When the Media Ratings Council (MRC) last week lifted its advisory against buying and selling display ads based on viewability, it marked a milestone in determining whether an ad was actually seen.
However, a number of industry execs say the problem is far from solved in display (let alone video, which still lacks a common standard) as measurement discrepancies still exist.
“There are  providers accredited by the MRC [to provide viewability metrics] and their numbers are all different, but the idea of how are they doing it – whether they are using geometric vs. browser optimization – is a really important distinction to make,” said Chris Louie, a VP at Nielsen, during a viewability roundtable discussion hosted by Integral Ad Science earlier this week.
The process by which vendors measure viewability should ideally answer some basic questions: “How much Web activity can you cover?” and “What is the quality of that coverage and what are the dimensions you want to use?”
There are three forms of measurement that when used in conjunction with one another, may yield the most effective measure of viewability. These include friendly iFrame measurement, page geometry (determines the ad’s positioning based on page layout) and browser optimization (determines whether the browser renders the ad). Unfortunately, these measurements often contradict each other.
“If you have guys creatively stuffing ads in to 1x1 iFrames, [using only] a geometric view would say those ads are in view,” remarked David Hahn, SVP of product management at Integral Ad Science. “Geometric measurement uses a very calculated approach [looking at coordinates on a page] that doesn’t necessarily take in to account actions viewers take on a page.”
This is where browser optimization could yield better viewability reach than relying on geometric coordinate-based measurement alone. A browser-optimized approach is also critical because geometric views do not cover viewable impressions on Chrome and Safari browsers, Louie said.
About 60% of consumers use non-Internet Explorer browsers, with Chrome representing a sizable portion of that share, Hahn claimed, so more detailed measurement is key. According to Web analytics company W3Counter, Chrome had the most market share (37.2%) in March, followed by Internet Explorer (18.3%), Firefox (18.1%) and Safari (16.6%).
“The MRC is setting a minimum standard of expectation and leaving it to vendors to push the envelope.” This indicates the work around viewability is far from complete, Hahn said. It's up to each individual marketer to decide what is and isn’t viewable, and which measurement process they want to use, some claim.
In some instances, viewability may only prove to be a priority in brand advertising campaigns where the "whole goal is to be seen," remarked Jessica Ciliento, VP of investment strategy at Digitas. On the other hand, with direct-response, where multitouch attribution tends to come into the equation, it might be a lesser priority.
This subjectivity, says Scott Knoll, president and CEO of Integral Ad Science, can be a core challenge. “The problem with a ‘standard’ is you’re taking a least-common-denominator [approach]. There are new browsers, environments and technicalities and if we don’t keep up on the technology side, it makes viewability useless.”