Moving from ‘served’ to a ‘viewable’ impressions standard in display advertising

Viewable impressions, or display ad impressions in view to the user, continues to be a hot topic in the digital advertising industry in Australia and around the world. The IAB in Australia has lobbied for a shift in how online audience measurement develops here, and in other markets, for well over a year.

In the US, the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, a coordinated effort by the IAB, 4As, the ANA and others, recently engaged the Media Rating Council (MRC) for certification. The most important point behind this move is the intention to shift digital measurement from a ‘served’ to a ‘viewable’ impression standard. It is essentially what the IAB Australia has championed for.

Technology is keeping apace with these changes. While clients could previously track only whether an ad appeared above or below the fold, recent technology upgrades allow us to provide comprehensive viewability metrics. This means advertisers serving an ad can now measure viewability based on the IAB/3MS recommended definition – at least 50 percent of pixels in view for one second – or if they prefer, they can customise the threshold to a more stringent level, such as 75 percent in view for 10 seconds.

In a preliminary analysis of approximately 7.4 billion rich media impressions recorded worldwide during September 2012, MediaMind quantified the connection between campaigns with a higher aggregate viewable rate and higher engagement metrics. Worldwide, click-through rates (CTR) of viewable impressions based on the proposed 3MS standard were 0.34% compared to 0.22% for all rich media, a lift of 54.5%.

Figure 1To get a better sense of the impact of viewability, we aggregated the campaigns and bucketed them based on the share of impressions that were viewable according to the IAB/3MS standard. The data shows that as the viewable rate of campaigns increased, both CTR and the post-click conversion rate rose as well. Again, after cutting the unseen impressions, the display campaigns were more engaging and resulted in a higher conversion rate – clearly a result of the new viewability attribute.

Figure 2The true value of viewable impressions may not be in the metrics themselves, but in the improvements in advertising inventory that it spurs as publishers adjust their site layouts in response to the new standards.

Around the world, many publishers have already redesigned their websites to maximise viewable impressions. In Australia, NewsLifeMedia and ACP Magazines are major digital publishing houses that have pared down once-cluttered sites for cleaner, more ad-friendly designs.

In the US,, formerly MSNBC, did likewise. In a recent article on AdAge‘s website, NBCUniversal EVP and IAB Chair Peter Naylor said that NBCUniversal redesigned their website to maximise viewable impressions in 2010. While they saw an initial dip in display inventory, engagement increased nearly 2.5 times prior levels. Other publishers are likely to follow suit as cleaner site designs prove to deliver better results all round.

One thing is certain: the display advertising industry is moving from ‘served’ towards ‘viewable’ impressions. As it does, advertisers are demanding innovative solutions. And vendors – ad servers, third-party trackers, and publishers alike – are going to have to meet that demand to stay ahead.


Michael Froggatt
BY Michael Froggatt ON 16 November 2012
Principal research analyst, MediaMind