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What Viewability Means for Digital Video Advertising

More money is flowing to digital formats than ever before, with eMarketer predicting US digital ad spending (across all formats) will surpass TV spending in 2017. But even as more ad dollars move to digital, marketers suddenly have less certainty that their ads are being seen by consumers. It’s due to a metric called “viewability,” and it has the potential to transform the way advertisers (particularly those who spend on digital video) plan and measure digital campaigns in the future. In fact, one 2013 study went so far as to suggest more than half of all ads were not seen by site visitors. Why is this metric so important, what does it measure, and how might it impact your digital spending in the future? Read on for all the details.

A viewable impression is a metric designed to gauge which digital ads have had the opportunity to be seen by a website visitor. While it might seem odd to think of an ad not being “viewable,” in reality there are several scenarios where this might occur. One example is when an ad is “below the fold” (when part of a webpage can’t be seen without scrolling). Problems with viewability can also occur if a web user has an ad blocker installed, if they are on another tab or working in another program as the ad plays, or if non-human traffic artificially boosts website traffic. In fact, the growth of programmatic ad buying, which has automated a significant portion of digital ad spending, including digital video, has made the questions about viewability all the more pressing.

But despite the urgency of increasing viewability, advertisers and clients alike have yet to settle on a firm standard. Many media agencies and clients are now insisting they will only pay for campaigns that offer “viewable impressions” that have been seen by consumers.  However the standards around how this should be measured are not consistent between publisher, platform and ad buyer. For instance, while the Media Rating Council and IAB have set a 2-second benchmark for viewability of digital video, some media agencies like GroupM want an even higher standard, insisting that videos be actively initiated by the user, be in view for at least 50% of the duration of an ad, and have the audio playing. Meanwhile, many of the digital ad world’s largest platforms like Facebook and Twitter, have also set their own viewability standards, adding to the confusion for advertisers.

Where does all this leave digital video advertisers simply looking to ensure their ad dollars are well spent online? Unfortunately, there are still no easy answers when it comes to viewability. It’s a complicated, but important, issue that many in the industry are working tirelessly to solve. For now, advertisers should continue to stay educated on the shifting viewability standards used by their key partners and publishers. Remember that measurement among vendors is not equal. Choose those partners whose measurement standards match your own expectations and be sure to let a publisher know in advance which measurement metrics your campaign payments will be based on. If these types of viewability details aren’t spelled out in advance, you may end up paying for more than you’re getting.