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Ian Dowds on Viewability

Ian Dowds is a digital consultant, and former MD digital media, Trinity Mirror Group. He is speaking on a panel about viewability at the AOP Conference on 3 October, alongside Sam Finlay, head of digital advertising, IPC Media and Niall Hogan, UK managing director, Integral Ad Science. Here he talks through what he sees are the main issues around viewability for publishers. It's a dynamic world in every way. The digital “page” is not limited to a set of standard sizes and so neither are the placements of the advertising. The user consumption of, and interaction with, content also varies by device, and constructing a framework of effective and efficient ad formats is tricky, particularly as user behaviour is evolving all the time. As publishers evolve not only the content itself but the layout of that content to maximise loyalty and engagement, so must they be prepared to evolve the advertising. It is a fine balance between advertising as seen as a necessary evil for consumers who are prepared for a trade-off for content, the intrusiveness of that advertising and the blurring of commercial/editorial lines. Unfortunately viewability is only one of a myriad of issues for publishers in a digital world where most have lost control, or at least visibility, of the criteria against which their inventory is being valued. What metrics should be applied to viewability?
It depends on the metric against which the success of the ad campaign is being measured. If response (CTR, CPA) is the ultimate measure, then viewability is secondary, although of course not divorced from the success or otherwise of the campaign. If stand-out creative is to drive brand engagement then only that which is in view for a certain period of time should be evaluated. However, the word ‘engagement’ has become one of the most misappropriated words in the industry and at no stage should we automatically accept that exposure = engagement, tempting as it may be for simplicity’s sake. Is there a need for a viewability standard applied across the industry? Of course a recognised benchmark measurement would make everyone’s lives easier, but the setting of that benchmark will not be without pain for all involved. It goes without saying that self-interest will drive each party-s approach to what the measure should be and it is somewhat unlikely that all interests would be immediately aligned! What’s the future for viewability?
A short debate around the absolute need for measurement of it. A long, drawn-out argument about exactly what the criteria for that measurement should be. A plethora of self-interested case-studies from first, second and third parties proving that different ‘proprietary’ approaches have similar merits. Contradictory, inconsistent and unclear demands from various clients and agencies as to their absolute requirement for it. Some kind of metric that becomes the accepted norm that will not satisfy all and will have vociferous detractors from many sides, united by the fact that it does not support their business model. In other words, the story of every media metric that has ever evolved being re-enacted with viewabililty. On the bright side, it WILL come and the world will be a better place for it in whatever form it arrives.