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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Viewability problems spread to video ads on social

September 17, 2015 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

A funny thing happened on the way to social distribution domination. While publishers have started to test more and more original content on social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat, those platforms are still suffering from problems of viewability for ads—especially with video.

Let’s look at the statistics: The Media Rating Council and the Interactive Advertising Bureau suggests a video ad is viewable when at least half of the ad’s pixels are visible on a screen for at least two consecutive seconds. An April study by Google found the average viewability of video ads across the web (not taking YouTube into account) was 54%. When considering video ads on YouTube, that figure jumped to 91% across different devices and apps — and video ads were significantly more viewable on mobile and tablet as opposed to desktop. Non-viewable ads, meanwhile, were either scrolled off the screen or abandoned in less than two seconds.

Short Attention Span on Snapchat
Yet just because ads might be more viewable on mobile than on desktop doesn’t discount the anxiety surrounding their worth. A recent article on Digiday found a full 70% of Snapchat’s mostly millennial audience had moved on from an ad after only three seconds. Given Snapchat currently charges brands for video ads that are viewed for even less than a second, it’s not only raised discussion on the definition on viewability, but also the relative value of these ads for brands.

“Snapchat is using this measurement that just seems off from what brands and clients want and where the rest of the industry is going,” a digital marketing insider with knowledge of Snapchat’s ad model told Garrett Sloane of Digiday. “If an ad is on the screen for less than a second, it’s hard to imagine it made an impression.”

Despite the ongoing debate on the impact of technology giants becoming the gatekeepers for brands and publishers, the platforms will have to work more closely with these parties if they are all going to have long-term, stable ad revenues. Twitter, for example, offers six-second pre-roll ads. Facebook also “teaches brands how to capture attention within three seconds, using muted auto-play videos, which people can scroll right past,” Sloane wrote in Digiday.

Third-Party Verification?
Some companies are demanding third-party tools be used to evaluate which advertisements are actually being seen, to help ensure the accuracy of the information and maintain higher viewability. Complaints from Uniliver and Kelloggs are suspected to be behind YouTube’s announcement to use third-party tools instead of its own in-house measuring tool, Active View.

But this also has its negative consequences. Facebook, for instance, has argued that “third-party verification view tags often slow down consumer experience and don’t always report views consistently,” and has hinted that these third-party verification tools could compromise valuable user data. And Facebook — whose log-in can track which desktop or mobile devices people use — has access to the consumer data that is so crucial to advertisers. That data is difficult for most publishers to obtain otherwise, and generally harder to determine on mobile, because the varying size of different gadgets require different kinds of advertising.

Maintaining a quality user experience versus earning revenue from advertising seems to be the trade-off that’s happening on social platforms. Snapchat, for instance, maintains brands won’t be charged if viewers skip an ad entirely. But it  also offers its users the chance to skip any advertisement they wish.

These are early days for video ads on social platforms, so there could be more standards among the major players in the near future. That could go a long way toward addressing viewability issues. Snapchat videos, for instance, take up the entire screen (so eyes can’t wander), and also use the vertical video format which leads to higher view rates.

Or publishers and brands could also try another route to better viewability: better ads, and even native ads that are creative enough for people to play through and share without skipping in disgust.

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