High Definition: Clarifying the Muddled Video Viewability Picture

Emmanuel Josserand Brand, Agency and Industry Relations

The advertising ecosystem was originally built to engage consumers, and it’s no surprise that viewability has become a vital metric. After all, advertising must be viewable to make an impact, particularly for formats such as video.

Viewability is a measurement that has been forced into existence in response to the low quality of many advertising environments and, though industry standards have followed and set some parameters, they do not fully address the needs and expectations of the marketer.

Viewability undoubtedly plays a key role in measuring ad quality. It underlines the difference between premium environments such as set-top-box video-on-demand (STB VOD), over-the-top (OTT) streaming, which are inherently viewable, and social media networks, where viewability rates can be as low as 20%.

To remedy this confusion, the FreeWheel Council for Premium Video Europe (FWCE) examined the video viewability landscape in our latest position paper: Defining a View. Exploring existing baseline standards and verification techniques, as well as why premium environments offer greater value, this paper clarifies the muddled viewability picture.

Key highlights include:

What is viewability?

Fundamentally, viewability can be defined as: a measurement that meets minimum industry standards for on-screen visibility and can be seen by genuine viewers. Currently, the threshold video ads must pass is set by the Media Ratings Council (MRC), which states 50% of a video ad unit should be in view for two consecutive seconds.

Fragmented rules: Media providers, video platforms, social networks, agencies and advertisers are creating their own rules and guidelines for video viewability. A rising number of digital players are offering brands a wider range of viewability options, but this further complicates measurement inconsistency.

Bot trouble: The rise of fraud within non-premium digital ecosystem is a major challenge, and again inconsistent tracking by different measurement providers of whether ad views are genuine, only muddies the waters.

Cross-platform challenges: While there is growing demand for viewability measures to be universally applied, this is problematic for certain environments like OTT, which is intrinsically viewable, but also unmeasurable due to technical limitations. [Note: for a deeper dive into OTT’s value despite measurement challenges, download our recent Signature Insights Report].

How effective are current standards?

More than two-thirds of UK video ads now achieve the MRC threshold, but viewability should be seen as a signifier of quality, but not a performance metric. A study by Integral Ad Science (IAS) has shown video ads that met the standard have minimal impact on essential metrics such as ad recall. For example, two-second views produced a 10% chance of ad recall, while seven-second views achieved a 34% chance.

Premium video: a worthwhile investment

As professionally produced content delivered to highly engaged audiences in brand-safe environments, premium video is a cut above the rest and, consequently, often comes with a slightly higher price tag. But the return it provides is worth the cost:

Viewer engagement: In a recent report by U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, viewers engaged with VOD ads 85% of the time, while ads served in a prominent digital video platform only held audience attention 53% of the time.

High sales: According to research from France’s SNPTV, premium video has a clear ability to drive positive emotional responses and sales; with TV ad campaigns enhancing sales by 30% and consumer happiness ratings rising in correlation with view duration.

Brand safety: Premium video naturally emulates the high-quality content and trustworthiness of TV. It also carries the option of user authentication, guaranteeing genuine viewers. According to a recent FreeWheel study, 68% of OTT ad views were authenticated.

There is a clear need for the industry to set its sights higher than the viewability baseline. Though it matters as a measure of quality, it should not be applied at the expense of other metrics that provide important insights into ad performance and value such as ad recall, time in-view, video completion rates, and purchase intent.

Thus, it is imperative for advertisers, agencies, and the industry at large to work together to evolve current viewability standards that reflect the true value of the ad view to the advertiser: exposure duration and viewer engagement should surely be brought into play? The FWC is supportive of the MRC’s proposal for broader metrics, such as the duration-weighted metric and hopes to see other measures emerge.

Once the playing field is levelled, and the value of a view is more accurately measured, advertisers focusing on true ROI will increasingly allocate spend to environments that deliver genuine, engaged audiences such as TV, VOD and OTT.

For more insights and recommendations, download Defining a View now.