Online ad viewability has long been an issue for publishers, with it being difficult to determine exactly how many people are actually viewing the ads served on a web page. And with interactive ad spend hitting the $800 million mark this year, it seems more important than ever that advertisers know they’re getting the eyeballs they’re paying for. So, in response to the issue, MediaWorks has taken action, announcing today it's guaranteeing all of its banner ads will be 100 percent viewable from 1 April, using Google’s DoubleClick product. We chat to MediaWorks head of digital sales and ad strategy John-Paul Randall about the change in functionality as well as the publisher's other new function, which allows unblockable video ads to run across all platforms.
Viewability aims to track only impressions that can actually be seen by users, designed to let advertisers pay just for ads the users can see.
However, buyers of online advertising have found themselves paying for ads that are loaded when a user visits a web page, even though the user hasn’t seen the ads. So basically, if an ad is hanging out at the bottom of a web page and the user doesn’t scroll down, that impression wouldn’t be deemed viewable, and this is a problem.
“There’s an issue of viewability with banner ads in particular appearing on a page but obviously when a web page loads it can be lengthy and there can be other ads further down the page and if the user doesn’t scroll they won’t be exposed to the ads,” says Randall.
In fact, in 2014 Google released a report admitting that 56 percent of all the impressions served on its display platforms were not seen by anyone at all.
Bot fraud has also been a concern in regard to accuracy and cost.
So, in response, Google released its DoubleClick product called vCPM, with the ‘v’, standing for 100 percent viewable, which is what MediaWorks is now using for all banner ads sold across desktop browsers, smartphones and tablets.
Randall says there hasn’t been the ability to properly identify the viewability. “But now the functionality has just been enabled for us so we can choose to charge just for the impressions that are viewable.”
He says this fits with the IAB's international standard of viewability, where 50 percent of the pixels need to be on the screen for more than one second, shifting from an impressions served to an impressions viewed standard.
“So with our campaigns, as soon as the ad appears in that way, that’s when a charge would occur.”
This definition has not won the support of everyone in the industry, with some claiming it is too vague and doesn’t provide an accurate reflection of user behaviour.
“I don't agree with MRC standards,” Rachel Herskovitz, the global media manager at American Express, told Adexchanger last year. “Their definition of viewability doesn’t make sense. No one spends a second viewing an ad. If that becomes our standard, we'll build technology around that and I think that's a mistake.”
VivaKi’s head of digital Nick Boulstridge said earlier the standard wasn’t watertight, but says it’s a step in the right direction. “The terms are slightly vague but necessary as a minimum benchmark,” he says.
According to Digiday some publishers are worried a shift to viewability will have a negative impact on their ad revenues, since they will probably be left with fewer impressions to sell.
"If their impression supply is cut in half, they need to be able to charge twice as much for inventory to maintain their revenue, and there’s no guarantee that will happen."
However, at this stage it's difficult to tell what kind of impact it will have until the functionality is more widespread.
While Randall didn’t have exact numbers to hand, he says MediaWorks' ads might need to deliver 120,000 impressions to get 100,000 actual viewed impressions.
Unfortunately for advertisers, the new ad server won’t be immune to the fly in their ointment aka ad blockers.
“Ads are still going to be blocked in varying degrees and estimates. If an ad is blocked then that impression hasn’t served and won’t be charged. It’s our problem as publishers to deal with but there’s no [avoiding it in this case].”
Though Digiday reported 100 percent viewable ads come at a 30 percent higher price to advertisers that are willing to pay a premium for the guarantee, Randall says the functionality will be implemented at no extra cost to customers.
“Pricing is always done with anything based on supply and demand so we’re bringing viewability to the market first … and we hope having this proposition as being quite unique will be appealing. It’s a positive story. I want it to be a positive change and adding further value for our offering to clients. And the price with anything would always change across the market according to supply and demand.”
So how much did this cost MediaWorks?
“There has been, and this is part of a broader related but unrelated technical charge, and that is the tagging used for ads on the site has been recently updated. With or without that viewability function, that tagging change was to occur anyway and that was a requirement with our ad server with old tagging, basically old code being updated with the latest code.”
Randall says to raise awareness, on Tuesday a series of trade-focused MediaWorks digital roadmap sessions got underway, led by chief information and product officer Tom Cotter and Randall himself to give clients and agencies a look “under the hood” of the publisher’s digital strategy.
“Clients are delighted there is no change in the price and that there’s been a lot of positive comments, as well as a few technical questions figuring out how it works," he says. "For digitally-inclined people it’s really positive and it’s something that’s been a hot topic for a long time.”
He says he believes MediaWorks is the first publisher in New Zealand to include the functionality but says he’s sure the other media magnates in the country will soon follow suit.
TVNZ commercial director Jeremy O'Brien says ad viewability is largely an issue for static online ads rather than video centric offerings.
"As such it hasn’t been as big an issue across TVNZ’s portfolio as it has been for others in the market. This speaks volumes about the way engaged audiences respond to a premium video environment and how we balance our ad load with the viewer experience," he says.
"TVNZ OnDemand and One News Now already have near 100 percent viewability. Our experience tells us it is very unusual for a viewer to initiate an ad stream ahead of a piece of content they have actively chosen to engage with, and then choose to drop out of that experience before they have viewed the content. We are of course open to constantly reviewing our offering and believe we well exceed the market standard."
StopPress has also been in touch with NZME and Fairfax to see if they are looking to introduce the functionality, and will update this story accordingly.
As well as introducing the functionality for 100 percent viewable ads, MediaWorks will also be enabling server side ad insertion (it has already with Newshub), which it says is a world first and essentially enables a seamless play of unblockable video adverts across all platforms.
Randall says the functionality will be enabled for its updated on demand 3Now app that it’s rolling out.
“We get all the ads and put them into where they need to go amongst the content in ad break positions and that essentially becomes one piece of content and plays from start to finish,” he says. “ … the ads appear as content so [ad blockers] can’t stop that event from occurring.”
He says there is an initial load so you can see where it’s at and then it plays and goes from ad to content to ad seamlessly. “ … and there is no frame rate of ads. I’ve seen ads that come through programmatically can lag with tech, so it’s a really nice feature.”
On that note it’s interesting seeing different ways publishers are avoiding ad blocking.
A company that benefits from ads despite mobile ad blockers is Postr, which is a service that pays people in cash and (Skinny) mobile data to allow ads to appear on their lock screens.
Earlier, founder and director Milan Reinartz said: “Our ads aren’t classified as ads, so-to-speak, they are just images which we can use,” Reinartz says. “We have a bespoke solution that serves the advertiser through our own technology rather than through a standard ad serving system, like you would on a mobile site or a native ad app.”
With Sweden’s publishers banding together to block ad-block users for the month of August, I’m sure we’ll only see more creative moves from publishers around the globe to get around ad blockers and ensure advertisers aren’t over or underpaying.
But for now, here’s some wise words from IAB NZ Mobile Council acting chair Sarah Kavanagh on mobile advertising, which could apply to all forms of digital advertising:
“Brand advertisers and publishers alike need to respect the customer experience on what is their most personal device … Content marketing and true native integration with premium publishers are about more than just placing ‘advertorials’ within traditional editorial placements,” she says. “ … consumers also need to be educated about the ad-funded ecosystem that allows them to consume high quality, free content, in return for receiving ads. If consumers start to use ad blocking en-masse, the way they consume free content will no doubt change.”