Vids Are Meant To Be Seen and not Viewed

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Not even advanced digital technology is capable of settling the age-old debate over what constitutes an ad impression.

Is 50% of Adriana Lima viewable enough for you?
Is 50% of Adriana Lima viewable enough for you?

Where were viewability standards when my father would hightail it to the bathroom during a break in McHale's Navy and miss the commercial for the '65 Oldsmobile Cutlass? Let's face it, advertising has always been a dicey game, metrics-wise. You try to tailor your creative to your target audience, pay big money to plop your spot in the middle of your demo's favorite show, and then hope for the best. In the pre-digital days, you depended on Nielsen families to make entries in diaries to determine the TV ratings of a nation. Were we even sure all Nielsen families were literate? A crapshoot at best.

Now that actual opens and views of ads can be digitally recorded and compiled, you'd think there'd be no more griping about the accuracy of metrics. Think again. Last week the Media Ratings Council (MRC) pronounced a final benediction over its Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines. A display ad is considered viewed if at least 50% of the pixels are viewable for one second. Same for videos, except that two seconds of a video has to play for it to be kosher.

“This is just more of the same. It's still very complicated to create a standard that suits everyone,” says WebSpectator CEO Andre Parreira. “At the end of the day, no one wants to buy a premium video slot for two seconds. They don't want their video viewed, they want it seen.”

WebSpectator promises its advertiser clients at least 20 seconds of exposure for their videos by targeting their ads to users whose behavior the company tracks. “We create impressions. Our system knows that when we make an RTB request, that user is likely to spend 20 seconds with that video,” claims Parreira. His point is that his definition of a viewable ad hardly squares with the MRC's definition, and so no advance has been made.

The MRC, which was charged with crafting a definition acceptable to both advertisers and publishers, disagrees. “We did a lot of research and found a balance point. At the two-second mark, we think the publisher has provided the opportunity for the ad to be seen,” says MRC SVP David Gunzerath. “If the buyers and the sellers of advertising want to consider something beyond that and negotiate it, that's all well and good. But for a baseline metric, we think two seconds is appropriate.”

The negotiating is likely to be hot and heavy, as the viewability standard inevitably deflates the premium video inventory. “We all understand the value of a viewable standard, but viewable impressions are not all seen, and once the supply goes down, publishers are going to have to make up for the loss in revenue with premium pricing,” says Craig Simmons, manager of product strategy and operations at Exponential.

Simmons is of the opinion that the MRC definitions give advertisers a starting point from which to create their own definitions of viewability with publishers. He says that ComScore and Double Verify are just as capable of measuring videos as viewable at three or five seconds as at two. But, as has always been and likely always will be the case with advertising, measurement must be merged with gut feelings and common sense.

“As an advertiser, you have to set expectations accordingly. I can't stress that enough,” Simmons advises. “A lot of marketers say that what they want is 100% viewability, but that's not realistic. That's not how our industry works.” Fifty percent is more like it, he says.

DMNotes is DMN's around-the-clock blog. Yes, a blog in 2016.

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