Trouble Brews over Viewability of Digital Ads: New Metric Will Help Brands Get a Better Idea about How Often Their Messages Are Seen, but Publishers Are Wary of Increased Scrutiny

By Heine, Christopher | ADWEEK, April 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Trouble Brews over Viewability of Digital Ads: New Metric Will Help Brands Get a Better Idea about How Often Their Messages Are Seen, but Publishers Are Wary of Increased Scrutiny


Heine, Christopher, ADWEEK


The Media Rating Council (MRC) recently lifted its 18-month-old advisory against selling digital ads based on whether they are measurably viewed by consumers. R's a move that will likely reshape the $50 billion ad marketplace and pit publishers against brands, while putting in motion a surge in the number of online promotions sold on viewability metrics--pricing that functions on how frequently ads are seen by viewers. (See adjacent graphic for the nuts and bolts on viewability.) The metrics, or "currency" in industry vernacular, are often dictated by MRC-approved vendors comScore, Moat, Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify.

Now, one company will be combining all four of the MRC-accredited vendors into one product. Marketing software company Undertone today is introducing a new platform to help clients such as Walgreens and DigitasLBi optimize their ad buys. While plenty of factors go into brands' budgetary decisions, viewability stats could bolster digital spends. "The more we know about the impact of our efforts, the easier it is to confidently make decisions," said Adam Kmiec, senior director of social media and content, Walgreens.

Industry players hope that a widely-used digital ad currency will validate online gross-point ratings as well as cement interactive marketing's place in sales attribution models. But many publishers--already feeling the weight of having to generate enough revenue to support original content--are not thrilled with the scrutiny that will come as a result of viewable impression standards. It stands to devalue their inventory, siphoning serious cash.

Then there's the problem of inconsistency. Brian Fitzgerald, CEO, Evolve Media, said he has tested a number of viewability vendors only to find major inconsistencies. Ads on his company's core digital lifestyle properties score as high as 68 percent with one vendor and as low as 35 percent with another. Fitzgerald suggested that agencies and brands are getting ahead of themselves.

"The technology being used to solve this problem is not ready for prime time," he argued. "What's more concerning is that agencies are increasingly saying they want to bill off of viewability. The stakes in the game then get that much higher. If I give them perfect, premium inventory right out of the gate, the best lean hope for is getting paid for 68 percent of it. …

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