2015 was a great year for viewability.
Following the Media Rating Council’s 2014 decision to lift its advisory against viewability transactions, we saw a major uptick in the number of agencies demanding quality inventory, with many of them initiating their first vCPM trades. On the sell side, publishers took the issue seriously under increased pressure to provide viewable inventory. In fact, some of them even redesigned their websites to create more viewable impressions. In 2016 we expect these trends to grow only more prominent, with buyers, sellers, and even Web browsers all working to facilitate the measurement and transaction of viewable inventory.
Unfortunately, the looming challenge of ad fraud threatens to undermine any further progress our industry might be able to achieve. Indeed, 2015 was also the year that we saw an explosion of mobile device hijacking and other nascent forms of ad fraud. In 2016, emboldened fraudsters can be counted on to develop new and improved methods of stealing advertisers’ budgets. Unless we take steps to limit the effectiveness of these bad actors, the countless hours we’ve put into making vCPM transactions a reality will all have been for naught. After all, what good is a viewable impression if the only “person” who sees it is a bot?
Here are a few predictions for 2016:
1. Publishers will deliver on advertiser demands for more viewability. Web browsers will now bake in viewability detection: On the bright side, there’s no doubt that viewability will be an even bigger priority next year than it was in 2015. After speaking with a number of marketers, I can tell you that further shifting campaigns to a vCPM payment model is on the agenda for agencies around the world, particularly in Europe. With more buyers demanding viewability guarantees, their publisher partners will have no choice but to submit, putting even greater pressure on the rest of the ecosystem to follow suit.
Meanwhile, the technologies used to calculate viewability will become more precise due to the introduction of Intersection Observer, a new feature being developed that bakes viewability into the Web browser. At present, many MRC-accredited viewability vendors are only capable of measuring impressions in certain browsers or rely heavily on Flash, which doesn’t exist on mobile devices and is being phased out of desktop browsers like Google Chrome. In 2016, Intersection Observer will go a long way toward easing publisher concerns that they are being penalized for having inventory on which viewability cannot be measured.
2. Fraudsters will continue developing tactics that steal ad budgets and drive away human users. Advertisers and publishers will need to respond: Though the proliferation of the vCPM model will lead to a rise in overall ad quality, fraudulent actors are already exploiting it to steal money from advertisers. By rendering pages in a certain way, black hats have been able to fool even MRC-accredited vendors into counting ads as viewable when they are actually shown to bots. In 2016, agencies will need to detect and eliminate fraud from their ad buys before measuring viewability, making the true metric they should pay on hvCPM--human viewable CPM. Otherwise, they will negate the benefits of the vCPM model by continuing to pay for ads that no one is able to see.
Speaking of fraud, there’s going to be even more of it in 2016 due to the continued spread of ad-blocking software. With fewer impressions at their disposal, publishers will have incentives to lower their standards when it comes to the traffic they purchase to fulfill campaign objectives. In addition to beefing up their anti-fraud strategies, publishers and advertisers will need to find ways to improve the user experience and encourage people to stop blocking their ads.
Doing so will be no easy task. Already, advertisers are adopting invasive, new data collection policies and implementing intrusive advertising formats like in-article, auto-play videos. On top of all that, people are being driven to ad-blocking and anti-tracking software by fraudsters who threaten the user experience with intrusive ad injectors or the use of mobile device hijacking to serve invisible ads that suck up bandwidth and battery life. In 2016, we predict a creative reckoning in which publishers and advertisers will be forced to develop ad formats that are less harmful to the user experience. Not only that, but publishers will use new technologies to initiate a conversation with users about the relationship between the content they love and the advertising dollars that make it free.
3. Be optimistic, but don’t let your guard down: On the whole, the online advertising ecosystem has plenty of reasons for cheer. Buyers are increasingly getting their money’s worth with higher viewability, publishers are earning a premium for quality inventory, and vendors are constantly improving the accuracy of their measurement solutions.
But in order for us to continue improving, we must all make it our New Year’s resolution to remain vigilant in the fight against ad fraud and steadfast in preserving the quality of our advertising experiences. If we can do that, there’s no reason 2016 can’t be our best year yet.