New Cross-Media Measurement Standards Get TV and Video on the Same Page: Viewability

The Media Rating Council (MRC) and partnering industry groups have been busy this year with the heavy lift of developing cross-media measurement and viewability standards that can finally handle the convergence of traditional television and digital video. A key component to T/V (Television/Video) convergence is viewability.

Why Are These Needed?

Distribution disruption! Until broadband and WiFi capacities allowed video content and ads to be reliably delivered over the internet (IP) around 2007—when Netflix launched streaming video services—broadcast and cable/satellite television had a lock grip on most of the ad spending in the US. They owned the distribution channels.

However, for more than 10 years streaming video and its digital siblings have been delivered outside of those closed systems straight to personal computers, mobile devices, and increasing connected televisions. Anyone now can be a digital broadcaster.

AdMonsters’ Brian LaRue provides a short history of what led to the need for viewability standards:

  • Late 00s: study after study showed that massive percentages of digital (display) ad impressions were never seen by an actual person.
  • In 2011, advisory groups the IAB, the ANA and the 4As together launched an initiative called Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS), with the goal of standardizing ad campaign measurement metrics and methodologies, including viewability.
  • In March 2014. the MRC supported by 3MS and other industry groups issued viewability guidelines for display ads—50% of pixels in view for 1 second.
  • In August 2015, MRC added viewable impression guidelines for video—50% of pixels in view for 2 seconds. This was focused on desktop behavior, so in 2016, similar guidelines were issued for mobile.

(Writer’s note: I wish these had been introduced as “minimum” viewability requirements as expectations for tracking advertising delivery in the digital realm moved to traditional and emerging television platforms where there had been no viewability criteria in the same sense.)

  • In 2015, GroupM announced it would count and pay for impressions only when they were 100% in view for display, or 100% in view and played 50% of the way through with the audio on for video.

This further complicated the process of gaining industry consensus on all sides of the buying ecosystem:

  • In March 2019, the MRC issued a draft of proposed new standards for a 60-day period of industry comment, not just for T/V viewability, but also for all display and video cross-media measurement.
  • On September 4th, 2019 the MRC announced that the comment window feedback resulted in one change to the initial draft regarding viewability: Duration Weighting. This new measurement criterion introduced in 2019 has stimulated lots of industry conversation such as this Ad Age piece (more on Duration Weighting below) and this MediaPost interview with MRC CEO George Ivie.

The New Cross-Media Measurement Standards

These are required for MRC third-party audits and certification, necessary for the safety and trust that ads are running as the purchaser contracted. The full 76 page final MRC document can be found here. Key new standards are:

  • Viewable Impressions: For combined deduplicated cross-media video measurement, a viewability qualification threshold of 100% of pixels on screen for at least two continuous seconds must be utilized for both digital and linear components. Viewable impressions are the minimum required qualifying measurement unit for cross-media advertising Reach, Frequency and GRP.

The big changes to previous standards are 1) that 100% (not 50%) of a video ad must appear on screen for 2 seconds, and 2) this will be applied not just to PCs and mobile platforms, but to linear live and on-demand T/V, i.e. broadcast, cable, satellite and newer live streaming advertising components like Over The Air (OTA), Over The Top (OTT) and Connected TVs (CTV).

Remember: the term impressions in viewable impressions is not measured strictly from servers now, but by on-screen presence. It does not mean the impression has been seen by a human. Automated Content Recognition (ACR) will be a key technology for future T/V measurement.

  • Duration Weighting: For audience measurement of any kind, including cross-media, average Viewable Duration reporting (based on unduplicated viewable duration) is required, with viewable completion audience metrics also required in cross-media video measurement. The standard provides for flexibility in duration reporting based upon criteria such as actual and quartile. (Note: Duration weighting will not be required until 2021.)

The September 4, 2019 release changed Duration Weighting from the previous draft proposal so it should now be expressed through a relative approach (duration viewable / advertisements creative length) versus the originally suggested absolute approach (duration viewable / a static 30-second denominator).

  • Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT) Filtration: Cross-media audience measurement must be based on filtration inclusive of General and Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (GIVT and SIVT, respectively), standards that disqualify bot and non-human traffic.
  • Consideration of Audio: Presence of audio must be considered in determining a Viewable Video Impression (and input into GRP) for cross-media video. Measurement organizations should separately report Viewable video duration that is also audible (non-mute or non-zero) where this can be measured.

What Will the Impact be for Tech?

  • Adding cross-media viewable impressions and duration weighting will aid buyers and sellers in establishing the value and currency of T/V advertising that is purchased across the many different media platforms, devices, distribution systems and content providers.
  • This will address concerns about paying for ads that can never be seen due to being off-screen or by non-human traffic. A trustworthy and auditable proof of performance system is good for all.
  • As Ad Age suggested this will “toughen rules for digital and TV,” putting technologists and ad ops center stage in this next shift of change. Technology brought us here and will need to continue to adapt and change with the needs of customers, viewers, and ad-supported content providers. Hopefully, few will try to take advantage and “game” the new system in the transition, as much learning and cooperation will be needed on all sides of the advertising and technology marketplace.
  • All industry stakeholders need to understand ACR and become savvy in how it works and how it will be integrated into existing buying and sales and performance analytics platforms.