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Viewability Holds Online Video Ads to Low Standards
Ensuring that paid online video ads are actually seen is a good thing. But the recently created standard is more of a joke than a useful benchmark.

The approved standard for video ad viewability sets the bar so low that a limbo champion would have to step over it.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve read for much longer than 2 seconds. That’s not much time, but the video advertising community thinks it’s all an advertiser needs to get a message across. You see, for an ad to be considered viewable, only 50 percent of its pixels have to be on screen for 2 seconds. Then the impression counts and the advertiser has to pay for it.

That’s less than half the time a YouTube TrueView ad plays before you can stop it. Calling that “viewable” seems disingenuous.

This standard didn’t appear overnight. A committee of industry experts hammered it out for more than a year. I spoke to Tal Chalozin, co-founder and CTO of Innovid, who was on that committee.

“The standard was set after a full back-and-forth with a lot of publishers and advertisers led by the MRC (Media Rating Council) and the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), and everyone agreed on that standard,” Chalozin says. “We had arguments on both sides to shorten or extend it, but in the end everyone agreed to start with a standard and modify it down the road if needed.”

I’m glad to hear that modifications might be coming, but why start with a standard that’s so patently ridiculous? Advertisers understand that they need to create creative, engaging ads online if they want to succeed. Rather than showing a company logo every few seconds, they need to create ads that surprise viewers and make them want to share. But having such a low viewability standard forces them to create TV-like, logo-heavy ads, so their paid impressions at least deliver some kind of message.

The viewability committee saw research which showed that viewers who watched at least 2 seconds of an ad likely watched for much longer, Chalozin says. Then why not make the standard 10 or 15 seconds?

In the past months, I’ve seen a rise in autoplay videos on pages where the main content is an article, and I wonder if it’s because of the new viewability standard. Sometimes, these videos are hidden below the fold, but more often they’re in plain sight, playing silently next to the article. The ads on these videos are worthless, but the site still gets paid. Having such a low viewability standard encourages sites to slide video ads in everywhere it can, regardless of whether the viewer came to that page for a video or an article. Sites are overusing autoplay, and it reflects badly on the whole online video industry.

For the record, Chalozin disagrees that autoplay use is on the rise or that autoplay use is connected with viewability. But he did point out that the viewability standard doesn’t require the audio to be playing for an ad impression to count, and doesn’t mandate a minimum player size, either. It seems crazy that the viewability standard offers so little for the advertiser.

“Is it perfect? No, but it’s definitely better than before,” Chalozin says.

Naturally, many advertisers have a problem with the low standard, Chalozin says. Many want to pay for full views only, which is what they get on Hulu. If Hulu offers full ad playback, why would advertisers settle for 2 seconds someplace else? Other advertisers want a sliding payment scale, with the ad price going up when a higher percent of the ad is viewed.

I’m no fan of cluttering online pages and videos with too many ads, but charging for a 2-second video ad view is underhanded. If advertisers are going to stretch their creative muscles and create online video ads people want to watch, then publishers and advertisers need to treat those ads with the same respect they do content videos.

This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Viewability Holds Online Video Ads to Low Standards."

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