Is The Focus on Viewability Making Us Blind?

One advantages digital advertising has over analog is the ability to accurately measure audience, views, and response. So it only makes sense for those of us in the video advertising space to be more vigilant about how we’re reporting ad views.

Yes, viewability is a major priority. Some advertisers demand 100 percent viewability rates before even agreeing to pay for their impressions. As a result, video ad platforms are bending over backwards to showcase their viewability prowess. After deciding to measure viewability across its footprint in January, Google recently asserted that only 54 percent of video ads on the web are viewable and 91 percent of ads on YouTube have a “chance to be viewable.”

However, the concept of viewability as a key performance indicator (KPI) is becoming dangerously close to a vanity stat devoid of meaning. Many video platforms do their own measuring and reporting of their results, which means that trust issues aside, each platform can individually determine its own methodology for viewability. While some have agreed to allow third-party verification – Moat and Integral Ad Science (IAS) being the leaders – the two largest platforms, Google and Facebook, have not. We’re already hearing about brands pulling back advertising from platforms who won’t or can’t allow third-party viewability verification.

Also, consider how the results are reported. Rather than a standardized stat advertisers can use to measure campaign effectiveness or to make ad-buy decisions, using its own standards and reporting data, each platform uses viewability stats as a wedge issue. This props up their own platforms while cutting down competitors.

Finally, there are no cross-platform viewability standards. What counts as a viewable ad online is different than on mobile and tablet devices, and is also likely different for connected TV. Viewability requires a cross-platform approach. The standards set for desktop viewability don’t apply to mobile viewability, and so on. So one standard can’t be applied across all platforms; each requires its own. Until we can create a matrix of viewability standards across platforms, the system will remain flawed.

If viewability is so important, do we really want video platforms policing themselves? Do we want to use this data as a marketing tool, rather than a standardized KPI? Can we afford to place such importance on a stat that can’t be accurately measured on all the devices that video content and ads are viewed on?

The good news is that a recent independent analysis shows viewability is actually improving. In February, IAS conducted a study of data from last year’s Q4 and found that video viewability rates increased 9 percent from the previous quarter, and that “in-view” completion rates grew 20 percent. Meanwhile, video ad fraud fell from 15 percent to 10 percent quarter-over-quarter.

The bad news is all this focus on viewability is taking attention away from other performance indicators that are equally, if not more, important. How about a KPI stat for relevancy that can ensure an ad, no matter how viewable, is placed against relevant content and targets the right demographic? Because an ad that’s 100 percent viewable by people who will never buy the product is just as useless as if it hadn’t been seen at all.

Or how about a user experience stat? Video ads are a form of branding. Therefore, brands should care just as much about how their video ad come across, in terms of quality and the ability to stand out. Again, 100 percent viewability of a commoditized ad lacking in resonance is hardly better than an ad not seen at all.

As the video ad industry matures, I would like to see:

  1. A standardized viewability measurement for each video format where ads appear.
  2. An independent third-party measurement body that oversees viewability reporting: MRC is currently making headway on this, which is a very good thing.
  3. A contextualizing of viewability stats into a more broad measurement of the advertising experience.

Sure, that’s asking for a lot, but so is the demand for 100 percent viewability. If we’re going to set the bar high, we might as well focus on setting the right bar.

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