70% Viewability is a Bullshit Ad Standard

This is something I have been meaning to complain about for a while.IAB WORKS FOR SELLERS

The IAB announced that the “official” standard for viewability would be:


  1. All billing should continue to be based on the number of Served Impressions during a campaign and these should be separated into two categories: Measured and Non-Measured.
  2. Given the limitations of current technology, and the publisher observed variances in measurement of 30-40%, it is recommended that in this year of transition, Measured Impressions be held to a 70% viewability threshold.
  3. If a campaign does not achieve the 70% viewability threshold for Measured Impressions, publishers will make good with additional Viewable Impressions until the threshold is met. Such a guarantee ensures that all paid measurable ad impressions will be viewable at a threshold that both exceeds the minimum standard and falls within observed variances.

The IAB attempts to slow roll this argument by noting that some ad units, such as roadblocks, may not support the current state of viewability technology, but that is really just a red herring. Media buyers are smart enough to recognize that some line items are capable of using viewable tech and some are not, in the same way that they use their own ad servers. To the extent that they are measuring served impressions themselves, and then managing to a discrepancy of 10%, extending the measurement to measuring viewable impressions seems like child play.

While people talk about publishers indicating that viewability tech is hard, the fact of the matter is that the tech is OK. Not great, but good enough. We already live in a world filled with discrepancy – this is just one more. It can be negotiated and accounted for. People check their discrepancy with DFA every day. Literally every day. They can check the discrepancy with viewability as well. Similarly, I suspect that the real problem here is twofold:

First, many publishers are adding more and more inventory to pages. For example, Philly.com has a 728 at the top of the page and a 728 at the bottom. Then they have two 300×250 units. Fully 50% of their ad inventory is “not viewable”. One of their 728x90s is below the comments for articles. It will never, ever, ever be seen. The New York Times does the same thing: Two 728’s, two 300x250s. Yet for the Times, Both of the 300x250s is below the fold, along with the second 728×90.


The good news is that they have stopped trying to see just how many 300x250s they can litter down the sidebar. The bad news is that they still struggle to enter a place where the ads are not a cynical attempt to extract value from ad networks. Focusing on viewable ads – those that will create real value for advertisers – is an important step towards creating the best product possible for digital advertising.

Second, with the continued growth of programmatic and the secular trend towards the use of exchanges, there is plenty, and I mean plenty, of terrible inventory out there. People bidding on inventory programmatically creates tons of opportunities to try to acquire incremental revenue from advertisers for what are essentially worthless ad placements.

These two facts lead me to believe that the real problem with viewability is simply that many ads are not viewed. The expectation should not be that advertisers should absorb this cost. The good news is that this is not an impediment to accessing budgets – e.g. the digital advertising market does not shrink as these page views go away. If anything, the truly remarkable performance of effective digital marketing will truly shine through. Rather than many publishers “managing” advertisers campaigns to a CTR, where some percentage of ads is shown in high-performing spots and the remaining percentage in low performing spots (and this happens all the time), now we will see performance justifying premium CPMs. And as inventory on premium quality inventory dwindles and programmatic quality checks for inventory such as viewability tools become widespread, the inventory on non-premium dwindles, then advertisers will happily pay premium CPMs to reach their audience.

Combined with the continued evolution of laser-targeted media, these improvements in inventory quality should drive dramatic industry change, growth and improvement.

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