Ad Viewability - Why isn't it Better?
Mins Read
June 10, 2022

What is Viewability, Really?

In 2014, IAB published an article titled "Viewability Has Arrived: What You Need to Know to See Through This Sea Change." They stated, "As of today, for brand advertising, agencies can and will expect guarantees on viewable display impressions." This came from a study by the Media Rating Council in 2012 where they issued a Viewable Impression Advisory.

And just like a Water Advisory that you get after a storm, advertisers were advised to drink with caution from the ad stream that was display advertising. This advisory was followed with set standards that were to be followed for measuring viewability.

Viewability Standards Set by IAB

"50% of the ad's pixels must be in view for a minimum of one second for display ads, and two seconds for video ads."

You would think that since these standards have been set, agencies would be buying with caution and only paying for what's viewable - but that's not always the case.

The thing is, many people don't really understand what viewability means. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what viewability is and how it's measured. Let's clear some of that up.

How Viewability Is Measured

Viewability is measured using a combination of technology and methodology. The technology part comes in the form of a tag or pixel that's placed on the ad unit. This tag or pixel sends information about the ad to an analytics platform which then uses that data to calculate viewability.

The methodology part comes in the form of sampling. This is because it's not possible to track every single ad impression. So instead, a sample of impressions are tracked and then extrapolated to provide an estimate of viewability for the entire campaign.

How Viewability Has Improved Over the Years

Also in 2014, DigiDay published an article stating that up to 54% of ads weren't viewable. In 2021, the average viewability for display ads was 71.6% on desktop and 67.6% on mobile web, so things haven't gotten exponentially better over 7 years, but they have been steadily improving to a point.

On the video side of things, 68.2% of desktop video ads were viewable and 67.6% of mobile web ads were viewable in 2021 vs. an average of 45% in 2014.

New ad formats, utilizing AI, like CatapultX On-Stream are seeing 88-94% viewability within web video. This proves that there is room for improvement!

What Viewability Is Not

Let's debunk some myths about viewability.

Viewability is not a guarantee that your ad will be seen. Just because an ad is viewable, doesn't mean it was actually seen by a person. Viewability is just a measure of whether or not the ad had the opportunity to be seen.

An ad may have 100% viewability but if it's placed in the sidebar of a website, and the ad may be viewable, but it's not being seen.

Viewability is also not a measure of engagement. Just because an ad is viewable, doesn't mean people are engaging with it. Viewability is a measure of opportunity to see, nothing more.

Viewability is also not a measure of how long an ad was seen. An ad could be on a screen for 5 minutes but if it's not in the active viewport, it's not going to be counted as viewable.

What Viewability Actually Is

Now that we know what viewability is not, let's talk about what it actually is.

Viewability is a measure of opportunity to see. That's it. It's a measure of whether or not an ad had the chance to be seen by a person. It's a binary metric, meaning it's either viewable or it's not. There's no in-between. The percentage that you get is the amount of ad placements that were viewable divided by the total ad placements you had.

An ad is only viewable if 50% of its pixels are in the active viewport for a minimum of one second (display ads) or two seconds (video ads). That's according to the IAB standards that we mentioned earlier.

It's important to note that viewability is only relevant to display and video advertising. It's not applicable to other types of advertising like search or social.

What the Future Holds for Viewability

Moving forward, we can expect viewability to become increasingly important. This is because people are becoming more and more resistant to advertising. Ad blockers are on the rise and people are just generally tuning out ads.

Some key aspects to improving the trustability or meaning of viewability include:

  • AI-Visual Recognition - Using visual recognition, DSPs can implement a scoring system for ad placements, for example, analyzing where activity is most prevalent on a webpage, and assigning a score for ads closer to the epicenter.
  • Eye-Tracking - Companies like MoviePass are using eye-tracking to track attention. Attention scoring may be the next step.
  • Viewability Refunds - DSPs could be required to forgive spending that did not reach a certain viewability rating.
  • Advertisers may shift to higher viewability -  There is a possibility that ad dollars will shift to environments that guarantee viewability, such as in-app or publisher-direct. We can expect publishers to increase their focus on viewability as well. They may start to use ad products that are more viewable or they may start to charge a premium for ads that have a higher chance of being seen.

Viewability is an important metric to consider when planning your digital advertising strategy. What do you think? How does viewability affect your campaign decisions?

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