Viewability

A Primer on IAB and MRC Ad Viewability Standards

According to Google Ad Manager data, increasing ad viewability from 50% to 90% results in an 80% revenue increase.

Ad viewability has become a significant metric within the ad tech industry in recent years. Through ad viewability, publishers can measure whether an ad has had the chance to be seen by users or not.

A served ad impression is practically redundant now if it is not seen by the user. 

However, several ads remain unseen, implying that ad viewability is not taken seriously. In fact, an average publisher’s ad viewability rate is only 57%

Therefore, in order to encourage focus on ad viewability, MRC (Media Rating Council) and IAB (The Interactive Advertising Bureau) developed a set of guidelines for publishers and advertisers. 

Before diving into details about these standards, here’s some information about the IAB and MRC.

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

It is an advertising business organization working towards improvement of interactive media domain. 

The organization is primarily responsible for the creation of standards and guidelines for the sale, planning, measurement, and purchase of digital advertisements. These standards and solutions are developed in partnership with the IAB Tech Lab, a non-profit organization.

The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing.

IAB

Over 650 media, brands, and technology industry leaders are working together with IAB for optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns.

Media Rating Council (MRC)

An industry-funded organization, MRC’s aim is to accredit and review audience rating services in the media industry. The organization further seeks to provide effective, secure, and reliable measurement services to users in the media industry. As the company states, it ‘accomplishes its mission by setting standards and conducting audits for verifying compliance with those standards’. 

IAB and MRC Viewability Standards

If a rating service receives accreditation from MRC, it means that the service is acknowledging and following MRC Minimum Standards along with measurement guidelines provided by IAB. 

Therefore, it is clear that both IAB and MRC set the standards for the digital advertising industry in conjunction. 

In September 2004, the IAB released Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines that stated parameters for client-side ad counting. 

In these guidelines they defined an ad impression as ‘a measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user’s browser’. 

This impression is then recorded at a point closest to when the user gets an opportunity to see it. 

These initial set of guidelines were created in partnership with MRC, Advertising Research Foundation, and ABC Interactive. 

Since the development of Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines, IAB has introduced guidelines for a number of factors that have an impact on the digital advertising industry. 

Some of these include:

  • Click Measurement Guidelines,
  • Mobile Web Advertising Measurement Guidelines,
  • Desktop Display Impression Measurement Guidelines, and 
  • Digital Video Ad Measurement Guidelines.

A common factor binding all these set of standards is that they use IAB’s Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines as the starting point. 

The same is true for MRC’s Viewable Impression Guidelines. IAB’s Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines counted the ad impression that has been loaded and displayed, but MRC’s viewability guidelines take things a step further. It was found that certain elements can still interfere with the visibility of an ad after it’s loaded on the user’s device. Due to this, MRC came up with standards that defined ad viewability for display and video ads. 

The core parameters used for defining the viewability of display ad and video ads are:

  • Unless 50% of the pixels of an advertisement are not in-focus for at least one continuous second, it will not be considered a viewable impression. 
  • For video ads, at least 50% of the pixels need to be in-focus for 2 continuous seconds, i.e. the video needs to be played for 2 seconds. 

Other than these, some other factors can also be taken into consideration for an ad to be deemed viewable. These include:

  • Strong Interaction: If the pixel and time requirements are not met, but the user clicks on the display ad, it will be considered viewed. If a video ad is clicked on after it is in view for the first 200 milliseconds then it will be deemed a viewed impression. The pixel requirements, however, need to be met by the video ad. 
  • Larger Ads: If a display ad is of 242,000 pixels, 30% of the pixels should be in-focus for at least one second.

Also read: How to Improve Ad Viewability: A Quick Primer for Publishers

Are IAB and MRC Guidelines Different?

Sometimes people individually refer to these guidelines as ‘IAB viewability standards’ or ‘MRC viewability standards’ and list the above mentioned points.

However, IAB and MRC worked together to create the first set of guidelines that served as the base for the development of viewability measurement guidelines. 

MRC Viewable Impression Guidelines can be considered an addendum to the previously released ad impression measurement guidelines. 

State of Adoption

Even though viewability standards were introduced by MRC in 2014, industry-wide adoption has not happened yet. Measuring clicks rates cannot be undermined under any circumstances, but viewability of ads is the most basic parameter. 

If an ad is not viewable, it will neither benefit publishers nor advertisers. 

The move towards viewability, however, may negatively impact ad revenues for publishers. If advertisers are only paying for inventories that have a high viewability rate, publishers will not be able to sell as many impressions as they are selling now. Moreover, they may need to position most of the ad units higher on the website, thereby affecting the user experience.

Download resource: The Ad Viewability Handbook

Conclusion

Unless MRC viewability standards are adopted all over the ad tech industry, it is hard to say what kind of effect viewability will actually have. Advertisers may be the ones benefiting the most from such a scenario, since they will have to spend less money for buying impressions.

Publishers may be facing certain challenges and will need to find roundabouts for optimizing revenue generation via advertisements. But in order for things to get cleared up, IAB and MRC Viewability Measurement Guidelines will have to be adopted by a larger proportion of the ad tech industry.


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