Member blog: Quality and Viewability blog series: Viewability – a Publisher Perspective

In this blog series, IAB Europe’s Brand Advertising Committee and its members explore key perspectives and the latest developments in the drive for a viewable, quality digital advertising environment.

Christer Ljones – Vice-Chair, IAB Europe Brand Advertising Committee and Head of Advertising Product Strategy, Schibsted Media

My first exposure to the viewable impression was back in 2007, before we had decided whether to call it “in-screen” or “viewability rate”. Working in an agency I was doing some analysis on my team’s telco client’s media buy, and realized, like many before me, that summing impressions of different placements intro metrics made no sense. Impressions were of such different quality and nature that simply summing them up couldn’t even qualify as counting apple with pears, or using Duplo parts in your Lego build, it is much more risky;  like trying to use your US cable in the UK socket on your London visit. At best it doesn’t work, at worse it is really dangerous, and while impression counting won’t kill you like the socket could, it could definitely lead to some really misguided media buys, wasting your client’s dollars.

I’ve since moved to the publishing side, and these days things are decidedly looking better. We spent the better half of the last decade arguing about standards and getting different systems to show roughly the same values, and we are in a place now where we do occasionally have to do some calibration, but in the end we have reports that show us comparable prices for an impression that a human being actually had the opportunity to see. The US has been leading in measurement standards in this area, and we will soon have European Viewability Certification Seals which has been developed by European stakeholders for the European market place. So far, so good. There is still work to be done, but we will get there.

As a premium publisher, Schibsted wants long term success for our advertising clients, and the first step to that is to generate actual viewable opportunities for advertisers to influence our readers. We, and other publishers like us, are in a place where we want advertisers’ spend to be contingent on real impressions.

The question that often gets asked is if the industry needs to move from view rate i.e. an assumed percentage of viewable ads for a given page or site to the viewable impression, being viewable ads individually measured and counted . View rate is not really a success metric, but a shared tool to get both what advertisers want and to support publishers’ future business model – real opportunities to communicate with their audiences.

Since about three years ago, Schibsted rolled out lazy loading across our inventory. Not only did this help with latency issues, but it also gave us a fairly predictable view rate where around three quarters of our placements are viewable. This is the rate where we see the trade-off between inventory and view rate kick in – if we try to get the view rate higher, opportunities to see will be lost. And as every quality-obsessed advertiser or publisher has experienced, when you apply quality filters to a campaign, the internet is no longer a bottomless pit of impressions and reach. With user behavior becoming more fragmented every day, we need to make sure that we take care to make use of  the opportunities we have to reach our precious audiences.

In our work with lazy loading we have come to the realization that methods used to improve delivery for the user can also affect view rates negatively. We have looked at methods to prefetch ads which would make the the delivery much smoother – and a much better experience for the user. A smoothly loaded beautiful ad, blended into quality journalism, is still a vehicle where advertisers know they can successfully tell their story. However, with an obsession around view rates, and not focusing on the viewable impression, this form of prefetching has yet to come into full maturity except in the walled gardens. As such viewable impression would not only align better with advertisers objectives, but could also improve user experience.

Lazy loading, sticky ads on desktop, and design changes on all devices have fixed the view rate, is it now the time to move to the viewable impression? This cannot not be done by one party alone, but needs to be done as an industry. Ad servers, publishers and advertisers must all contribute. At Schibsted we’ve been preparing for the viewable impression since we signed with AppNexus in 2015, and the past year we have piloted the currency with a few forward-looking Norwegian advertisers. AppNexus has come a long way in supporting viewable impressions end- to-end, and we are starting to see what needs to happen to scale further.

Ad servers and SSPs must provide end-to-end support in order to successfully establish viewable impressions as a currency. Ad servers must build complex prediction models and integrations into third party measurement, working in (or near) real time. This is no easy feat, but twenty years of performance marketing has given the ad servers ample experience with alternative optimization metrics, and many ad servers have most of these pieces in their stack already.

Meanwhile, publishers must accept risk. Moving to the viewable impression will create more variance into our revenue streams. Until the market and technology matures it will also create more work for our already overworked ops. This is the cost of doing business.

Advertisers and agencies must accept the principle that a viewable impression will cost more than a regular impression and that the price ratio is a bit more than equal to one over the view rate. There is always room for negotiating, but if we are to invest to change the currency there must be trust that the change is not only used as leverage for lower pricing. As a premium publisher we are motivated by the recent WFA Global Media Charter, because we believe our supply will shine under those principles. WFA also correctly identifies that viewability metrics will affect supply, and as such will have price implications.

As a final point it’s worth noting that a collective industry effort is required to get to a point where revenue is triggered by a metric available to the publishers ad servers. This could be an independent third party measurement tool integrated with the ad server. As much as we try to make every advertiser feel like our only client, there are others, and forecasting, ad selection and yield management is complicated enough if the revenue driver is customised to each client and not fully integrated into the delivery logic. Like the WFA, publishers welcome truly independent third parties, and we push our technology vendors to integrating them, but we should all strive for some standardisation.

With all this said, I’m reflecting on the how fast the industry will move to trading at scale. Our own pilots here in Schibsted were technically successful, but we see waning interest in the topic from advertisers. As mentioned, our current view rates are predictably high, and measurement is more consistent, and expected to become even more consistent as pan-European Certifications are adopted, reducing the sense of urgency to rethink the industry currency. Nevertheless, we try to keep an eye on the future, and the shop is open for viewable impressions; bring us the volumes and we will supply fair pricing. Just like premium hotels that supply multiple types of sockets, premium publishers will also adopt to their clients varying needs.

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