In-App Viewability Makes Strange Bedfellows Out Of Fierce Competitors

Viewability vendors, including Integral Ad Science, DoubleVerify and Moat, are banding together in an uneasy alliance to tackle in-app viewability using open-source software – but the problem is far from solved.

“The spirit of the open-source initiative is a good thing,” said Moat CEO Jonah Goodhart. “It’s not comprehensive measurement, though.”

Opening The Way

In January, the IAB Tech Lab took over responsibility for managing open-source code originally developed by Integral Ad Science that lets publishers work with multiple viewability vendors without having to integrate multiple viewability SDKs.

IAS claims adoption of third-party viewability measurement technology in apps is low, and in some cases, third parties are measuring as little as 5% to 10% of in-app inventory.

The “fragmented ecosystem of viewability providers” also limits access to demand, because advertisers generally have a preference for working with certain viewability vendors, said Anand Narayanan, product head of supply at mobile ad network InMobi, which plans to integrate the open-source SDK when the IAB Tech Lab is finished bringing the code in-house and setting up governance committees.

Although viewability vendors are gunning for the same budgets, it makes sense for them to join forces on this, said Steven Woolway, SVP of business development at DoubleVerify.

“This is the right solution for the marketplace because we need meaningful coverage for our clients,” Woolway said. “Once we get there, we can decide where this goes next.”

For the moment, open-sourcing the code helps solve the fragmentation issue, and turning governance over to an independent industry group legitimizes the effort.

The code doesn’t remove the need for working with a third-party viewability vendor, however, said Integral Ad Science CEO Scott Knoll.

“It’s like a foundation that lets you work with any partner,” Knoll said. “The open-source code is a mechanism that passes the raw signals that we, or our competitors, can use to build our own solution on top of and understand how much of an ad was viewed and for how long.”

But the code also isn’t a silver bullet for in-app measurement, Goodhart said, because developers need more than just in-app viewability measurement, including the ability to measure invalid traffic, to handle tricky issues, like viewability for server-side ad insertion and pre-cached content, and to support transactions through custom metrics, like attention and time spent.

“What’s happening is that a component library will be open-sourced, and that will bring some consistency, which we’re fully supportive of,” Goodhart said. “But it is important to understand that this is not completely open-sourced measurement from end to end, where you just cut and paste some code and you’re good to go on everything.”

Tough Stuff

But even creating consistency across just one component of the viewability equation is an important step forward. Measuring in-app viewability is a tricky business.

Desktop-centric and mobile web-centric methods like JavaScript tags, page geometry (measuring the position of an ad relative to where it appears in the viewport) and browser optimization (monitoring internal browser settings to see if an ad is being rendered) don’t apply to in-app environments – and that’s just for display, let alone video.

In-app viewability solutions are generally piggybacked on top of MRAID, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s standard for rendering and serving mobile rich media.

But MRAID wasn’t meant to serve as the backbone for in-app viewability measurement, and even the most recent version, MRAID 3.0, released in November, has limitations, including in its ability to accurately measure pixels, geometric positions and ad size.

That’s not exactly what P&G’s Marc Pritchard was asking for when he railed against the complexity of disparate viewability standards.

Integrating a software development kit directly into an app offers more accurate measurement of in-app viewability, and allows for the measurement of native video and the IAB’s digital ad-serving template, VAST.

Way Forward

The goal with the open-source viewability initiative is to begin to move toward greater compatibility in measurement across publishers – but the effort is not about creating another viewability standard, said Alanna Gombert, managing director and GM of the IAB Tech Lab.

“This is a framework to help perform the function of in-app viewability, but we’re not saying that people have to use this SDK in order to do it,” Gombert said. “The purpose of this project isn’t to standardize an SDK, it’s to shore it up and make it agnostic, to make a tool out of it.”

Although the initiative has a number of heavy hitters already signed on in support, including Google, Ansible, Conversant, Lenovo, MoPub, OpenX, The Trade Desk and the Media Rating Council, Knoll doesn’t expect the industry to adopt the open-source code en masse right off the bat.

But anyone will be able to propose modifications to the code, just like in any open-source code initiative, and an independent committee of industry stakeholders managed by the IAB Tech Lab will oversee the process.

A looming question remains, however, whether the major walled gardens like Facebook, Snapchat or even Google, despite its support of the initiative, would go so far as to integrate third-party code.

Facebook and Google both recently made overtures to openness, with the former agreeing to an MRC audit and the latter’s announcement of an independent audit of its viewability partners, including Moat, IAS and DoubleVerify.

They “realize that third-party verification is very necessary – and they also realize that they’re behind,” Knoll said. “Whether that means they’ll adopt an open-source SDK or not, time will tell, but we’re in conversations with them all the time."

 

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