The viewability disconnect: Finding agreement between buyers and sellers

David McMurtrie is head of publishers U.K. at Google. 

The viewability debate continues. While the majority of advertisers and publishers support the MRC/IAB standard, progress has been too slow and some well publicized statements from a few large players has created uncertainty, preventing  the industry from achieving broad agreement and advancing beyond the viewability discussion.

There is a chasm between where the market is today and where it needs to be. Most buyers claim to be trading on viewability for brand and performance campaigns but few sellers are. It’s likely multiple buyers are running analyses on viewability to inform their buying decisions, rather than negotiating directly with the publisher. This only reinforces the problem of opaque buying mechanisms and lack of clarity on how we start to trade on an industry-defined currency.

Buyers will always try to gain advantage in negotiations, and it’s the role of the seller to counter this. But viewability is going to transform how digital is bought and sold. We can see that consumers are increasingly turned off by the constant barrage of poorly targeted and unengaging ads. As publishers focus on maximizing revenue, user experience has all too often been ignored in favor of more ads on the page, disruptive ad formats and retargeted ads that stalk users. Fortunately there is now growing recognition that this must stop and that user experience comes first. By focusing on a better brand experience, reducing the number of ads on a page and optimizing them for viewability, eCPMs and revenue per page should increase along with brand engagement and performance metrics.

One such publisher is Time Inc, whose head of digital advertising Sam Finlay says: “Going forward our aim would be to move beyond viewability as the core debate and focus on what happens following the ad being served in-view. We as an industry need to get to a place where viewability metrics can be standardised and trusted.” This is a view that we wholeheartedly support and we believe that the entire industry should get behind it, too.

Here are the three key issues we need reach agreement on:

The definition of a viewable impression
All parties must accept the IAB/MRC definition for display and video as defined in the “Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines 2014.” This underpins the whole debate and without acceptance by all parties, we won’t reach agreement on how to trade on viewable impressions thus setting ourselves up to fail.

Measurement methodology between vendors
There should be no material difference between vendors reporting on viewability. To achieve this, measurement technology should be integrated with the ad server and we should agree a solution to report on all creative sizes and formats across all channels.  Delivering consistency between vendors creates a scaleable marketplace, and although secondary metrics can provide valuable additional insights, they should not be used in place of the accepted standard methodology.

An industry standard for trading viewable impressions
The IAB and MRC should lead this, working with other bodies representing advertisers and publishers and leading digital companies. The outcome should be cross-industry consensus on how we trade against viewable impressions. While the IAB’s “State of Viewability Transactions 2015” Report is helpful, it does not go far enough and has not, as yet, been widely adopted. Google’s view is that we should ultimately trade on 100 percent viewable impression goals. It may take some time to get there but we’d like the industry to agree and work towards a deadline for this to take effect. Without a clearly defined timeframe, there is little incentive for any of the parties involved to deliver the changes required to meet this goal.

Some have argued the case for only paying for ads that are 100 percent in view abut this is not in the best interests of the industry. We should first work towards achieving the trading goal I’ve outlined above. Once we have achieved this consistency together with acceptance of trading practices around viewability we can start to consider refining our goals and supporting secondary metrics that are better suited to individual advertiser needs.

Adopting these steps will not only ensure a healthier ecosystem in the short term, but also help protect the digital advertising marketplace in the future.

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