Viewability on desktop is presently a chief concern for the video advertising industry. Despite this, the Media Rating Council recently gave the industry a welcome nudge towards mobile web and in-app by issuing interim guidance on mobile viewable impression measurement.

While it is a step in the right direction, it is not enough.

The Media Rating Council — a collaboration between the Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies — deserves applause for its good intentions in wanting to tackle the issue head on. The guidance, however, follows a similar path to its elder desktop sibling, and herein lies the problem

Desktop viewability is making strides, but the same old issues prevent any formal specification from being widely accepted. Issues around transparency are widespread. Even YouTube is not immune to criticism. Brands like Kellogg’s are reportedly skeptical over Google’s claims of 91 percent viewability rate in YouTube, prompting the cereal maker to reportedly withdraw spend until more transparency is provided.


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Elsewhere, Unilever is another brand digging its heels in.

The consumer goods company and its agency, Group M, publicly stated that the MRC’s desktop viewability standards did not go far enough. Both companies want online video providers to ensure that 100 percent of the ad player is in view, at least half the ad plays, the sound is on, and a person actually clicks to start the video.

Adapt or die?

In the year since the MRC released its desktop viewability guidelines for video, it should have noted the progress and problems that have been prevalent as the industry grapples with viewability and adapted accordingly. Instead, the only difference between the new mobile guidance and 2014’s desktop guidelines is the inclusion of a loaded ad specification.

Loaded ads, an interim metric, are when both the pixel and time components of a mobile video ad are greater than zero, but the time is less than two seconds and the pixels are less than 50 percent, or time and pixels are both below these thresholds. It is a weak metric that aims to provide a stepping-stone towards obeying the full mobile viewability guidelines.

Publishers will be attracted to loaded ads, but if the full 50 percent viewability specification is not receiving buy-in from the demand side on desktop, then this mobile metric is unlikely to either. The industry and the MRC are not working in tandem. Loaded ads foster more confusion, especially when companies like Millennial Media do it alone and guarantee 100 percent in-app mobile viewability across the firm’s inventory.

When taking into consideration advertiser reaction to the MRC’s diluted guidance for desktop viewability, it is highly unlikely that brands will flock to this mobile iteration with open arms. Like desktop, they will be aiming for 100 percent viewability. A better idea would be for the MRC to release desktop and mobile viewability guidelines at the same time, given that there is very little distinction between the two documents.

Regardless, these guidelines should be frequently assessed given the constantly evolving landscape of ad technology.

Standards for viewability transparency

As it stands, certification of measurement vendors has had a negligible impact on viewability.

Vendors either opt for page geometry or browser painting techniques to record post-bid viewability, but in practice the results differ from company to company. Granularity of measurements, non-rendered served ads, out of focus conditions and human error are just some of the issues that will come to light if there is more transparency.

Coull_Irfon_Watkins_1200Standardization of measurement is the answer to viewability’s whole transparency furor, and the IAB seems to agree.

The trade association announced that its Tech Lab arm has taken over the OpenVV initiative, which will be enveloped by its Digital Video Technical Standards Working Group. OpenVV, TubeMogul, BrightRoll, Innovid, LiveRail, and SpotXchange will join the working group’s 30-plus members, proof that the industry is backing standards implementation.

Although desktop viewability has faltered, if mobile is to continue using it as the template for dealing with viewability, then it has to change tack. More needs to be done around the transparency of post-bid viewability measurement. Standards are a must. It may hurt the business models of some vendors, but full measurement transparency is the only way we can move forward with viewability.

Irfon Watkins is the cofounder and CEO of Coull, a video advertising company.