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Ad Pros Not Seeing Eye-To-Eye On ‘Viewability’ Standards

By: Tyler Loechner

June 2, 2015

Perhaps one of the reasons why viewability is such a hot topic — other than the fact that it’s irrefutable that an ad must have the opportunity to be seen in order to make an impact — is that not everyone agrees with the standard of “viewability” that is being adopted by many in the industry.

In fact, according to a recent survey carried out by SQAD, most ad professionals feel that the current industry standard of “viewability” for desktop video advertisements is insufficient.

The current standard for video viewability, as spelled out by the Media Rating Council (MRC), calls for at least 50% of the ad’s pixels to be in-view for at least two continuous seconds.

At the recent ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference, held April 26-29, 2015, SQAD polled 92 attendees on the topic of viewability. The vast majority of respondents (82%) think the standard needs to be higher.

Nearly half (49%) contended that video ads should be displayed for at least five seconds to be considered viewable, per SQAD. Another quarter (26%) of respondents feel that three seconds would be a sufficient amount of time.

The poll results need to be taken with a grain of salt, however. First, a sample size of 92 is not large enough to draw conclusions from regarding the entire industry (although the fact that the overwhelming majority of those 92 respondents think the viewability standards need to be raised is noteworthy).

In addition, the makeup of respondents could skew the results. According to the ANA’s Web site, the Advertising Financial Management Conference “brings together top marketing finance and procurement professionals from the client side with agency CFOs and other key industry stakeholders interested in efficiencies, cost savings, return on investment, and delivering greater value to organizations.”

If any group out there wanted the viewability standards to be raised, this is it.

Then again, maybe this group needed to actually learn what the viewability standards were before calling for them to be altered.

SQAD polled the group and asked them to identify the viewability standard for desktop display ads (at least 50% of the pixels in-view for one second), and the majority — 70%, to be exact — got the answer wrong.

Over half of the group (56%) thought that over 50% of the ad’s pixels must be in-view for a certain amount of time for the ad to be viewable. This was a bit of a trick question — the answer is that at least 50% of the pixels must be in view — but they got it wrong all the same.

SQAD’s poll may be dismissed by some because of the small sample size, the group that was polled, or the hypocritical responses, but the poll results do lead us to one undeniable conclusion: The viewability standards need to be better understood. What they are, what they mean, how they should be used, why they matter, etc.

“Attempting to tackle the issue of finding a standard definition of viewability is an extremely complex and difficult task, especially in the current dynamic and evolving media marketplace, ” acknowledged SQAD CEO Neil Klar in a prepared statement.

MediaPost Weekend gave us a look at the consumer’s point of view on viewability, most of whom think they need at least three seconds to understand an ad. But some data from neurological tracking firms suggests the two-second minimum for video ads may indeed be enough, and that advertisers taking issue with the standard are missing the point — which is that the standard is meant to define the minimum opportunity for an ad to be seen, not to guarantee that an ad will be seen.

There are alternative viewability options out there for those who are still peeved — justly or naively —  at the standard. Millennial Media, for example, recently announced it will guarantee “full” viewability to its clients for mobile in-app ad campaigns. The guarantee exceeds the MRC’s standard by raising the pixel requirement from 50% to 100%.