Viewability is not a new concept

Viewability is not a new concept

Viewability in advertising is NOT a new concept, despite its current status as the hot topic du jour.  Rather, it’s simply a case of history repeating itself, albeit with newly available and constantly evolving technology.  (I’m not talking about bots or fraud here, but rather, focusing on the human angle.)

Traditional = progressive?

Technology has driven this debate several times, in other arenas.  Those of us with platform-agnostic teams or in non-siloed groups can look back to the 2007-2008 national television upfront stand-off.

With rapidly scaling DVR adoption, advertisers and networks had to align together regarding the implications of time-shifted viewing before deals could be done, fueled by Nielsen’s local people meter set-top-box data, versus the older model of program ratings.

That was inherently a debate about viewability.

At the center of the debate were two questions: What should count, and what should be paid for?

After a staring contest (advertisers wanted “live only,” but networks wanted viewership up to seven days), a compromise was reached.  “C3 ratings” – non-skipped commercials seen within three days of original airing – are still the currency with which we’re transacting in the TV marketplace (though discussions have emerged anew about evolving to C7 ratings, but I digress…).

If we reflect, what we sustained as an industry seven years ago was essentially a shift in viewability metrics, but no one called it that.

Pricing underwent changes; TV gross rating points (GRPs)  were in shorter supply, and thus cost-per-thousand or cost-per-point (CPMs/CPP)  appeared to increase.  There’s no difference in what we’re seeing today in digital; advertisers and agencies only want to pay for the ads that are seen but may be willing to pay for higher quality assurances.

TV wasn’t the only medium though; terrestrial radio began piloting new listenership measurement in 2006, when Arbitron rolled out portable people meters which could better track how much button-pushing and station-shifting was really happening.  In 2007-2008, they began to report ratings based on actual listening behavior, not just errant diary methodology favoring the giants.

Unsurprisingly, we saw the terrestrial radio ratings shift. Big, market-dominating stations reported declines because they’d been chronically overreported, and smaller stations deeper on the ranker saw increases, finally getting some overdue credit.

This is akin to the shift away from the premium placed on “above the fold” digital inventory and “below the fold.” Arguably, why do we care about top-of-page positions if a user scrolls past?  Really, we care if it’s viewable.

Even out-of-home has adopted changes in measurement, incorporating “visibility adjustment indices,” along with other factors, into the old Traffic Audit Bureau vehicle and station counts, evolving daily effective circulation (DEC)  to become more meaningful ratings.

Isn’t it ironic?

What strikes me is ironic, is that this debate is happening in digital … historically our “most measurable” medium, where metrics are king.  But our digital metrics are bogus if the ads simply aren’t seen.  A consumer quite simply does not take an ad-attributable action if they didn’t see the ad in the first place.

They might take an action, and an ad might be served.  But if it’s non-viewable, the data is meaningless.  There might be a correlation, but there is no causative effect.  We need to look beyond the data, behind the numbers, and remember that essential truth.

But back to the two central questions I mentioned above.

What should count?

We have some MRC standards in place, and we have partners like Double Verify, Integral Ad Science and MOAT, to help track, despite continuing challenges in what’s feasibly measurable.

But what should be paid for?

For now, the IAB suggests 70 percent. Indeed, Sizmek measured 240 billion impressions last year and concluded that at a threshold of 70 percent, all performance metrics increase. So at a minimum, we need to push our media vendor partners to commit to those minimums, or deliver make-goods (we, at Slingshot, have had threshold requirements in place since mid-2014).

But wait … remember television?  For years, national networks have guaranteed 100 percent delivery for upfront campaigns (or run quarterly “audience deficiency units” or ADUs), and local stations have posted buys at 90 percent plus in the spot market (or run underdelivery schedules) – which suggests that 70 percent is still not good enough.

Go forth and conquer

Let’s be more aggressive and quit buying on CPMs. We need to instead transact on CPVMs (cost per viewable thousand impressions, or 100 percent viewability).  In online video, we’re already buying CPCV (cost per completed view) inventory, but we need to transact on CPVCV (cost per viewable completed view) video streams.

Costs may appear to be slightly higher, but it’s artificial because we’re simply getting a more accurate look at what we’ve been doing all along.  We are marketing in an Age of Distraction™, and we know viewability ultimately drives engagement.

So finally, the toughest charge of all: We need to be brave enough to educate our clients on why seeing their ad costs increase could possibly be a sign of improved advertising stewardship for their brands.


Charlotte Hudson Carter, Vice President, Media & Communication Planning. Slingshot, LLC is a fiercely independent, full-service ad agency located in Dallas, Texas. Key accounts include Texas Tourism, Susan G. Komen, Taco Bueno and American Home Shield. To learn more about Charlotte: LinkedIn & Agency Bio.

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