The Financial Times’ Perspective on Ad Viewability

Viewable impressions as a trading metric is inevitable. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” the viewability metric will become a trading standard, says the Financial Times.

While Google asserted its support for viewability last April and vendors such as comScore and Sizmek (formerly Mediamind) have been swift in getting their accreditation from the Media Ratings Council, the associations have advised companies not to treat viewability as a trading currency for now.

jonsladeftJon Slade, commercial director for global digital advertising and insight for the Financial Times (FT), who is responsible for overall strategic ad implementation across digital platforms, spoke to ClickZ via email on the controversy surrounding viewability as a metric and the call for other publishers to be part of this debate.

An excerpt of the interview follows:

ClickZ: How would the FT define viewability?

Jon Slade: It’s important to note that the Media Ratings Council in the U.S. – the body that audits the technology required for measuring viewability – and the IAB have not yet lifted their advice that viewability should not be traded upon at this time. Their view is that the technology is not yet fully ready.

However, when this advice is lifted the FT will follow the standard measure of an advertisement being in view for one second, and 50 percent of the surface area being seen, in order to qualify as “viewed.”

Along with other publishers, we are working with the IAB to define standard measures for larger units, such as the IAB Rising Star portfolio, that would permit a smaller percentage in view.

In addition, we will follow the IAB standards for video advertising, which currently has a working definition of a minimum exposure of two seconds.

We feel it’s very important that all members of the digital advertising supply chain – buyers and sellers – observe the same standard measures, otherwise moving to viewability as a traded currency is going to be extremely difficult.

CZ: What’s your position on viewability?

JS: As a premium media owner, the FT fully welcomes the drive to provide maximum transparency and trust in our industry. In fact, we feel that the standards the IAB is proposing are the minimum an advertiser should expect.

In addition to optimizing our site to ensure maximum viewability for our clients, we’re also working with Chartbeat to measure not just whether an ad is seen or not, but for how long. We believe that the amount of time the target audience is exposed to the advertiser’s message has a direct effect on its impact. We can tell our clients how long each impression has been viewed, and the total duration of exposure across the campaign.

In essence, there’s no reason why publishers’ can’t start to trade “exposed time” as a currency, not just impressions. This is a metric that we feel is closer to the actual outcome an advertiser is seeking – impressions themselves are just a convenient mechanism to trade.

CZ: Why is viewability a controversial metric in the industry?

JS: I haven’t spoken to anyone who disagrees that if an ad isn’t seen then it shouldn’t be paid for. It is a fairly unassailable piece of logic. On the other hand, from what I have seen, many in the industry seem to be concerned that suddenly a huge percentage of their inventory will become worthless. comScore reports that in aggregate, across North American supply, more than 50 percent of impressions are never seen. For publishers used to trading quantity – not quality – that becomes an issue.

However, the biggest problem we face is that the technology available for measuring viewability is not yet at an acceptable standard to permit smooth trading. Huge volumes of impressions go unmeasured, so buyers and sellers can’t say one way or another if the advertisement was seen. It’s critical this issue is resolved before trading commences.

Finally, standards around the reconciliation process remain largely unresolved, and the viewability standard introduces yet another layer of ad-tech into an already over-complicated marketplace. And that technology has to be paid for, meaning yet another slice of margin is removed from the value of each impression.

But these are the prices we will have to pay to ensure advertisers have real faith in the medium we work in. The supply chain is awash with very poor quality, or fake inventory, so we would say to sellers and buyers – don’t sit on the sidelines, get involved in sorting out these issues so that the whole industry can benefit from improved quality.

CZ: How would it impact the FT if the viewability metric becomes the trading standard?

JS: We think the impact on the FT will be positive. We already provide a very high-quality service and as we move to provide improved viewability and measures around exposed time, then the value we provide to our customers will only improve further. That has to be a good thing.

I think we have to say “when” rather than “if” the viewability metric becomes a trading standard. This is going to happen and anyone putting their head in the sand at this point is in for a rude awakening in a couple of months.

So we would encourage other premium publishers to be a part of the debate, and help shape the outcomes that work best for all sides. This is all about helping the digital advertising pot grow by driving ever-more trust into an already useful medium.

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