A study conducted in April by advertising software company Mixpo in the United States, and published by eMarketer, revealed that ad viewability is advertisers’ most important concern in 2016. This very relevant metric tracks ad impressions that can actually be seen by users. This is important because, occasionally, display ads that are loaded on a particular page are counted as impressions but are never found by many users who, for example, fail to scroll down to the ad’s position.

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) marketers are becoming frustrated because they feel they are paying for ads that nobody is seeing. Often, unfortunately, it becomes hard to measure what portion of their budget is spent on unseen ads because, despite the efforts made by the industry, vendors are currently unable to measure viewability in 100% of the cases.

Things are getting better though. The Media Rating Council (MRC) has developed an industry standard that should allow advertisers to get a consistent metric across all sites and advertising networks. According to this new standard, display ads should be considered viewable if 50% of their pixels are in view for a minimum of one second. For larger ad units, 30% of their pixels should be shown on the screen for that period of time. In the case of video, ads are considered viewable when 50% of the pixels are shown for at least 2 seconds. And while these numbers aim at becoming a standard, this varies across some platforms. In Facebook, for instance, video views are considered after three seconds, and YouTube, on the other hand, won’t charge advertisers if standard skippable ads are not seen for 30 seconds.

In the case of display ads, where advertiser spending is far less concentrated, ad networks have different ways to track this particular metric, and many are not doing it in a reliable manner. For this reason, the IAB considers we are not yet at the point where advertisers can expect to run campaigns expecting to get 100% viewable impressions, as this would force them to leave out of their inventory publishers that are very valuable, but which don’t have the proper tools to measure this metric in a reliable manner.

The Risks of Switching to a Viewable-Impressions-Only Model

While switching to a model where advertisers would only pay for viewable impressions may sound like a good idea, and is what may ultimately happen at some point over the next decade, there may be some negative aspects associated with it.

For instance, this model would undeniably rise the price advertisers pay for impressions. Some vendors like Google, Undertone, and others, are already starting to allow their clients to pay for viewable impressions only, but according to some ad-execs quoted by Digiday, the prices of such ads are inflated, as they are absorbing the price of unviewable impressions anyway.

At the same time, switching to this model could create incentives for publishers to maximize ad viewership, moving most display banners to the top of their pages in order to increase revenue, which could have a negative impact on user experience, and even on their ability to retain users landing on those pages.

Viewability is a serious concern by markerters, and it is rightfully so. However, we are still far away from a model based on this metric rather than on impressions that would work better both for advertisers, ad networks, and publishers.

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