What is Viewability aka Viewable impressions?


At CES 2015, Google announced about rolling out viewability reporting capabilities across its ad platforms. The concept of viewability has been there since 2010 from early advocates such as RealVu and OnScroll. However it started picking up heat again when The Media Rating Council lifted an advisory, published few guidelines and advised that the industry can start using viewable impressions as a digital currency metric. Let's try to understand what viewability or viewable impressions represent and how it matters to an online marketer?


What is Viewability?

One of the most used metric in the digital world is impressions. Impression is when an ad is shown in the web page. It's similar to the impression metric used in the offline world. However an ad shown doesn't mean the visitor to the web page actually saw it. There could be multiple cases where the visitor is not actually viewing the ad - It could be that the ad is appearing down the page where the reader is not even scrolling down to; or it could be that the user opened multiple tabs and closed immediately. The concept of viewability is a shift from impression served to impression viewed.   The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) consider a “viewable” impression as the one which is at least 50% visible for a minimum period of one second. When it comes to video viewability, the standard is at least half the video has to be on screen for a period of minimum two seconds. The Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) group, founded by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and IAB is responsible for coming up with such standards and guidelines. Check out the latest guidelines produced by the Media Rating Council here.

Benefits of Viewability

View-able impressions take the digital measurement capability one step ahead. A marketer needs to pay only for those impressions which are actually viewed; thus giving her the opportunity to understand the real impact of ad spend. From a Brand Marketer's perspective, she will be able to understand the lift happening from viewable impressions and understand the elements that increase viewability. From the end customer's point of the view, websites will be more user friendly, and ads will be more relevant ones. Since the ad supply may get reduced, publishers will be forced to improve site designs and find creative ad spots. Premium content (read top slot of ET or The Hindu etc.) will attract more premium for the ad slots associated with those sections.

Challenges in adopting Viewability

First and foremost, it is expected that the amount of impressions that are not actually viewed is enormous. Thus an adoption of this metric without proper standards and authentic technology is a challenge. Secondly technical challenges involved to measure viewable impressions are enormous. Let's take one example - iFrames; cross domain iFrames used in ad delivery takes ads from a  different domain than publisher's site. This means we can't measure whether the impression is viewed. Possible adoption of viewability as a metric has resulted in publisher trying some new design features like  automatic scrolling, click-to-scroll and also more ad formats like takeovers, pop-ups, disruptive reading and so on. This could be countering the use experience. Wikipedia article on viewable impressions provides a good over view of how viewability can be implemented and its associated limitations.

Thus, while viewability is a right step in improving the digital performance measurement, we are still away from adopting it a full-fledged standard!

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