Viewability Metric Ensures Digital Ads Will Be Seen For 1 Second

About a month ago, the Media Rating Council (MRC) announced that there is a standard for “viewable display impressions“: a minimum of 50 percent of pixels in view for a minimum of 1 second. This is great news right? Marketers all around the world must be rejoicing in that their ads placed on publishers’ sites are not being wasted and they are actually paying for these ads being viewed by real people.

How marketers should feel given the new MRC viewability standard.

How marketers should feel given the new MRC viewability standard.

Viewability Changes Definition of Ads Served to Ad Viewed

This standard stands in opposition to the most digital ads being served through iFrames, allegedly up to 80% digital ads being served this way, leading to less and less people actually seeing the ad in the first place. Marketers hate these iFrames since it jacks up the impressions on their ads and wasted media dollars as well. Prior to this viewability standard, the going definition of an “impression” was when the ad gets served. Due to this definition, some publishers have found ways to game the system by increasing traffic to their sites (and thus the ads being served) in order to get bigger payouts from the marketers placing ads on their sites. Bots, traffic exchanges, and iFrames are all little black magic ways for a publisher to increase traffic as this fake web traffic buyer mentioned on Digiday.

With the announcement last month from the MRC, an 18-month advisory from the MRC has been lifted which warned publishers from selling digital ads based on whether they are measurably viewed by consumers. The 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) is a cross-industry initiative to standardize measurement of digital ads, and they suggested publishers face certain realities regarding this MRC’s new viewability standard:

  • Reality #1   Measurement of viewability was already in market before 3MS and without a cross-ecosystem process like 3MS, there would have been complete chaos in how the data affected transactions. 
  • Reality #2 – Publishers cannot compete for brand dollars on a level playing field if they cannot guarantee viewable impressions.
  • Reality #3  Without viewable impressions, every time a publisher does a brand impact study, the online scores are lower than they would be if the denominator was viewable, not served impressions. Something no one sees has no brand impact.

Even though this seems like a no-brainer for the industry, why is it becoming difficult to implement for the publishers, vendors, and ultimately the marketers and brands who benefit from this standard? Isn’t paying for your ad actually being viewed by real people a good thing?

The Growing Pains For Publishers Adopting The Viewability Standard

As with any new standard, rule, or law being put into place in an established industry, there will be opposition to change since it disrupts the way things are usually done. We see two main issues that are rooted in new ways publishers need to change:

  • Multiple Vendors – Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of Evolve Media, stated in Adweek that his viewability score ranges from 35% to 68% on two different vendors. This range is much too large to ensure that the technology is there to measure viewability consistently (60% is considered a “good” rate according to Adweek).
  • Financial Investment – All the operations publishers must put into place to make sure the technology integrates with their current processes is just painful:

Publishers who have been testing display viewability data know all too well that the investment in resources is substantial. You need to finance purchase of data from multiple measurement vendors, assign the right teams of people to develop test parameters, conduct enough comparisons so that you have an idea of how to forecast inventory and optimize yield. Even if all the steps are executed well, you are likely seeing variances across vendors. Some of the variances may be greater than what you’d need for confidence in the decisions you need to make. – Source: IAB

  • Currency for Billing – Agencies are now demanding pubslishers bill on viewability versus ads served. This obviously puts pressure on the publishers to ensure their readers are engaged in the content they produce, but this means that their initial revenue may decrease due to all content not being able to be monetized via the viewability standard. Fitzgerald stated that he could provide premium inventory to agencies but at the outset, only 68% of the inventory could be billed to the agency due the standard. While this may reduce the inventory agencies are willing to pay for, it encourages the amount of quality content publishers should aim to produce. Isn’t that the goal of publishers in the first place?

Agencies And Publishers Need To Step Up Their Game

Ultimately, we see agencies needing to find more targeted placements for their clients. Gone are the days where you can just buy a bunch of F25-54 impressions programmatically across a network of sites. We will need more filters and parameters around the publishers the brands will actually appear on so that ad is in fact targeted to the right consumer and that consumer will likely want to see and click through to the ad.

Publishers, on the other hand, will need to come out with more original content and simply step up the credibility of their sites. This standard forces publishers to make the required investment to ensure their brands that pay them get the return they deserve on the digital ad buys. While the technology may not be ready just yet, it’s better to be on the winning side from the beginning rather than face bigger hurdles down the road.


We know it’s tough, publishers, but viewability is here to stay.