Video ad viewability, or the right of video advertisers to only pay for ads that are actually viewed by consumers, has caused a lot of handwringing in digital media circles this year. While the standards for “viewability” continue to be debated, it is imperative for the future of the digital advertising industry—and mobile advertising in particular—that advertisers should only have to pay for those video ads that are actually viewed by consumers, with zero exceptions.
The current standards for viewability, as defined by the Media Rating Council (MRC), state that a video ad can only be deemed viewable if at least half of the ad is in view for a minimum of two seconds. Meanwhile, in its “State of Viewability Transaction 2015” report, the Interactive Advertising Bureau recommended that measured impressions be held to a 70% viewability threshold, meaning that publishers can still charge for up to 30% of ad impressions that never even had the chance to be seen.
The Mobile Environment Should Do More and Go Further
These standards are the same for mobile as they are for other forms of digital ads, at least for now. And while they may be fair for the desktop environment, we feel that the nascent mobile environment should do more and go further by providing stricter standards. Why? Because mobile, particularly the in-app environment, has the ability to ensure 100% viewability and, with the right standards, the opportunity to be the most effective advertising medium ever.
Unfortunately, the view that mobile can and should have a higher standard is not shared by the MRC. When it issued its interim guidance on mobile viewable impression measurement, the MRC stated that it was leaning towards reducing the time threshold for the in-app environment specifically, citing “certain unique conditions.” In our view, such a reduction would set a dangerous precedent within a nascent industry still in the process of gaining advertisers’ trust and mark a step backwards in its development.
There has been much debate from publishers and advertisers alike on whether the 70% threshold goes too far or not far enough, with most publishers decrying 100% viewability as an impossible reality. But in the meantime, a small set of mobile publishers, not content to sit on their hands, have stood up for what they feel is right by offering varying degrees of “viewability guarantees” designed to assure advertisers they won’t pay for any non-viewable ads. This is a great start, but more publishers need to jump on board.
Despite the fact that mobile advertising now accounts for more than half of all digital ad spend, mobile advertising still lags behind mobile time spent vis a vis other forms of media. The only way to bridge this divide is by building up the trust between brand advertisers and mobile publishers. An industry-wide 100% viewability guarantee will go a long way in this regard.
It is crucial for mobile publishers to step up now and offer a level of accountability that goes beyond what advertisers have come to expect from other mediums. Advertisers already have enough questions around the measurement and ROI performance of mobile ads: a recent Millward Brown Digital study found that 79% of marketing executives said they’d invest more in mobile if ROI could be tracked better. Marketing execs don’t need to also answer questions about whether or not the ads they are paying for will even have the opportunity to be viewed by consumers in the first place.
For publishers, a 100% viewability guarantee does not come without sacrifice. We get that. In the short term, it will require them to make good on any ads that are not deemed viewable according to set standards, which translates to diminished inventory and lost revenue. In the longer term, it will require many publishers to rethink their billing policies, their mobile web site or app design, and their overall ad-serving strategies to make sure that ads have a better chance of being viewed.
Great Revenue Rewards
But the payout, should publishers commit to 100% viewability, stands to be huge. eMarketer predicts that mobile ad spend will top $100 billion worldwide by 2016, and that it will account for 72% of all US digital ad spend by 2019. By publishers making the right commitments now, mobile can capitalize on its opportunity to not just be the largest but also be the most effective advertising vehicle available. With commitments like 100% viewability, mobile can become a medium of high reach AND high value for advertisers—a place where the message reaches a huge audience in a highly effective way with accountability and ROI.
The long-term results for publishers will be much higher value for the ads they deliver, which means less ads delivered to achieve the same revenue, as well as a better experience for the consumer. Let’s learn from the experience of the web and deliver a better solution for mobile. Let’s commit to 100% viewability for video advertising.