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For viewing audiences, video is video. Whether watching TV, tablet or desktop, it’s not about the screen. It’s about the content and the convenience.

But for advertisers and media buyers, TV and online video remain vastly different animals. Planning, buying and analyzing are segregated disciplines – each with its own processes, metrics and even culture. As a result, collaboration and joint optimization are rare, messaging inconsistent, and overall marketing performance compromised.

Why the gap? Risk. Buy a spot on TV, and you know exactly when, where and in what context your ad will appear; what content precedes and follows your ad; and, most important, you know your ad will be clearly visible – enabling ad buyers to guarantee brand safety and viewability of any given placement.

Not so much online—brand safety is always a concern and merely serving an ad doesn’t guarantee it will be viewable to audiences. Below-the-fold placements, slow load times, hidden iframes and fraud – any number of factors can render a video ad invisible. Just recently, Google released a study stating that approximately 56% of its inventory isn’t viewable.

Clearly, that’s a waste of budget – especially given the premiums paid for video inventory. Even more important, the viewability issue sustains the unhealthy siloed approach to video advertising strategy. But there’s hope on the horizon.

MRC standards level the field

When the Media Rating Council (MRC) approved a viewability standard for display advertising earlier this year, it allowed a fundamental shift in media buying, enabling advertisers to transact on viewable impressions. The subsequent MRC standard for video may have an even greater impact, although more complicated to address compared to display.

On its surface, the standard sets a low bar, defining a viewable video ad as 50% visible on a user’s screen for at least two consecutive seconds. The real opportunity is for buyers to transact on viewable video impressions, giving advertisers the ability to pay only for ads verified as viewable.

As the assurance of online video viewability approaches that of TV, advertisers can begin to converge their video strategies, share insights and optimize across channels.

Advertisers will likely start shifting budget from the safe ground of TV to online, where the value of TV assets can be enhanced by digital’s expanded reach, interactivity, targetability and granular measurement. When viewability becomes a given, buyers can deliver on the promise of high quality impressions that reach targeted users, at the right time, in the right context – on every screen.

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We’ll get there together

Mass adoption of viewability as the defacto standard for video advertising will happen if we together, as an industry, tackle key areas:

  1. Address measurement discrepancies. Despite the simplicity of the MRC viewability standard, brand safety and viewability vendors have diverse methodologies – with inconsistency as high as 20% among browsers measuring the same stream. The playing field should begin to level in 2015 as more advertisers require vendors to meet key metrics and uniformity across methodologies. Until then, advertisers should test and learn.
  2. Adopt pre-bid solutions. Most vendors offer only post-impression video viewability analysis, allowing the advertiser to tally viewable impressions only after the fact. Pre-bid solutions, on the other hand, can determine prior to serving an ad if the placement is brand-safe and/or whether the video player is iframed or otherwise problematic. Pre-bid solutions can also help advertisers make smarter decisions around issues with quality placement and optimization of digital video investments.
  3. Be open about viewability best practices. The Interactive Advertising Bureau with 3MS continues to provide opportunities for the industry to come together to discuss viewability issues. Rather than passively approaching viewability standards, we should all actively participate in these forums and work together to address one of the most important issues in digital advertising today. After all, if an ad is not seen, how can it have impact?

Once metrics and methodologies evolve and the TV-online scale balances, buyers can begin working across the aisle to the benefit of advertisers. In this converged world, new terms of transaction, measurement standards, reporting best practices, ad delivery mechanisms and even ad formats will also emerge.

Video viewability standards and industry-wide adoption will provide the vital first step toward guaranteed impression quality across channels. For media buyers, it offers the ability to deliver a level of confidence once reserved for TV.

Robin Zieme is VP of Video at AmobeePatrick Rubin is Associate Director of National Video Activation at Carat USA.

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