Online advertising: Understanding how viewability influences buying media

By Alex White

The pendulum was swung so far that buyers only want viewable inventory, which is an incredibly limiting strategy. Before we enter a brave viewable world, the industry needs to understand how to use viewability to buy media in the current market.

There is a common understanding that there is waste in advertising, specifically in online advertising, and the cost of media reflects that in many cases. The challenge is that although the industry and trade groups leading the charge have made great progress in trying to define a “view,” there is still no universal definition, let alone standard for measurement. There are proposals and a loose set of guidelines, but without accurate measurement technology we are stuck where we are. The industry will arrive at true viewability eventually, but in the meantime, here is what’s available today

Ad Servers

True viewability technology and measurement should live in the ad server, a technology that acts as the source of truth for both advertisers and publishers. In an ideal world, servers will make an ad call only when the space for the ad comes into view on the browser and while this technology isn’t widely available yet, I mention it here as a goal the industry should reach. Many ad servers are now rolling out the ability to report on viewability.

Post-Campaign Reporting

Most solutions today fall into this category, mainly because the ad servers aren’t developed enough to deliver what I described above. Both ad servers and point solutions offer the ability to track where on a page an ad is delivered. Either during or post-campaign, an advertiser receives a report showing how many of their ads were "in view" opposed to how many where not. As with most reporting capabilities, there’s confusion about what to do with this information. It’s only available after the ads are served, so advertisers are left to wonder how to make these results actionable and buy media more effectively. Until this confusion is resolved, there will be problems with the number of impressions that are available for measurement, especially within the programmatic space.


Outside of the ad server making the decision about when to call the ad to the page, the next best way to buy impressions that are likely "in view" is to use a page level data provider. Because these companies use data that is native within the large DSPs and exchanges, they allow ad buyers to evaluate each impression’s value based on its likely location on the page. This gives buyers the ability to not only bid on (and subsequently purchase) impressions that will likely fall within view, but value those differently then those that likely wont be within view. Based on the reporting capabilities within these platforms, the data can be used to analyse and evaluate campaigns to adjust targeting or bid prices, based on the value to the advertiser.

There are also conversations happening about iframes and the IAB’s safeframe initiative. Many publishers use iframes to prevent data leakage as their biddable inventory is passed from system to system, but this hinders an advertiser’s ability to measure page location. Once this effort is complete, there will be standards in place that make it possible to measure viewability on a pre-bid basis across nearly every impression.

But this is still a long way off, and post-campaign reporting is currently the dominant means of measuring viewability, followed by pre-emptive data. Because of the problems making post-campaign results actionable, we’ll likely see that tactic recede in the very near future. At the same time, ad server measurement will improve as standards are developed and adopted. Sophisticated servers will only place ads when they become in view, and once these servers can report and handle viewability questions, point solutions will recede all together.

Today’s pre-emptive data solutions let advertisers make decisions based on the likelihood that an ad falls in view. We’re downgrading from “guarantee” to “likelihood” but giving the advertiser a lot more control over how much they spend and their ROI. Take, for example, behavioural data. Advertisers pay an inflated rate for data and sometimes get stuck with impressions at the bottom of the page. The advertiser is left to hope (or pray) that the consumer scrolls down to the bottom, but if the advertiser can place a value on the likelihood the ad will be in view or not, they could very well justify the cost. It may not be as good as not serving the ad until it comes in view, however, it’s available in today’s market, scalable, and cost effective.

It makes sense that advertisers will only want to invest in visible ad units, but this only works if everyone is on the same page when it comes to definition and measurement. Viewability will ultimately come down to two technologies: one based inside the ad server for premium publishers, the other relying on the statistical likelihood that an ad is “in view” for the large marketplaces and exchanges. Advertisers need to look at the cost of going viewable, weigh the odds of guaranteed “in view” versus likely “in view”, and then build their media plan to the best of their ability, and with what is available today.

About the author

Alex White is general manager of data and trading at DG-Peer39. Previously, Alex worked at Yahoo, RightMedia and DoubleClick.

DG (NASDAQ: DGIT) is the intelligent advertising hub for the creation, management, distribution and optimisation of multiscreen campaigns across broadcast and digital channels. A robust global solution for the world’s leading brands, DG is the only company in the industry offering a complete end-to-end digital delivery workflow, combining data aggregation and asset management within an adaptable technology core to deliver the most effective advertising.

DG has the largest global cross-channel advertising distribution network, including the world’s largest hybrid satellite and internet network dedicated to file based broadcast video delivery. Fueling campaign management across TV, online, mobile and beyond, DG empowers marketers to work more effectively to engage consumers and maximise intelligent data driven advertising. DG’s solutions encompass research and analytics, planning and buying tools, trading services, video and rich media production resources and content syndication across hybrid delivery systems.

Headquartered in New York, DG connects over 12,000 global advertisers and 5,000 agencies with their targeted audiences through an expansive network of over 40,000 media destinations across broadcast and digital in 75 countries.

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