We are all exposed to display and video advertising and we all have a view on its efficacy.

In this post I’m going to take a beginner's look at measurement in display and video advertising and ask if advertisers are finally getting a good (read ‘transparent’) deal.

How is improved measurement across display advertising changing the nature of the web? Will it start to feel lighter on ads as advertisers demand their ads are not just served but viewed by a human being?

What are the standards for viewability and if the networks are adopting them, is this the death of the impression?

Display advertising

Display advertising more broadly had a big year in 2013. In spring, Google announced that it had MRC (Media Ratings Council) accreditation for its definition of a viewable ad.

So, what Google terms to be a viewable ad (that’s 50% of the ad in view for at least one second) is supported by many in the industry.

This was significant because it allowed advertisers to have more faith in what they were being charged for. And it might even benefit Google.

In the words of Neal Mohan, VP display advertising:

We believe that the industry’s significant investment in brand measurement efforts can substantially grow the online advertising pie, for all.

But what about trading on the viewable ad, allowing advertisers to pay only for ads that get seen?

Well, in December 2013 Google started charging only for ads that were in view.

This blog has featured some fairly high level discussion of whether that’s a good thing. And despite some mixed results showing that it’s a complicated picture, Doug Conely VP of product strategy & operations at Exponential summed it up nicely:

..[the metric of viewable impressions has] raised our game and provided another useful tool with which to evaluate media.

The more we can use this to encourage publisher partners to create web experiences with fewer ads and richer creative options that are more likely to be seen, and the more we encourage advertisers to value that then the better the web will be for publishers, advertisers and consumers alike.


Besides, Google seems fairly adamant, and it makes sense to me, that increased viewability translates into better campaign performance.

Here’s one of Google's charts looking at CTRs on viewable and non-viewable ads, above and below the fold.

Charging for viewable impressions makes even more sense when you consider comScore’s study from August 2013, showing that more than half of digital ads (54%) are never seen by consumers.

That’s faintly ridiculous and surely points to display advertising having almost jumped (perhaps mounted?) the shark.

Video advertising

Google AdWords for video works on the same lines as standard display, in that the aptly named Trueview service means that advertisers pay only when viewers watch their ad and not by the ad impression.

Your video can be served in-stream (pre-roll and mid-roll), in a display ad unit, in a YouTube search or in slate (as an unskippable ad).

Here you may wonder what ‘watching an ad’ means for a pre-roll or mid-roll ad. What if a user just hits skip after five seconds? I was pleasantly surprised to find that advertisers are only charged when the viewer watches 30 seconds of the ad or watches to the ad's completion, whichever is shorter.

However, there is a second consideration here, even if the video is running, is it in view? Is the browser minimised or is the ad muted? For in-stream ads and particularly in-slate (the ads you have to watch to the end) this is a big consideration as users seek to escape ads.

This is where transparency gets tricky. What constitutes visible and ‘viewed’? How stringent can the standards be? Is the answer ‘the more stringent, the closer to a true number’?

Outside of Google?

The OpenVV consortium is made up of 20 companies, including Nielsen and Infectious Media, that are attempting to make standards more stringent.

Open VideoView (OpenVV) is an open-source viewability code for in-stream video advertising that was released in May 2013.

Crucially, the code tracks whether a video is in view, whether the ad is muted, whether or not the window is active, player size and the exact percentage of video that is viewable on a user’s screen. Many argue this is the extent of measurement required and that standards should be tightened.

Mark Syal, head of media practice, EMEA at Essence commented:

Any initiative that successfully makes buying more transparent and safeguards client's budgets by adding additional quality measures is a great initiative.

Brian Cohee, SVP of data and systems at Mixpo, added:

Raising the awareness of off-page inventory and the need for a standards-based measurement of viewability is vital to the video advertising industry. 

TubeMogul, one of the consortium, has integrated this viewability solution into its software and defines a video as viewable if 50% of the video is in view for at least five seconds. Here’s one its videos explaining viewability:

There are some ad networks that don’t yet do enough to account for viewability.

How far do we go?

Will viewability of video go beyond the mechanics of measuring what’s in view, for how long, and perhaps measure whether the viewer saw the brand message or product?

This is difficult to do. Of course, television is not beholden to these metrics. Advertisers don’t know how may people have muted their televisions for an ad.

The double-edged sword of the web is how granular we can go with measurement. But in the long run, video and display advertising has to work for advertisers, publishers and users.

Website owners must value inventory. Being judicious and ensuring viewability as much as possible then charging transparently for it, will benefit advertiser, user and publisher. 

I'm fairly new to this topic so please give me some nuggets below, put me straight or tell me I've completely missed the point.

Ben Davis

Published 27 January, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (11)

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Hero Grigoraki, ecommerce & digital marketing specialist at independent

We all live for the day where clients and agencies wake up and start paying proper CPM rates for what they currently regard as low value inventory - placements below the fold, especially those towards bottom of page. Despite repeated data showing users linger at bottom of page for longer than they do at the top, superficial media buying is still the norm unfortunately.

One comment around viewability and using it extensively - IMO it should not be used as a way to retain CPMs for the viewable placements and bring prices down for everything else, but rather as a means to accentuate the importance of premium placements, redefining what premium actually is and have price reflect that, with the rest of the placements serving different purposes. Otherwise we risk turning CPM campaigns into a direct response channel as we apply more and more DR metrics.

over 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


Wonderfully put. Thanks for commenting.

over 4 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

I find this stuff fascinating if only because of the huge volume of advertisers and agencies still not taking any of this viewability data into consideration.

