complained that differences in their methodologies make it difficult to trade media efficiently.

This comes as successive reports this week suggest that the rise of programmatic media trading in the UK is leading to a decline in ad viewability rates, with one claiming that less than half of all ads served are actually seen by human beings, meaning £485m of media spend is wasted.

Trade bodies reviewing policies

JICWEBs and ABC are currently screening the ad viewability methodologies of several companies after only a handful of companies met their required standards in an earlier bid to align how multiple ad tech vendors report on whether or not ads served are actually seen by humans.

At present only four companies – ComScore, Integral Ad Science, DoubleVerify, and Moat – are accredited for their viewability methods by both JICWEBs, and the Media Ratings Council (MRC) in the US.

The MRC had earlier issued accreditations to 17 companies for their viewability wares. Many of these (predominantly US-based outfits) then entered the UK claiming their MRC accreditation was fit for purpose, according to sources contacted by The Drum.

But advertisers disagreed, claiming discrepancies in the reporting numbers, and methods were too disparate. Several sources consulted by The Drum complained of massive discrepancies in the reporting figures of many of these ad tech vendors.

Huge discrepancies

Nigel Gwilliam, a digital consultant at the IPA, said: “We looked at MRC-accredited vendors, but then found huge discrepancies in a lot of the numbers they were reporting.

“Then you get to a situation where you have every man and his dog claiming they can do viewability. We [JICWEBs] don’t want to disrupt competition, but when you have such disparate figures then it’s hard to trade off videwable impressions.”

Gwilliam went on to say that as a result, JICWEBs is championing those ad viewabilty vendors that ‘harmonise’ their reporting methodologies, with the various trade bodies working with ABC to vet verification applications from several ad tech vendors.

Richard Foan, chairman of JICWEBs, explained to The Drum that the next round of certification announcements should be issued in the coming weeks, with mid-September onwards widely regarded as realistic timeframe.

Foan added: “The industry has more work to do when it comes to reducing discrepancies, and coming up we will be looking at things like measuring video, such as how to measure when an ad is being played, and whether the sound is on, etc.”

Accreditation & ‘accreditation light’

The key difference between accreditation from JICWEBs and the ABC, compared to MRC backing, is that the former two (which are effectively ‘owned’ by the industry, as they are funded by stakeholders) can be more instructive over how ad tech vendors devise their reporting numbers, before accreditation is issued.

This is compared to the MRC’s current mandate (from the US Senate), which means it is unable to refuse companies’ accreditation requests provided they were able to do as they said, the way they achieve these results is not the MRC’s concern, according to Foan.

Foan said the more stringent standards insisted upon by UK outfits were due to the discrepancies between reporting figures. Many of which were up to double-digits, the aim of the current efforts were to bring this number down to single digits.

Meanwhile, Steve Chester, IAB, director of data and industry programmes, said the aim of the current review process was to bring the reporting practices of applicants into line with the four vendors to receive accreditation it rubberstamped in November.

The cost of fragmentation

This comes the same week as a report from ad viewability vendor Meetrics revealed the average UK ad viewability rate experienced a marked drop over the last year – primarily due to the rise of automated media buying – with less than half of all ads served online actually seen by human beings, resulting in a loss of £485m, during Q2 2015 alone.

The report claimed that 49 per cent of online ads served in the UK met with the IAB and MRC’s definition of a viewable ad (i.e. 50 per cent of it is in view for at least 1 second). This is compared to the figure of 64 per cent in Germany, and 62 per cent in France, with Meetrics claiming the more startling figure in the UK was due to more UK advertisers adopting programmatic media buying.

A recent IAB study showed that 45 per cent of UK display ads were bought programmatically in 2014, up from 28 per cent in 2013. The IAB predicted this will rise to 70-80 per cent by 2018.

Commenting on the results, Anant Joshi, Meetrics’ director of international business, said: “[Programmatic media buying] is certainly less transparent than buying directly and there’s also a big question mark about the quality of much of the inventory sold this way and, clearly, that most of it never ends up being seen.”

Elsewhere this week, a separate report from Adform also demonstrated that ad viewability rates are also on the wane.

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