In Pursuit of Video Ad Viewability: The 5-step Guide for Publishers

Posted by Mongchee Chang On December 10, 2015

The topic’s sudden pervasiveness, especially pertaining to video advertising, is a reflection of the industry’s uncomfortable yet necessary growing pains. And while growth and maturity are good for everyone in the end, the pains are causing no small amount of angst among both buyers and sellers.

Both sides are caught first in a technology gap between a perceived ideal end state – where ads are paid for only if they are viewed – and the current state, where ads are traded based primarily on impressions.

Secondly, there is a philosophical gap. Viewability is suddenly the most sought-after currency, as a rebound measure after the headlines hit last year around quality of ad views, with regard to fraud and ambiguous impressions. But this is occurring at the risk of context and environment being forever forgotten as additional and equally essential proxies for quality.

Like many other ad tech topics du jour, the discourse could first of all use more definition. We’re far from having a standard form of measurement for viewability. There isno shortage of MRC-accredited measurement vendors each with a slightly different criteria for video viewability.

The Push For Viewability Standards: Cause & Effect

What’s the cause of the problem? The IAB puts the blame largely on the marketers demanding massive amounts of impressions for miniscule price points. Instead of asking, “Why are these impressions so cheap?” or “How is this publisher getting so many impressions?” marketers are asking how to get more for less. And it’s the ad agencies that do the bidding with the publishers. In doing so they put pressure on the publishers to either meet the demands or lose the deal. It’s this pressure that pushes publishers to go search for ways to boost impressions, allowing “unregulated mechanisms” to enter into the market.

Though, not everywhere in the world is viewability as vicious of a cycle as others. For instance, IAB’s US CEO Randall Rothenberg, is optimistic that the Australian market can break away from fraudulent impressions and be on course for more transparent advertising faster than other markets. It’s all about the size of the market and the economy. Rothenberg said, “In a marketplace where the sellers and the buyers know each other and the intermediaries know each other, it’s going to be easier to detect the patterns of activity that aren’t legitimate.”

Though for everyone, there is hope: in the past several months, the industry has made strides toward a uniform definition of viewability. The IAB, 4A’s and the ANA have put aside their differences, forming the 3M’s, and are in support of the MRC and its position as the standards-setting body. 

But in other ways, we’re still stuck between the old and the new. Particularly for publishers, a bit of angst about migrating from CPM-based selling to engagement-based selling is warranted. More agencies and advertisers are looking at campaign goals based on viewable ads rather than reported impressions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that under a viewability-only focused model you’ll have to deliver a lot more ads to meet those goals, on the same budget.

So there’s the rub.

How can sellers adapt and make the most out of a seemingly inevitable shift to viewability-based campaign measurement? How can they keep both their buyers and their CFO happy at the same time? How can they make sure their content is not devalued? The good news is, with the right practices viewability can work for you, not against you. The tools are arriving that can turn this perceived vulnerability into new strength; even if it’s a bit painful growing into it at first.

Get on this 5 step checklist and viewability can work for you:

1- Audit – know your potential

It’s critical to have a viewability measurement solution integrated with your ad server. Even if it won’t be bullet proof, you need to have a solid understanding of which assets will be likely to meet buyer expectations, and which may fall short. In addition to pure viewability measurement, you’ll need video analytics that can tell you which assets are driving the highest engagement across all device types. This will help you understand how every aspect from page placement to player size is affecting engagement or causing abandonment. Without this readily available video intelligence, you’re already shooting in the dark.

2- Optimise – take action

Now that you have better intelligence on viewability performance across all of your assets, perhaps the most important part of staying in control is optimising your inventory. Create packages that bring together your highest-performing assets, and offer those at a higher CPM. Use the data you’re collecting to understand how to improve the assets that are underperforming. Analytics can uncover the factors that are driving your highest engagement, so you can replicate them across your entire catalogue. Let the data be your guide.

3- Be proactive – talk to your buyers, give them your story

Too often buyers and sellers are simply speaking different languages with regard to expectations around viewability. The simplest advice that is most often overlooked: have a conversation with your buyer about how you’ll measure campaign outcomes. Share the information you’ve learned about your inventory and how your offering demands a premium. Back up your case with hard data and insights derived from the measurement you’ve made. Don’t be afraid to engage – the industry is moving fast enough that it’s never a bad idea to stop, talk and ensure you’re in agreement about what success means.

4- You’re in the same boat, now get on the same page

It’s important to understand that buyers and sellers can equally be mystified by the ongoing gyrations of industry standards and tools. So it’s even more important to align yourself with your buyer’s interests – and clearly they aren’t interested in ads that aren’t viewable. Particularly, agree on the tools you’ll use to measure viewability. Be willing to invest in the tools your buyer is using, and be sure you’re taking the time to look at things from their perspective as well as your own.

5- Test and learn before you fly

As we’ve already discussed, there are many tools to choose from, and results can vary dramatically. Run a trial and compare reports with your buyer. Understand the potential discrepancies between your data and theirs, and resolve them in advance. Begin the flight knowing there will be no surprises as you bring the campaign home.

Let’s face it: we’re all in this together. Following these guidelines and adapting from the learnings can help the sell side of the business become sharper and more in tune with buyers’ needs. Buyers will have more trust in their trading partners, and confidence in their campaign goals. Tech vendors will have greater incentive to align behind the measurements that rise to the top when buyers and sellers begin to standardise on tools and processes.

All of this combined makes for a nice organic remedy to our growing pains and will help the market mature. The more mature the market, the more dollars will continue to migrate at larger scale from the old world to the new, making our growing pains well worth it.

Mongchee Chang