#OPSPOV: Inching Toward Mobile Viewability

#OPSPOV: Inching Toward Mobile Viewability

When the Media Rating Council released its updated mobile viewability specs for review last week, it didn’t hold too many surprises. The main definition of what counts as “viewable”—50% of pixels in view for one second in display, or for two seconds in video—carry over from the interim guidelines the MRC announced in the spring of 2015. And of course, those guidelines carry over from viewability guidelines for desktop.

The new specs don’t deliver everything advertisers and publishers want clarified. The MRC has left the door open to debate whether these guidelines are good while the user is scrolling through a newsfeed. (Some are calling for a half-second rule for newsfeed environments.) The door’s also open to talk about engagement metrics. This new draft does break out guidelines for a) content loaded into an app from the web via a link from b) guidelines for standard mobile web. That’s a meaningful distinction, as others in the ad trades have pointed out, because users spend a massive amount of time in apps while on mobile… but realistically, a user on Facebook might spend [x] amount of time with their news feed and [y] amount of time reading or watching content their friends shared to Facebook from around the web. And to measure in-app ads vs. mobile web, you’re probably going to need different toolsets for reporting.

Those toolsets are important here—that is, the reporting standards, JavaScript or HTML5 tags in iframes/mobile web, MRAID for in-app display, VPAID and VAST for video. Sure, it’s great the MRC guidelines are calling to firm up some unofficial, if expected, standards for viewability. Separating native app content from content served into the app from the web gives a nod to the way users really engage with media. But when it comes to tracking and reporting, mobile is still fragmented, and that fragmentation clouds up an honest view into ad performance. Agreeing as what counts as “viewable” is only one step toward being able to track viewability through all mobile environments.

The MRC’s draft gets into the fragmentation bit around the point where it discusses MRAID. MRAID 2.0, the draft says, “was not designed with the express intent to fully address” mobile in-app viewability. MRAID 3.0 was designed to account for more aspects of viewability measurement. The document points out that not all players in this game are running MRAID 3.0 or beyond, and it advises anyone running 2.0 to combine other tools along with it, or else they may not get an accurate idea of viewability performance.

In talking with publishers for an article I recently wrote about mobile video, it was evident reporting gets really complicated where video is concerned. In cases where VPAID isn’t implemented, it may be difficult for pubs to separate pixels for measurement from pixles from a billable source. Some pubs have weighed in that they work with a certain number of ad partners that are still using VAST 2.0: Rather than adopting VAST 3.0, they just waited for 4.0. Publishers have their fingers crossed for VAST 4.0, industry-wide support of which they hope will give them the robust reporting capabilities that have been so lacking in mobile video. Unfortunately for pubs, VAST 4.0 support isn’t “industry-wide” yet.

As it stands, this takes us only part-way to solving the viewability problem in mobile. As worthwhile as it is to agree on what “counts,” we still need a little more cooperation in figuring out how to count it.