Login is restricted to DCN Publisher Members. If you are a DCN Member and don't have an account, register here.

Digital Content Next


InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Viewability + engagement = highly valuable impressions

July 12, 2021 | By Bruce Brandfon, Chief Media Officer – Duration Media @DurationMedia

Imagine that you’re driving down the highway and many of the billboards you pass are facing in the wrong direction. Advertisers paid for their messages to be displayed. However, some percentage of these ads have no chance of being seen.

If you were an advertiser, would you be willing to pay a higher price for only those that were guaranteed to be viewable? Or would you rather pay a lower price to buy all the billboards and roll the dice? Perhaps this is a simplistic way to look at the programmatic landscape, but I hope it makes the point. Ads that have a low probability of becoming viewable have little or no value.  

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King

If the above makes any sense, then why does the Media Rating Council

continue to enforce such a low requirement for viewable impressions?  The MRC deems that an impression counts as viewable when only 50% of the pixels are in view for one second. If your answer is that “it is what it is,” then perhaps we in the industry should raise our expectations. Let’s consider setting a higher standard for ourselves and our advertisers, AKA, the lifeblood of our businesses.

Viewable impressions are more valuable to advertisers, command higher CPMs, provide a better ROI, and increase publisher income. So, let’s find a sustainable way to increase supply without jeopardizing the quality of our content, degrading user experience, or resorting to disruptive devices.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

You spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars annually creating exciting, informative, entertaining, beautiful, provocative, and inspiring content for your audiences. Your goal is to engage readers in this content so they spend more of their most precious resource, time, on your site. They read your stories and move from the home page to below the fold with deeper dives into your content. And ad units scroll into view and are revealed during these engaged user sessions.

Intuitively we already know that an ad you can see is worth more than a non-viewable one. However, logically, one that is viewable while you are engaged in consuming content that is of interest is even more valuable than the billboard you cruise past at 70 mph.

When I was a magazine publisher, ad buyers regularly asked for their ads to be placed “far forward on a right-hand page.” They believed that these were more likely to be seen than those within stories in the magazine. The reality was then as it is today: that an ad adjacent to content where a reader is engaged is far more likely to be seen and effective.

And the cookies came crumbling down

While Google’s recent announcement has given all of us a reprieve, we know that the times are a ‘changing. So how do we respond now that publishers have bought some time and tech companies have a longer runway to build alternatives?

There is no question that there will be dozens if not hundreds of “better” data mousetraps in the marketplace during the coming months. Yet the fact is that we already have many of the tools necessary to enhance the value of our websites for advertisers. Your sites already have the right target audiences. You capture their attention and interest with your content. And they’ve come to right place to enjoy that content. Maybe the missing link is that some of your billboards have been installed facing the wrong direction.

So, here’s the big idea. Serve ads only to readers when they are engaged in content and continue to serve them viewable ads for as long as they remain engaged.  It can be done. It is being done on hundreds of sites. (Check out Inc.com or Rightmove to see.) You can do it too. And when you do, your programmatic ad revenue will increase by 20-40%.

About the author

Bruce Brandfon is Chief Media Officer of Duration Media. Prior to that he was EVP of Webspectator, and before that VP and Managing Director at Publicitas. Before joining Publicitas, Bruce was VP and Publisher of Scientific American. He has also held leadership positions at The Philadelphia Media Network, Newsweek, and Time Inc. Bruce is Director of the Board of Advisors at Planet Forward, and an Adjunct Professor of Media Studies at Westchester Community College.

Liked this article?

Subscribe to the InContext newsletter to get insights like this delivered to your inbox every week.