The advantage of knowing users have 'viewed' the ad, even if this is somewhat subjective is it actually means you could start to consider some of the post-view data from activity (especially near immediate behaviour) which starts to become more valuable.

I think on the Video front we need to be careful as asking that a user spends 100% of their time looking at the window with the video in while the advert shows is probably excessive (esp. when you bear in mind the historic TV research that showed the number of consumers who use advert breaks to put the kettle on!) so it would make more sense to be to have a buffer whereby if they see/hear a sufficient amount of the advert then it is classified as viewed.

I still find the classification of having viewed an ad for a second as sufficient a bit tenuous though - surely for people scrolling down the page they could end up passing it by for a second without ever actually viewing it?

over 4 years ago


Babac Vafaey

@ Hero - totally agree. At OnScroll we've been helping publishers to demonstrate this exact concept to agencies and advertisers over the past 18 months. With viewability there is no fold - it's an antiquated and outdated way of valuing inventory. In today's market pricing and value should be driven by data, not perception of value.

Our data shows that when you remove viewability as a variable (by comparing only ATF V BTF placements that are viewable), CTRs are almost double while viewable dwell time is 3.2x higher.

The problem is that while ads are all served in the same way, ie on page load, all below the fold ads will have an unknown level of wastage which will affect pricing. Publishers need to change the way the fundamentally serve their ads, and as a result change their monetisation model away from page views.

over 4 years ago


Hero Grigoraki, ecommerce & digital marketing specialist at independent

It might be utopian to believe page fold as a media buying habit will be going away any time soon, it'll be a much slower process. Look at RTB platforms - you have to class your inventory based on the position of the ad on the page, and that defines the CPMs you can command for it.

I actually think that RTB platforms might be the best place to plug in viewability data and bids adjustable based on that data. Clients then have a direct insight into what performance actually looks like. However, I'd agree with Matt's comment around how we class an ad as "viewed", it's pretty arbitrary - next step would be a redefinition of 100% visible and hovering over it perhaps?

I think viewability is one of those topics that is cool & trendy to discuss, just like attribution models and site personalisation. Great conversation topics on a theoretical basis, but until the industry starts standardising things and comes up with a tangible, measurable KPI for effectiveness, they're just theories unfortunately. And they end up confusing media buyers and clients by adding yet more options in an already ultra complicated media landscape.

over 4 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

@Hero I couldn't agree more. One of the biggest issues I've found with the concept of viewability is that different publishers and networks / RTB platforms are using different methods of capturing this information from trusting the sites to provide ATF/BTF information through to an array of different tools and yet if you ask them directly how they actually track if the ad is viewed, they can't tell you.

I don't think anyone is looking for the perfect solution (we all appreciate that until a point where we have chips implanted into our brains at birth to help Google understand all that some things are going to have to be indicative rather than an exact correlation) but the issue is the not knowing and the behaviour of some publishers to only only disregard this but also use it against brands by creating more and more ad placements in the most bizarre and unviewable locations possible (I saw a great one that you had to scroll 4 screen to the right to see!)

The only way forward is for central definition to be agreed and to be streamlined across the world of online...

over 4 years ago


Dominic Tillson, Head of Business Development at InSkin Media

Great post, and some very encouraging comments from the brands who understand that there needs to be greater transparency for advertisers in the digital world.

At InSkin we've been successfully delivering our PageSkin solution offering the "premium / above the fold" impact that publishers want to leverage across their web and tablet content; whilst also providing interaction for advertisers on deeper pages of content where consumers quickly scroll down a page to get to their content.

Independent studies from a range of third party research companies are illustrating where formats like ours can deliver a return for both types of interaction and ensure a much more effective and transparent engagement for an advertiser.

Now we need to develop a common currency for trading the value of Viewability, but at least it sounds like we're moving in the right direction

over 4 years ago


Hero Grigoraki, ecommerce & digital marketing specialist at independent

Dominic, what's the "fold" definition for tablets please? Considering the screen orientation changes multiple times during a user session and scrolling becomes faster than light with the sensitive touch screens

over 4 years ago

Dipesh Shah

Dipesh Shah, Digital Consultant at Data Translators

What I think would be interesting to see is Publishers remove banners below the fold so they are only placed above the fold. For publishers who believe that they have excellent content this would make sense as the advertiser would know they are getting their brands seen above the fold and in turn the publishers could charge more for the placement through different buying models.

over 4 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

@Dipesh I'm not sure it's as simple as this as if you look at user behaviour on websites, users are only too happy to scroll through content (while if anything, just because an ad is above the fold, doesn't make it that much more likely to be taken in by the user - take top of the page leaderboards as a prime example - one of the worst formats I've ever had the misfortune in buying over the past ten years!)

Instead the focus needs to be around integrating the ads into their sites so that they work with the content and are relevant to users while ensuring that any payment model is in line with this.

The problem you hit is how do you allow networks and RTB platforms (demand and sell side) to be able to collect sufficient information both prior to an ad being served and afterwards to understand whether it was viewable and ideally, for how long. When you bear in mind discussion points like whether the window / tab was active at the time the ad was being served, this becomes increasingly difficult.

over 4 years ago


Emily Reddy, programmer at own

Adzonal.com is good CPM ad network, I am working with Adzonal, I am seeing good result and ontime payment

almost 3 years ago

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