TV stations and other traditional media providers will have an uphill battle when competing with other digital media providers unless they can document viewable impressions. It also explains why marketers are moving more of their budgets over to digital media and provides some rationale for the changes in the ad measurement world, such as Nielsen’s pairing up with Integral Ad Science in order to offer viewability measurement by age and gender as part of its Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings.
The Growing Importance Of Ad Viewability
Video is increasingly becoming part of the stock-in-trade for traditional publishers like The New York Times. Now, pure plays in the new media industry, including BuzzFeed, Vice Media and Huffington Post, are, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “venturing aggressively into a decidedly old-media stronghold: television.”
“Even having a little exposure to those platforms can be pretty lucrative for us,” BuzzFeed founder-CEO Jonah Peretti told the WSJ. “The economics of traditional platforms are still so much richer.”
Some of the biggest brands in online publishing want to get into the TV business, either by creating branded content for established TV providers or launching their own TV channels. So, why do we continue to hear so much about the demise of traditional television?
Part of the answer involves distinguishing between television’s ability to deliver an audience, which today occurs over multiple delivery platforms, and how that audience is measured. As a station’s ad sales account reps know all too well, media buyers rely on very different metrics than traditional viewership when deciding where to place digital media. The industry is also experiencing increased pressure to use these same metrics when selling television as part of a cross-platform media buy.
It’s a little hard to understand why there’s so much focus on these digital media metrics, especially given the number of online ads that are never seen. As a September 2015 report from Forrester Group summarized, a survey from comScore back in 2013 revealed that 54% of display ads are not seen.
A December 2014 report from Google about its own display advertising platforms revealed 56.1% of impressions are not seen. More than half of online ads are never seen by their intended audience.
The Shift Toward Viewability Measurement
The 2015 Forrester study examines what is being done in the online publishing world to address that problem, largely through establishing standards for viewability. After all, as the report’s author Susan Bidel asserts: “The only impression worth an advertiser’s money is a viewable impression.”
If Bidel is right, TV stations and other traditional media providers will have an uphill battle when competing with other digital media providers unless they can document viewable impressions. It also explains why marketers are moving more of their budgets over to digital media and provides some rationale for the changes in the ad measurement world, such as Nielsen’s pairing up with Integral Ad Science in order to offer viewability measurement by age and gender as part of its Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings.
In the update to its initial 2013 report, Forrester’s Bidel outlines what has been happening in order to arrive at viewability standards that will become as commonplace as terms like “share” and “ratings” were in the last century. As she explains, “Measuring viewability is measuring whether or not an ad had the opportunity to be seen by a human being — not that it was seen. It is equivalent, in TV terms, to whether or not a commercial ran and not whether anyone was in the room at the time.”
The latest advancements in arriving at a viewability standard include several definitions developed by the Media Rating Council (MRC), an organization that has been overseeing audience measurement since its establishment by Congress in the 1960s. They include:
- For desktop display ads,50% of an ad’s pixels must be in view for a minimum of one second.
- For larger desktop display ad units, 30% of an ad’s pixels must be in view for 1 second.
- For desktop video ads 50% of an ad’s pixels must be in view for two seconds.
With respect to viewability for mobile ads, Bidel reports, “the MRC believes that mobile environments require specific focus; it is not possible to extrapolate from desktop to mobile.” Although no organization has been accredited by the MRC for mobile viewable impression measurement, the MRC “is hopeful that it will begin accrediting for mobile shortly.”
Meanwhile, “a small but highly influential group of marketers and agencies” — including global media buying giant GroupM and its client Unilever — believes these standards are inadequate and recommends adopting what is referred to as the GroupM viewability standards:
- Desktop display ads: 100% of an ad is in view for any length of time.
- Desktop video: 100% of the player is in view; at least half of the ads plays; the sound is on, and a user clicks to start it.
In response to this group’s recommendation, the MRC says it cannot accredit a measurement with no set view time. Google’s Group Product Manager Sanaz Ahari Lemelson summarizes the dilemma this way: “A standard has to mean the same thing to everyone at all times. The GroupM standard is a secondary standard because it introduces a level of engagement — for any length of time. That’s a variable metric. And click to start sounds really good in principle, but it’s not a reliable way to measure,” (because ad fraudsters and bots can easily click).
Validating Ad Server Data
Advertisers rely on independent third-party measurement vendors to verify the ad server data from online publishers, they play a role similar to the one Nielsen plays in verifying TV audience delivery. Bidel says: “Marketers want third-party vendors to use the same viewability methodology to give them a standardized look across sites that will allow them to allocate budgets based on performance and quality of impressions.”
Thus far the MRC has accredited 17 vendors to measure viewability. They include firms that are also focusing focus on fraud detection and at least one that’s capable of measuring to the GroupM level.
To support the move toward consensus on viewability standards, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) published a position paper entitled State of Viewability Transaction 2015 at the end of 2014. Its seven principals are intended to foster stronger collaboration and build trust between marketers, agencies, and media providers.
Bidel believes the guidelines are the most effective in direct sales situations, but have limited value in a programmatic ad-buying environment where publishers are often unaware of who is buying on their site until the ads appear.
Competing For Digital Media Dollars
The “digital dimes” marketers were allocating to digital media have become a greater portion of the local ad spend, with 11.5% of the $139.4 billion in local ad spend this year going to online media buys; mobile represents an additional 4.8%.
Competing for these digital media dollars, which will represent an even larger stake of the $157.7 billion expected to go to local advertising in 2019, will require complying with the marketing community’s demand for viewability data.
Bidel expects the current “Balkanization” of viewability standards to push the audience measurement bar even higher, saying, “The ultimate winners in this ‘standards’ battle will be publishers that step up to marketers’ challenge, endowed with direct sales teams, relationships with advertisers and their agencies, quality environments, premium inventory and desirable audiences.”
TV stations and other traditional media organizations already have many of the elements characterized in this view of the winning strategy. MFM and our BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association, will continue to monitor and share the latest developments affecting the future of advertising sales.
In fact, we are planning a high-level discussion on what clients want from programmatic ad buying for MFM’s 2016 CFO Summit. You can learn more about this premiere event for the industry’s senior leadership on our website (www.mediafinance.org).
Please let me know how MFM and/or BCCA can help your station(s) and media organization navigate through the developments affecting the future of ad revenue generation. With the outlook so bright for television programming, there is no reason to expect anything less than success for the future of television advertising.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.