According to comScore, the audience for online video has grown 4 percent over the past year. The number of video ads? Up 205 percent.
Sure, people are watching a lot of online video. But the ad-serving firm Vindico sees something more nefarious in those numbers. “The number of ad impressions have exploded, but it’s totally manufactured viewing,” said Vindico president Matt Timothy. In fact, Vindico, which says it tracks 40 percent of all video ads served on the Web, found that 57 percent of 2.7 billion ads it tracked over a recent two-month period were not viewable.
Perhaps even more eye-popping was the list of sites delivering the most video ads over that time. No YouTube, Hulu or Yahoo here. Instead, No. 1 is Blinkx.com, a U.K.-based public company that has been accused of inflating its views in the past. Vindico recorded 217 million views on Blinkx, about 23 percent of which were viewable.
Meanwhile, CBS came in second with 195 million views and an 88 percent viewability rate. MSN was third, with just a 57 percent viewability rate. Several other top brands produced surprisingly low rates, including AOL and HuffPost, each at 60 percent, per Vindico data.
But those were far from the most curious—and egregious—sites to appear in Vindico’s top 20 video site ranking. Wikia.com: 66 million impressions, 18 percent viewable; Reellibrary.com: 28 million impressions, 18 percent viewability; Uvidi.com, which syndicates content from the likes of Glamour, Vogue and Parents, 33 million impressions, 25 percent viewability rate.
Perhaps surprisingly, Timothy doesn’t blame bad guys using bots for this surge in video views, although they play a part. Rather, he sees a huge spike in autoplay video running below the fold where people can’t see it. “This is a huge priority, and nobody knows what to do about it,” Timothy said, who also noted that the number of video ad networks has jumped from 50 in 2010 to 150 today, further muddling the supply chain. “We want to shine a light on it.”
In fact, Vindico has developed its own video viewability grading system. Per Timothy, most major media brands have avoided getting Ds and Fs, but more than half of the ad networks and exchanges the company monitors have.
Kurt Unkel, global president of VivaKi’s Audience On Demand, agrees that more sites and networks are running bogus autoplay ads. “These are disingenuous views,” he said. “There’s so many shenanigans in the video space. ”
Are those publishers totally to blame? Timothy said that overall the industry is mistakenly using a volume-driven, display advertising mentality when serving video ads. “We still haven’t figured out how to tell stories in this space,” he said.
Most publishers mentioned in this story were unavailable or declined to comment by press time. Uvidi, for its part, contends that its viewability score may be tainted by in-banner video ads served by a third party. “The real questions are: What is the definition of viewability, and is it really applicable to digital video?” said the company in a statement.
Hollyscoop officials also questioned Vindico's methodology. They too believe the company could be victim of scoring low on viewability because they are plugged into ad networks and exchanges that serve lots of in-banner video.
Unkel says technology that can catch bogus ads before they are delivered is key. But he hinted that brands and their agencies are at fault for creating unrealistic expectations. “Media buyers, trying to justify share shifts, are coming back and saying, ‘We’re getting incredible rates and scale’ [with Web video],” Unkel said. “ Such CPM goals drive bad behavior.”
Reellibrary chief revenue officer Kit Tierney weighed in with the following statement: "We take the concept of viewability very seriously as we strive to provide the best viewing experience for our advertisers and audience. To further inform this effort, we encourage platforms such as Vindico's to offer publisher-side tools once this emerging metric becomes standardized."