by John Douglas, Op-Ed Contributor, August 17, 2016
Viewability is one of the hot-button topics that larger marketers have continued to focus on over the past few years. The increased importance has led to a rise in companies offering viewability solutions for advertisers. Each of these companies has its own technology to collect and measure viewability in its own proprietary way, which means that the results they deliver may differ. And while the Media Rating Council (MRC) sets the standards and accredits vendors, it does not govern the technology. Some industry pundits have even recommended that ad buyers use two vendors for a more accurate picture of viewability.
With a clear definition of a viewable impression in hand, it’s time for viewability technology standardization. Advertising needs viewability that is consistent, comprehensive, and widely understood. By adopting standardized measurement tools, the entire industry can operate from the same place, leaving no barrier to viewable impression-based transactions. When it comes to standardizing technology, the ideal scenario is to allow the native environments in which the ads are served to provide the means to measure.
For browser-based environments, this means it should happen at the browser level. Browsers, for their part, have already begun implementing “intersection observers,” with Chrome leading the pack. Intersection observers allow advertisers, agencies and ad servers to accurately measure viewability in the browser, and do so consistently. This kind of native measurement should erase any level of doubt about how a viewable impression is measured. The entire industry can get on the same page and leverage a standard, across all display and in-stream video formats, eliminating any gray area.
There are similarities here to Chrome’s decision to stop supporting Flash within the browser, which effectively killed proprietary Flash tech and spurred wider adoption of HTML5 standards. While proprietary technology gave the industry a start, this update to common Web browsers should have the same effect and democratize viewability on the desktop and mobile Web.
Of course, anyone following advertising knows that browser-based Internet use is ceding ground to app use, and in-app viewability is a different story. The current MRAID standard doesn’t have the means to provide reliable viewability data, and the only way to get viewability insights is to work with developers’ proprietary software development kits (SDKs). The result, once again, is that everyone has different methods and limitations for measuring in-app viewability, and every brand or agency ends up relying on an SDK of some sort.
Meanwhile, app developers are trying to reduce the number of SDKs they use, and one designed specifically for viewability is likely a non-starter. The alternative is for viewability vendors to integrate with dozens of SDKs to support tracking, but this is a messy, convoluted option as well. Despite the industry’s best efforts, we haven’t yet figured out a good path forward.
The ability to transact on a viewable impression is huge for advertisers, because transparency and standards eliminate the fear of waste. Yet the benefits go even deeper than that. Standardization opens the door to bring impression-level viewability data back into the ad server, making viewability usable alongside other engagement data for more sophisticated media and creative targeting strategies. At the same time, this better organizes impression-level data for use by attribution solutions, which represents the next frontier.
The important thing is that the ad industry has made progress on browser-based viewability. Advertisers fearful of waste shouldn’t be asked to spend more. They should be able to buy viewable impressions with little doubt.
Granted, there are still gaps when it comes to in-app viewability, but identifying a single, agreed-upon solution for browser viewability sets expectations and demonstrates what the industry should aim for. This is a positive example of how an open dialogue can lead publishers, advertisers and their respective partners to find common ground, to every party’s benefit.