Publishers Feel The Pain Of Going Viewable

publishers viewabilityAdvertisers’ demand for viewability is frustrating for publishers, who must contend with new contracts, new billing structures and new ways to value inventory, all while ensuring meeting viewability standards doesn’t erode ad revenue.

During a town hall at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, about half the publishers in the packed room said they had sold campaigns based on viewability criteria.

Several criticized the decision by Unilever and media management company GroupM to forego the MRC’s viewability standard for online ads (50% of pixels in view for one second) and demand 100% viewable inventory without paying more.

The decision angered the IAB, which had worked to develop a universal standard to keep the industry running smoothly.

“We have had some institutions trying to seek real advantage, in part by undermining six years of work,” IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg said. “It’s infuriating to have gone this far, and have some agencies and marketers go out and co-opt the standardization and recreate that chaos.”

The fear is that if one publisher acquiesces to Unilever and sells based on a different standard, other advertisers will demand the same. And selling every campaign based on different viewability standards will place a huge burden on publishers.

Some publishers indicated they would sell inventory to Unilever based on GroupM’s demands of 100% viewability. The others accused them of devaluing inventory and poisoning the well.

The move to viewability is “unequivocally good for our industry, but the technical measurement challenges make it irrational to expect that every ad is 100% viewable,” said Sherrill Mane, SVP of research, analytics and measurement for the IAB. “Many agencies and marketers understand there will be a transition period, and understand higher-quality goods cost more.”

Given limitations around measurement, the math doesn’t add up for publishers. For example, if inventory is 70% viewable and a publisher demands 100% viewable inventory, a publisher would have to deliver 142% of a campaign in order to ensure that 100% of it was viewable.

If advertisers don’t want to pay a 42% premium – if, like Unilever, they demand the same price they’ve always paid – publishers will have to do more for less.

How Publishers Cope

Many publishers audit their site to determine the viewability scores of different ads. Then, they must invest in a site redesign based on that information.

But with 16 accredited display advertising vendors in the space providing viewability standards, a publisher may find a campaign with an advertiser using a different vendor providing a different viewability count.

Publishers could sequentially load ads, another popular solution, but that poses problems for sites like Forbes where two competing companies won’t run ads on the same page.

“There are limitations when you’re toggling between direct-sold and programmatic,” Forbes CRO Mark Howard said. “If I don’t make the [ad] call for the third ad on the page at the same time [as the rest], I have a loss of control over competitive separation.”

Forbes is working on a redesign that will increase the viewability of ads across the entire site. To do that, it’s using insights it’s gained from working with its partner, Moat. But it’s an expensive, time-consuming undertaking. Up to 50 factors on each page affect viewability, Howard said.

For instance, even above-the-fold ads can have low viewability scores because readers often scroll past them quickly. Forbes will re-engineer the site with smaller headlines and more text, so a reader stays at the top of the page longer.

Forbes will also be selective about what it allows advertisers to buy on a viewable basis. “As a publisher, you would never accept a Rising Star unit” for an advertiser that wanted 100% pixels in view, Howard said. It’s difficult for these high-impact units to be in view for the required time, and longer load times reduce viewability.

It’s a big blow, however, if brand-focused IAB Rising Star units can’t be bought on a viewable basis, since the industry created viewability standards to entice brand advertisers.

“This medium was built as a direct-response medium,” Rothenberg said. “The notion of a viewable impression was irrelevant. It was the same as undelivered [direct] mail. You’re compensated based on the fact that it had an effect. It’s been hard technologically, technically, operationally and socially to manage the transition away from a direct-response medium and toward a branded media or awareness medium."

How Publishers Negotiate

In accommodating viewability demands, publishers also must deal with inconsistencies between advertisers.

“Our contracts review team is getting hammered,” said Kevin Smith, director of ad systems and analytics for The Weather Company. “Everyone wants to view or track it a slightly different way, so it gets really, really complicated.”

The IAB does not have standard terms and conditions that address viewable inventory, though it’s something that the organization has discussed.

Not only can contracts vary for each viewable campaign, vendor overload can too. Publisher feel there are too many MRC-accredited vendors with counts that can range higher than 10%.

“The MRC needs to evaluate the way they’re accrediting vendors vs. accrediting them based on the approach they say they’re doing,” said Angelina Eng, a VP of platform solutions and activation of Merkle and part of the IAB Ad Ops and Technology Council.

One factor that turns up in negotiations is ad-serving costs. Though ad serving is just fractions of a cent, advertisers must pay those fees even for unviewable inventory. “If [a publisher] delivered a million impressions, not viewed, I’m still paying for them from the ad-serving side. If it’s rich media, that cost is quadrupled,” Eng said.

With all the tumult in the push toward viewable impressions, publishers have one bright spot to hold onto: They can offer better quality inventory.

“Digital media is all one big ecosystem,” Howard said. “The good news is that with this work, we’re going to end up with websites that have fewer ads, but more value from the ads they serve. We will need to go through the cycle of cleaning out excess supply before the price will right size it up.”

 

 

 

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