The Issue of 'Viewability'

‘Viewability’ is a term that’s become more and more prominent in the digital advertising forum over the last year or so. Recently published research (Vindico, comScore) has highlighted that a massive proportion of advertiser budgets are going to waste. (Scroll down for video)

These reports don’t attribute waste to the fact the right ads aren’t always reaching the right person at the right time, although there’s no doubt there’s work to be done there. No, they reveal that budgets are being wasted because the ads that are paid for aren’t even being seen.

If you didn’t click through to one of those reports, here’s the headline you need to know: up to 60% of paid advertising placements aren’t viewable.

At a time when digital advertising should be about improving effectiveness, that the majority of paid placements aren’t even seen by the intended consumer is madness.

  Impressions versus viewability


Display advertising is the culprit referenced most frequently when it comes to viewability, as advertisers end up paying for inventory below the fold of a page, often right at the bottom or side of an extremely long piece of content. As the majority of these placements are sold on a Cost-Per-Impression (CPM) basis, advertisers are charged each time that page is loaded, regardless of whether a visitor scrolled through the page and spent long enough there to actually look at the ad.

With physical media formats like newspaper/magazine ads or out-of-home billboards, advertisers pay for something tangible. Sure, there’s always been shysters out there who fudge the circulation figures of their village rag to hike up premiums, and there’s a chance your billboard could be vandalised or not put up in time for you to get full value from your two-week spot, but there are bodies that regulate the metrics those industries rely upon, and if you’re dealing with premium vendors they’re usually reliable.


In an environment as dynamic as digital, the need for established, auditable metrics is absolutely essential. The good news is that the industry is slowly catching up, with the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative spearheading a move away from ‘loaded impressions’ and towards ‘viewable impressions’. This is intended to give reassurance to advertisers and enable them to plan, execute and measure multichannel campaigns using consistent metrics.

Digital ad spend is increasing (predicted to grow by 15% in 2014), there’s no doubt about it. However, the issues surrounding viewability pose a threat to the true potential of advertiser investment being realized, ultimately limiting the long-term prospects of the online publishing industry that relies on such investment to survive.

It’s 2014 and publishers shouldn’t be looking to survive. They should be looking to thrive. That means adopting advertising models that fulfil the emerging criteria for viewability and deliver sustainable revenue through contextually targeted ads to the right audience at the right time.


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NEW video - Dan talks about the viewability issue in our latest video.