Viewability, probably second the ‘native’, has been the hot topic in ad tech for at least a year. The issue, on its face, is a simple one: Advertisers want to only pay for online ads that at least have a chance, that is to say are in the viewable area of a device or browser, of being seen by the user. Once again we are hoisted (held accountable to) our petard (crowing about how we are the most measurable media). Obviously magazine advertisers are charged whether someone looks at the page or not — or even half the page for less than a second.
However, in the US alone this year ComScore predicts over 4 trillion online display ads will be served. Xaxis stated that it last year it paid more than $750M for more than 3 trillion ads. Woah. That’s a lot of ads and, if my math is right, it comes out to a CPM of $0.25. Not very impressive for the most measurable, fastest growing, and arguably most watched medium in history. Maybe it’s because advertisers already know that somewhere between 25% and 40% of those ads are never going to be seen by anyone. Now, granted, even at the higher end of that estimation, the adjusted price is still only $0.42 CPM. Now, if tomorrow all publishers were somehow magically able to remove all unviewed ads and advertisers began to pay only for ads that were ‘viewed’ would the advertisers agree to a 67% increase in rates for the pleasure? I guess the market would decide but I’m inclined to suggest that no. They would not.
However, there’s an opportunity for premium publishers here to clear out a lot of dead brush, refocus on the ad units on their pages, and not make the same mistakes as we enter the curvy bit of the hockey stick growth period for mobile. It definitely seems like creating a bit of scarcity in this market would be a good thing. Whether it’s fewer, bigger display ads, innovative mobile formats that aren’t just shoehorn solutions of display ads, or clever native units, I think there is the chance to retool how premium sites operate. This is, in my mind at least, a huge win for everyone in the ecosystem (except maybe display ad serving companies who make money on every ad served).
There’s a bigger, better post in here that needs to be written and I’ll give it the attention it deserves some day soon. However, I think that for now editors, ad sales teams, creatives, agencies, tech companies, and brands need to embrace the need for this clearing out and see it as the opportunity that it is. Like a huge forest fire, it’s scary to watch and sometimes seems like it’s going to destroy everything it touches, but ultimately it’s a net positive and indeed necessary for further growth.
The biggest adjustment for publishers in the viewability era is the reality that they’ll be serving fewer impressions via the same pages, which in turn means they’ll be making less money per page … which is why many publishers are still wary of the short-term effects of viewability’s widespread adoption.
But viewability can also work in publishers’ favour, at least in theory. If there are fewer, more valuable viewable ads, publishers can pump up the CPMs on their viewable inventory to compensate for the hit they take on their overall impressions.