Why viewability will become one of the key issues in digital advertising in 2016

With ad blocking seemingly dominating the trade's headlines for most of 2015, The Drum examines why ad viewability is set to re-emerge as one of the key issues to watch throughout the following year.

Ad viewability is set to become one of they key issues of 2016 as advertisers shift their TV adspend to digital video and experiment with their own benchmarks, while the wider industry begins to agree measurement standards.

The buy-side of the industry is working with trade bodies to introduce industry-standard means of measuring viewability with the ambition of using the metric as a currency with which to trade media. In addition, 'viewability' is now among the top campaign optimisation goals, according to a whitepaper recently published by video demand-side platform (DSP) TubeMogul.

Sources quoted in the paper predict that transactional viewability will be implemented in the next year, although they do cede that some work has to be done when it comes to reducing the discrepancies when it comes to the reporting numbers from different ad tech vendors.

Defining video viewability?

Last year the Media Ratings Council (MRC) laid down an interim definition of ad viewability, declaring that a video ad should only be considered viewable if 50 per cent of it is visible on an audience's screen for at least two consecutive seconds.

TubeMogul's white paper shows that 2.9 per cent of those advertisers using its platform cite it as one of their top campaign optimisation goals, finishing second only to 'ensure delivery'.

Participating in the study, Elizabeth Hodson, media manager at Heineken, said the beverage giant was satisfied with the MRC definition as a "base standard" metric, although she goes on to add: "but we are working on ways to work with our own benchmarks as we learn."

Indeed, the same report contains an interview with David Counsell, digital trading director at The7stars, who claimed the media agency was constructing a lot of its recent buys in such a fashion that it would only pay for "viewable impressions".

Even 'walled gardens' relent to transparency calls

Indeed, the demand for transparency as regards whether or not paid-for ads were actually seen by human beings led to rare U-turns from the internet's biggest names with both Facebook and Google proving acquiescent to advertisers' calls for increased transparency on ad viewability.

Earlier this month Google announced that it is to partner with Moat, Integral Ad Science, Comscore and DoubleVerify to allow third party verification of brands' campaigns.

This came in addition to the industry's leading social network also partnering with Moat to allow third party measurement of how effective their campaigns have been in response to such demands.

No doubt this was in a hope to address criticisms of its earlier viewability standards, something WPP chief executive had earlier labelled as "ridiculous" in his DMEXCO keynote address this year.

But differences still remain

However, Facebook still charges advertisers for all video ad units that have appeared on a screen, regardless of the length of time they have been in the view of a consumer - something that still rankles with those on the buy-side of the industry.

Speaking recently with The Drum, Comscore's chief research officer, Josh Chasin, explained his view that Facebook and Google are able to adopt such contrary positions due to the sheer scale of their respective popularity with the public, especially the social network when it comes to cross-screen.

Quoting Comscore's own statistics, Chasin described Facebook's share of total time spent on the internet as "simply staggering". In the UK this year Facebook accounted for 55 billion minutes spent on digital media sites, this is out of a total of 266 billion total usage there, according to the numbers.

"Facebook doesn't have a time constraint, and I'm kind of sympathetic [to this point of view] due to the way people use it [i.e. scrolling past quickly on a mobile device]. It's understandable given that there's no standards on mobile," he adds.

Meanwhile, Heineken's Hodson also moves on to address the issue of fragmentation in standards, and viewability measurement. "My dream is that we all sit together as an industry - advertisers, publishers, suppliers, agencies, etc. - and actually establish what is the definition of viewability," she said. "We can't move on until we are all working to the same measurements."

'Big numbers' are always popular, even if inaccurate

However, Comscore's Chasin goes on to cite a recent MRC "reconciliation study" that looked at narrowing the various reporting numbers of different ad tech vendors which found that mobile was the biggest area of disagreement.

For instance, many maintain that as long as an ad is served in-app that it is deemed viewable, while many take issue with this. "We all know that this isn't the case. A lot of people are misidentifying ads as being seen when they are not," says Chasin.

This chimes with views expressed to The Drum by web standards bodies in the UK, which claim that MRC accreditation often falls short of media buyers' needs as it is unable to refuse companies’ accreditation requests provided they are able to do as they said - the way they achieve these results is not the MRC’s concern.

Talking about the quest for accuracy in measurement, Chasin references a certain intransigence shift toward proposed changes in reporting methodologies, as inaccurate reporting methods can make certain parties within the media ecosystem appear to be doing their job well.

"One thing you have to understand is that big numbers are popular," he says.

Attempts to unify measurement

Back at the TubeMogul University event hosted earlier this month, Niall Hogan, UK managing director of Integral Ad Science, explained how it was the differing reporting methodologies of ad tech vendors that compounded the problem.

He further explained how JICWEBS - the joined body between UK trade bodies the IAB, ISBA, IPA and AOP - were working towards narrowing these discrepancies, and that it was his opinion that trading on viewability would commence in the UK within the next nine months.

However, as earlier reported by The Drum, 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.

Presently, only Comscore, Integral Ad Science, DoubleVerify, and Moat – are accredited for their viewability methods. This is despite the MRC issuing a similar accreditation to 17 companies, but advertisers disagreed, claiming discrepancies in the reporting numbers, and methods were too disparate.

Although, is processing further applications from companies offering ad viewability solutions in a bid to reduce the discrepancies between the reporting methodologies of the difference vendors.

Reducing discrepancies

Speaking with The Drum, Richard Foan, JICWEBS chairman, and group executive director, added: "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."

Foan went on to state that an upcoming ABC report on a number of viewability tool providers will show improved accountability which, in turn should lead to reduced discrepancies.

However, a number of sticking points remain, according to Steve Chester, IAB UK's director of data and industry programmes, a fellow participant in the TubeMogul whitepaper. He notes that issues around the consistent measurement of homepage takeovers, roadblocks, as well as bespoke ad formats are a particular areas to be addressed.

He said: "The core reasons for discrepancies between vendors have now been identified and will start to see significant reduction in the differences between them. As these discrepancies come under control and dip under 10 per cent, viewable impressions will become standards across the industry, much like served impressions are today."

Open Video Viewability Initiative

To help aid this, ad tech vendors including TubeMogul, Innovid, Yahoo-owned BrightRoll, Facebook-owned LiveRail, and AOL’s Adap.tv handed management of their open-source consortium Open VV to the IAB earlier this year.

Open VV, a consortium consisting of 30 ad tech vendors, was designed to establish a common standard for video viewability measurement, with the move representing the first industry initiative to be on-boarded into the IAB Tech Lab - the trade body’s attempt to help companies implement global industry technical standards and solutions.

As advertisers apply ever-more stringent standards when it comes to the measurement of viewable ads, 2016 is set to become a landmark year for establishing it as a trading metric.

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