Key Points

  • A large share of digital ad dollars are wasted on ads that are never seen. Brands are increasingly reluctant to spend money on placements they aren't sure will be seen, especially as digital advertising matures and tracking improves. The issue of unseen digital ads has been deemed "viewability."
  • The problem of viewability, in part, stems from the way digital ads are bought and sold. Ads are often bought based on cost-per-thousand (CPM) impressions, rather than performance, which means that there are strong incentives in place for ad sellers to inflate impressions. About one-third of all digital ad inventory in the US market is still bought on an impression basis.
  • Viewability is a major issue whether the ads are purchased directly from publishers, or through intermediaries like ad networks and real-time bidding platforms (although RTB sources fare the worst on viewability). Only 50% of publisher-sold ads were viewable during 2014's second quarter. Ads sold by ad networks and RTB platforms had significantly worse viewability ratings, according to a DoubleVerify study.
  • Video ads present a unique set of viewability challenges. Video ads are meant to be seen, heard, and played through to the end. Nearly 92% of nonviewable video ads are the result of the ad playing in an inactive browser window, according to video advertisers studied by TubeMogul.
  • A number of ad tech companies have developed viewability-tracking tools, and many publishers already fold in viewability guarantees when they sell ads, but these safeguards are offered on an ad hoc basis. For example, Condé Nast and ad agency GroupM recently struck a deal that requires a 100% viewability rate for display and video ads. 
  • Industry groups are working to create standardized definitions for viewability, and are endorsing accredited viewability-measurement specialists. The Media Rating Council (MRC) recently established guidelines stating that display ads are considered viewable if at least 50% of the ad is in view for a minimum of one continuous second. So far it has also accredited 15 viewability vendors. Meanwhile, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), along with other industry groups, is trying to establish a new metric for buying and selling "viewable ad impressions." 

Defining The Viewability Problem

Marketers are spending more than ever before on digital advertising, but there are growing concerns over whether digital audiences actually see many of these ads.

Users often scroll past ads without viewing them or are [...]