Programmatic Viewability: Possibility or pipe dream?

This column was authored by Angela C. Kinsella Senior Director, Business Development & Programmatic at D360.

In early 2015, somewhere between the IAB calling 100% viewability unreasonable and GroupM’s 100% mandate, publishers and vendors everywhere found themselves in a sea of speculation with little to no guidance. For the first time, it seemed the buy side is asking for more than publishers can currently deliver.

Every conference for the last six months has reminded us that 2015 is actually the year of viewability. While important in 2014, heavily speculated, debated and proselytized, this year it became clear that buyers and agencies are driving the bus, they want a clear view and publishers are only along for the ride.

In short: we all need to get on board or get left behind.

Does viewability exist in programmatic?

As the buy side has moved full-steam ahead, ad tech has been scratching its head. So many vendors are getting into the viewability game that demand side providers (DSPs) are faced with an interesting conundrum.

In a real-time bidding (RTB) environment, the foundation of all programmatic platforms, agencies and buyers can enable pre-bid targeting parameters. These parameters are typically audience based: “Am I reaching the ‘Head of Household Mom’ I want to reach,” for example. But in recent years, these pre-bid filters have become more and more sophisticated. This is where viewability comes into play.

Many DSPs have begun dipping their toes into pre-bid viewability filtering, which allows buyers to weed out the waste before activating a buy. (To that aim, comScore recently released their Industry Trust Profiles.)

But can viewability measures truly exist within a bidding environment? Will DSPs put their trust into a single viewability partner? Or will they build their own solutions?


Right now, publishers are in a bit of a holding pattern while the industry irons out its kinks. Buyers want to be able to measure viewability yesterday, but the fact is that there is no industry standard. In fact, publishers are forced to work with multiple viewability vendors to try and glean what drives their ratings. And, if I’m using Vendor Y and you’re using Vendor Z, there are bound to be deltas. This could effect how I as a publisher am paid.

Moreover, in the prevailing supply side provider (SSP) bidding environment, there is no way for a publisher to guarantee viewable impressions. As a result, publishers mark up rates to offset the impressions they ultimately won’t be paid on—those that won’t meet buyers’ viewability demands.

To their credit, some publishers are trying to get ahead of the problem. From ESPN’s recent redesign, to Gawker and Epicurious, publishers are adjusting their ad placements to combat viewability pressures. For the most part, these tactics work, but they are band-aid solutions.

Where do we go from here?

At the end of the day, the buy side is in the driver’s seat, accelerating change. SSPs and DSPs will need to act quickly to address buyer demands and provide solutions for the entire supply chain.

The MRC and IAB are actively working towards helping us all understand the differences in viewability vendors, to close the gap in deltas and help us all inch closer to consistency.

Until then, as publishers, we combat viewabilty concerns with smarter and more consumer-friendly site designs. We do our homework by working with the leading industry vendors to assess what’s driving our ratings and let the data fuel our decisions. We educate our buyers, working with them to recommend high viewability ad units and negotiate pricing.

Then, we all cross our fingers and hope it works.

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