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TV Technology Viewability

TV viewability remains to be seen in the digital age


By Taylor Dua, Editorial Intern

April 19, 2019 | 4 min read

Like a tree falling in an uninhabited forest, do TV advertisements make an impact if viewers aren’t in the room?

IPG Media Lab chart

Source: IPG Media Lab

According to a study by IPG Media Lab and MAGNA Global, more than $59 billion will be spent on ads for television in the US, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be seen. In fact, the study found that only 71% of TV ads are viewable. In terms of TV, a viewable ad impression means the viewer must be physically present in the room for at least two seconds while an ad is being aired. Making a snack in the kitchen, in earshot of the ad, doesn’t count. Similarly, attention is defined as viewing the screen for at least two seconds while an ad is airing.

The study reported on 5,388 participants who voluntarily installed viewability detection technology to track their viewing habits across the span of six months. The findings show that of the 5,961,757 impressions – more than 35,000 hours worth of ads – only 4,164,261 were actually viewable. The reason, of course: 29% of the time, no one was actually in the room.

We have all been guilty of using ad time as a cue for an intermission between segments of our favorite shows, but that doesn’t mean we skip the ads altogether. In fact, the study showed that most viewers, 72.2%, sit through the first pod of the ad queue, with viewability dwindling to 69.9% by the third pod.

Though this may seem to indicate limits on the average viewer’s attention span, that’s not the case. The study found that longer ads had more viewability, though duration is not necessarily correlated with efficiency.

Another point that the study identified was that primetime, while holding high attention due to its content, does not have the greatest viewability. Ad viewability during primetime is 76%, while other dayparts reach as high as 84%. And, even when a category of ads has a high potential to be seen (e.g. pharmaceutical brands lead with 75% viewability), those ads aren’t always seen by the intended audience; the highest target success rate for brands was 64% for health brands, versus 43% in consumer-packed goods, in office services, and in quick-service restaurant brands.

Although viewability for digital video has different criteria (the viewer is present but not all ads served appear on his screen), the numbers are similar. Ad viewability for digital video is 69%, according to the study. The implication is that advertisers need to consider viewability when planning their TV ad placements. The study’s findings suggest that by considering context, marketers can improve ad viewability by scheduling ads not just based on when the most people are watching TV, but also on when their brand’s target demographic is most likely sitting in front of the screen and paying the most attention.

“It was interesting to be able to quantify viewability for linear TV and find out that it is so close to what we see with digital video,” said Kara Manatt, senior vice president of intelligence solutions and strategy at MAGNA Global. “This will have to be a consideration in the future as we continue to refine cross-platform video measurement.”

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