OPINION: Viewability Challenges Remain for Moving TV Dollars to Digital


ADOTAS — On Monday,  the Media Ratings Council (MRC) announced that their advisory against buying media on “viewability” has been lifted. According to much of the subsequent industry discussion, the largest obstacles have been removed for brand advertisers moving TV dollars to digital. Now that advertisers can tell whether an ad has been seen with a great degree of reliability, we should be expecting a flood of TV dollars into digital.

This is not the case … well, not yet.

It’s a big hurdle overcome, but let’s not go overboard. The lift of the ban means only that likely discrepancies have been minimized between viewability vendors. And while the establishment of standards is positive news for advertisers, it’s rare that a campaign will be using more than one viewability data provider outside of testing scenarios, so discrepancies between vendors was never the largest inhibitor. Further, the industry has for some time operated with defacto standards for the definition of viewability, as well as methodology for its measurement, if not fully established standards.

Many agencies are still proving the utility of viewability to their advertiser clients as something pragmatic for more effective media buying (viewable CPM, viewable CPC, etc.), and not just a “nice to have” standalone KPI.

And this takes into account only display advertising, which is not the best point of comparison for TV. A TV buyer’s first concern is reaching the right audience, so in the world of online video (a better ad format for comparison), the challenge of TV/digital video convergence is currently focused on incorporating digital GRP metrics into overall media planning models for more effective reach against demographic targets. Viewability will be important, but it will take a viewable GRP model to most effectively simulate TV buying.

Further, none of this takes into account the publishers, who are understandably wary of data vendors offering solutions that many view as “publisher enforcement” tools. Until the valuable use cases for publisher viewability tools are more widely accepted as a way to unlock more inventory value, this presents a roadblock to a cohesive understanding of the value of viewable impressions throughout the digital media ecosystem.

While much of this will be sorted out in time, online publishers will always have myriad inventory types, as well as many ads running concurrently, which differs greatly from TV. If brands only want to buy viewable inventory, that increases demand for relatively few locations, increasing price.

Premium rates may provide the necessary incentive for publishers to more widely embrace viewability solutions, but just how much of a premium will advertisers be willing to pay, and will it offset declining values for non-viewable inventory?

Simplification is better for everyone in the ecosystem, including vendors like us who need to do a better job of explaining data value (not just selling technical solutions). And while this presents a considerable step towards better holistic media measurement, we all have much work to do before celebrating.


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