By Collective August 7, 2015

These days there are a lot of questions surrounding what is actually in view.  But had we asked this question one year ago, let alone a few years ago, we likely would have received a bunch of quizzical blank stares. Until very recently, advertisers assumed actual human beings viewed their ads. And why not? There was the above the fold/below the fold debate, but the idea that humans never actually saw ads and instead robots clicked on them? Fuhgeddaboudit!

So what is viewability anyway? Viewability is an online advertising metric that aims to track only impressions that can actually be seen by users(1). Viewability as a metric is the percent of impressions deemed in view according to the MRC measurement guidelines – a display ad must have 50% of its pixels in view for one second; a video ad must have 50% of its pixels in view for two concurrent seconds.

Until programmatic became the golden child of digital advertising, and folks like Collective began to dig into what’s actually going on in the world of digital, all was seemingly “normal.” However, there was more going on than meets the eye. Ah, the thorn in digital’s side since its inception – the ability to track and report on things. Suddenly ads were being deemed out of view, and in some cases, not even considered measurable. Had this problem been going on longer than we ever knew or anticipated? Yes! Could we solve the problem overnight? No!

In the latter part of 2014, advertisers became increasingly aware of the problems impacting their digital advertising campaigns. Viewability not only arrived, it became the main event. And like any good negotiator, advertisers began demanding higher viewability at lower rates. This made everyone in the ad tech industry fear for what 2015 would have in store.

Viewability, in and of itself, is not the problem. The real issue facing the industry is our ability to keep up with and execute on the demand. One of the biggest challenges we faced, initially, was the “limited supply of [highly viewable] inventory.” According to a webinar hosted by OpenX, Integral Ad Science and Quantcast in September 2014, “inventory with viewability above 75% [was] less than 5% of all RTB inventory.”(2) This was a staggering reality at a time when advertisers were starting to ask for more viewable ads.

Everyone’s first reaction was to blame the publishers, but they weren’t solely responsible. Inventory is not created overnight. Website redesigns, changes to and increases in ad positions require massive amounts of resources and dedicated technology. Though it is human nature to want immediate satisfaction, in the case of viewability there is no quick-fix solution.

And while all of this is alarming – and likely causing many advertisers to want to run for the hills – the truth is things are getting better, slowly but surely. Industry averages for viewability are around 40% for networks/exchanges and near 50% for publishers(3). These rates may not be viewed as “awesome,” but they are not horrible either. They are the reality, and they are only the beginning.

As we look toward the second half of 2015, things are beginning to look a bit less bleak. This has been, as they say, the ‘year of transition.’(4) Technology advancements are changing the landscape allowing media partners to make more significant impacts on campaigns. While demand is still the driving force in this progression, expectations are shifting as clients begin to understand the complexities around viewability. And, everyone is being held to a higher standard, including publishers, to do their part.

The landscape is also shifting – not away from viewability, but rather towards an overall view of inventory quality. So while viewability is here to stay, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.


  1. ”WTF is Viewability?”, Digiday, February 27, 2014
  2. “Three Sides to Viewability”, Webinar hosted in partnership with OpenX, Integral Ad Science and Quantcast, September 2014
  3. Media Quality Report, Integral Ad Science, Q1 2015
  4. ”IAB Says 100% Viewability Measurement Is Not Yet Possible: Trade Body Recommends 70% as Best Threshold for Buyers and Sellers During ‘Year of Transition’”, IAB, December 16, 2014