Confessions of a broadcaster exec on video viewability issues: ‘We’re losing 10% of monthly revenue’

Viewability metrics have been a thorn in publishers’ sides for years. A big issue is when agency and publisher results for what volume of display impressions have been viewable, don’t match up.

But it’s become a pressing issue for video, and broadcasters with high-volume video-on-demand inventory are starting to feel the burn.

For the latest installment of our Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, we spoke to a senior commercial executive responsible for video-on-demand revenue at a U.K. broadcaster who spoke about his concerns.

Excerpts edited for clarity and flow.

What frustrates you about how viewability is used to measure video?
I’ve no issue with viewability metrics for display, the issue is when the same logic is applied to video, especially on mobile which is where most publishers and broadcasters see roughly 80% of their video traffic. If you press play on a video on your phone, it goes full-screen automatically. You can only watch one ad at a time. Therefore, by definition of the layout, it is 100% in view, and the ad occupies 100% of the screen. We already use completion rates; viewability metrics shouldn’t apply.

But presumably, agencies want to apply measurement consistency across devices?
Yes, that’s their argument. But it’s really costing us. Viewability came about because 10 years ago there was a lot of unsold inventory, and so blind networks came about, and selling on the open exchange, and brands didn’t know whether what they were paying for was being seen. But premium broadcasters have trusted brand environments, where the content has in some cases costs millions of pounds to make. That shouldn’t be held to the same standards as appearing next to videos of cats skateboarding. It’s even more of an issue now because so much VOD and streamed video is viewed on mobile devices.

What is this costing you?
It can cost us 10% of our monthly revenue, which equates to the high hundreds of thousands of pounds. Once you average that out across the year, you’re talking in the millions. And when it comes to explaining that to my CFO — they don’t care that it’s not down to us — that it’s due to the errors of viewability tech, and agencies not listening. They just want you to fix it.

So how do you fix it?
You try plugging the gap somehow and hope that you have a new show that can generate a lot of content to get over the issue. But it’s no longer done on our ad server, so there are far more ad calls being made, and in between each one we risk losing inventory. We should be able to sell 100% of our stock but brands and agencies insist we use these [viewability ad] products, so we start off with 90% of our stock. If we try and raise our rates to cover it, the brands and agencies kick off, so it’s a vicious cycle.

Give an example of what goes wrong.
We had an issue with an agency who told us late that they would use viewability metrics with a major U.K. retail brand. The next day the agency said they had a problem with the viewability. We checked everything our side, all was fine. Part of the challenge was they were using an ad format wrapped with the viewability vendor’s technology. They couldn’t measure the viewability, and the page load slowed and the ad broke our streams. We dedicated a huge amount of developer time to figuring out the problem over two weeks. The agency lost trust in us, and the client was frustrated. But after two weeks the vendor confessed it was actually their error, but not to worry — they’d have an update out in three weeks that would fix it.

So the problem is with the vendor tech? 
A lot of these viewability vendors tell the buy side they’re integrated with publishers, when they’ve never spoken to us. They’ll have meetings at a global level with brands and tell them this will work, without having actually integrated with the publishers at local level.

Publisher viewability struggles aren’t new. Why is this a worry for you now?
It’s on the video side that it’s increasing as an issue. I worry that as more brand advertisers choose to go direct with their own trading desks, the problem may start exploding.

How so?
Vendors are 70% of the problem here, and the remaining 30% is down to the agencies. But that said, the best agencies have good ad ops teams with experience working across a range of multiple publishers, and knowing how to get the best out of each and what ad copy to use with each. Whereas the onus will be on brand advertisers that opt for in-housing to identify the key publishers they want to work with and ensure they talk directly to them to endure these things don’t happen, not just trust that the ad tech they use has done its due diligence. But I fear that’s more likely.

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