Online Viewability - Just who does see your online content?

9:37 AM, 12 March 2015

The issue of viewability, which relates to whether an ad is deemed ‘in-view’ to customers, has become “almost endemic” in the advertising market internationally says ISBA’s director Bob Wootton. Brands are increasingly scrutinising the viewability of their ads as their digital spend rises, challenging publishers to prove that the ad space they’re selling actually appears on users’ screens.

So what do we mean by viewability? You might be surprised.

For a display ad to be deemed viewable, at least half of each ad must be visible on a person’s computer screen for a minimum of one second. For an online video ad to be deemed viewed, half of the ad should be on a user’s screen for at least two seconds.

This, in turn, raises two important questions:

  1. What proportion of ads meet the viewability standard?
  2. Is the viewability standard high enough?

There is plenty of evidence that a large proportion of ads don’t meet even this standard. For example, Google recently released data that showed over half of the display ads impressions in its research weren’t visible. In the US, guidelines put out by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) proposed that online ad industry should aim to have their campaigns achieve a “70% viewability threshold” in 2015. That means when an advertiser runs a campaign online, up to 30% of the ads may not meet the viewability standard.

Already industry is pushing back on this with the 4As saying it will “not endorse” the IAB’s online advertising guidelines . But the IAB defend this, claiming that 100% viewability measurement is “not yet possible” because of the all the different types of ad units, vendors, and measurement methodologies, and that the industry should aim to have their campaigns meet 70% viewability. If a campaign does not meet that threshold, make goods—additional ads—should be given to the advertisers to make up for the shortfall.

But remember the standard is, in itself, a low bar in the eyes of many. For example, late last year, Unilever and GroupM said they will push all publishers for more stringent performance standards for online ads because they say the viewability measures aren’t sufficiently robust, particularly with regard to video. They demanded four core things to be guaranteed:

  • That ad players are 100% in-view on websites where they are being shown
  • That at least 50% of the video must be played when in-view
  • That the video player's sound must be turned on throughout viewing
  • That the user must press 'play' instead of it being an auto-start

With the huge swell of money being invested into online content, we are going to see growing focus and interrogation of viewability along with focus on ad fraud, brand safety, and ad misplacement.

What’s your opinion on viewability issues? Are the standards reasonable or unreasonable? ANZA welcomes any feedback and questions you may have on online viewability - send them to

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