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Viewability: Consider the Publisher’s Perspective

Article originally posted on iMediaConnection.com

If you were to create a word cloud for the current digital media buzzwords, one of the largest entries, right now, would be ‘”viewability.” The idea that advertisers should only be charged for ads that have actually been seen is one of the hottest topics in the industry. And why not? It feels like a no-brainer. Who would want to pay for ads that are not seen? This question, in fact, is pushing advertisers to call for new digital media orders fueled by new metrics where the responsibility of compliance falls squarely on the publisher.

But there are some real questions to be answered before this vision can be realized. What exactly does it mean to have “seen” something? Who sets the standard? How is success measured and reported? How complicated will it be to adjust websites to perform most efficiently under a new metric? How will these costs be absorbed? These are some of the questions being asked by publishers across the industry. While they understand that a change is coming, they often feel unprepared to jump onboard a train that is moving quite so quickly without knowing exactly where it is headed.

Such publisher concerns should not be dismissed as the sour grapes of a group slow to accommodate a change that might challenge their profit model. These are real questions that honestly make the shift to a viewability-based industry something worth taking slowly, in order to get right, rather than done hastily out of a desire to chase the new shiny thing.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these considerations, if only to shed some light on areas deserving of more discussion.

Varying Standards

How do you judge whether something has been seen? If it seems like an obvious question, think again. Since we clearly cannot know for certain whether someone actually noticed something, we must create an objective metric that measures the opportunity for an ad to be seen. We collectively decide, then, that if X percent of an ad has been live on the screen for X amount of time, then we will say it was “viewable.” Fine. But by what standard should a publisher prepare to be judged? There is the MRC standard, the Group M standard, and many of the major holding companies have created their own standards as well. The opportunity for the ad to be seen is important, but the confusion around the standards still needs better consensus across the industry.

Varying Grading Criteria From Vendors

Let’s say a publisher has agreed that it will remain flexible and allow itself to be judged by a particular standard chosen by an advertiser. There are still questions around how the publisher will be graded and how the observations will be reported. There are a growing number of companies that have sprung forth whose business models are based on the idea that they will generate viewability scores for publishers. But here, again, it is the publisher that must bear the burden created by the myriad vendor solutions. The variance among vendors makes it difficult for publishers to forecast viewability and tech hurdles in today’s market and, thus, creates doubt about the legitimacy of any particular measurement.

Changes to Site

As various parties are creating new standards and other parties are creating new grading criteria, it is the publisher that must ultimately make the changes that will allow campaigns to best hit these evolving targets. Making changes to their websites that will optimize these new viewability-centric campaigns would be hard enough if these targets were decided or static, but the cost in revenue and resources involved in testing and implementing these updates, all the while knowing that they may well continue to evolve, can be daunting.

Need to Increase CPMs

Publishers are asked to go along for the viewability ride, hire resources to help with the transition, make accommodations for variations in standards and measurement, and build all of this into a new business model. It seems fair for them to then be able to revise their pricing models to incorporate all of these new directives. And yet, as a final hurdle to their involvement in this process, advertisers have dragged their feet in accepting higher CPMs.

An Important Discussion

The issue of viewability is here to stay. What we must do now is have the conversations that will create an efficient and effective incorporation of this new metric into our industry. Digital media has always evolved to incorporate new trends. Adaptability is a hallmark of the industry’s landscape, and transitions always happen most smoothly when both the advertiser and publisher sides of the business communicate and collaborate. Yet, for some reason, publishers seem to have been left out of the viewability conversation. It is time they be brought in.