This post is by Dominic Finney, MD at FaR Partners (a Theorem Digital company), who looks at why viewability has become such a contentious issue in the marketplace and why further development of standards and greater consistency of measurement across vendors is vital.

Marketers are spending more on digital advertising than ever before, with the global digital ad spend expected to hit $171 billion this year, yet there are growing concerns amongst the media industry that viewability standards and consistency across measurement tools are not sufficient to accurately monitor whether consumers have viewed adverts, which will ultimately put trust on the line.

The topic of viewability metrics is dividing the industry. Google has just announced changes to its display ad network that will ensure advertisers only pay for ads that are 100% viewable. Some have seen this as its first step to combat ad blockers, whilst others see it as the giant pushing for a more credible measurement. Google, however, hasn't mentioned ad blockers or defined what 100% viewable means.

Facebook has also branched out on its own. It has set up an ad buying option that gives advertisers the option of purchasing ad impressions where the entire ad has passed through a user's News Feed.

In a recent study we carried out for ad tech firm InSkin Media we found that, worryingly, 50% of senior agency and publisher executives do not believe the viewability standards set by the IAB and Media Rating Council (MCR) are adequate. The figure rose to 63% for large non-standard formats such as wallpaper and skins.

Even more alarming, panelists cited inconsistency of measurement across vendors as the main issue in producing real inconsistencies in terms of viewability scores. Of those FaR surveyed, it was rated as being key (8.3 out of 10 in terms of importance) to future digital marketing operations.

The viewability maze

Viewability is just one metric for measuring a campaign's performance, and it could be argued the industry is still trying to work it out.

If you work to the MRC and the IAB standard, then a standard display ad is viewable if 50% or more of its pixels appear on-screen for at least one continuous second. A video ad is deemed viewable if 50% of its pixels appear on-screen for at least 2 consecutive seconds.

It has been just over a year since the MRC passed guidelines for display ads. When Google announced at the end of last year that 56% of ads served on DoubleClick are not viewable, the IAB said "given the limitations of current technology, and the publisher observed variances in measurement of 30-40%, it is recommended that in this year of transition, Measured Impressions be held to a 70% viewability threshold" for ad buyers and sellers. The American Association of Advertising Agencies has spoken out and said that the IAB isn't moving fast enough and we should be looking at an immediate goal of 100% viewability.

With the goal of achieving 100% viewability as soon as technically and commercially feasible, the IAB said it would revisit principles established this year and employ ongoing dialogue and analyses across the market in order to stay abreast of any changes. But the industry is still arguing about what percentage of viewable impressions advertisers should be seriously looking that.

The general consensus is that the IAB's viewability standard delivers only at a very basic level and does not work across all ad formats and platforms, which means we are a long way from creating the required standards and consistency of measurement tools to enable a vCPM model. This is a view backed up by over 53% of those we surveyed, who stated they don't think it will ever be possible for "all brand advertising" formats to be bought on a viewable impression basis.

Time for joint action

The industry is without doubt going through a difficult birth with regards viewability and there is much to iron out in the area of discrepancies in measurement before it can truly move forward.

We therefore need to take urgent action to address the discrepancies in viewability reporting, which is flawed and having a major impact on publisher's revenue and advertisers' marketing effectiveness.

Across the industry, brands, agencies, technology vendors and publishers need to not just discuss the problems that surround viewability, but as an industry we need analyse these challenges and then work together to create a set of standards and level of consistent measurement across vendors that finally provides a deliverable expectation and underscores trust in the industry.

Read the full study