How the MRC Is Transitioning From Measuring Desktop Viewable Ads to Mobile

6 questions with the media watchdog

Advertisers are starting to demand chargeable mobile impressions from the Media Rating Council after it announced plans in May to address the issue. But with smaller screens and fast-scrolling fingers, mobile viewability is already proving to be more challenging than its desktop counterpart.

Adweek spoke with MRC CEO and executive director George Ivie about what marketers can expect from the upcoming standards, the difference between measuring ads in mobile apps and websites, and how smartphone-size ads render more slowly than desktop promos.

Adweek: What's the latest on crafting mobile viewability standards?

George Ivie: We've been receiving data from mobile practitioners and analyzing it to try to inform the viewability parameters. We've received hundreds of millions of impressions from various providers on an anonymous basis.

It's a similar process to what we did with desktop viewability. It's a very difficult, time-consuming analysis. You need a lot of impressions to do this, and you need fairly accurate record keeping.

Will this standard be drastically different from how you're currently advising marketers to measure mobile?

We don't think it's going to be drastically different—if anything, it might be shorter.

Will holiday marketers be able to purchase ads based on mobile impressions?

No. We hope to have the final guidance released for some type of public comment and review before the end of the year, but that will be after people are doing their purchases for holiday advertising.

What's a key point of difference between desktop and mobile ad viewability?

There's been a concern—and this is bearing out in the data that we're seeing—is that it takes longer in mobile for ads to render on the screen.

A lot of what I've seen is that in mobile environments, people are more attentive. It may be that the viewability transaction will be lower in mobile, but it's clear that the render time is different—it's slower.

In May, the MRC said it planned to measure mobile apps differently than mobile websites with a term coined a "loaded ad." Can you explain what that means?

First of all, it's likely that it's going to be withdrawn.

If you think about how you measure viewability in mobile, a mobile Web environment is almost just like how you measure on the desktop Web.

However, an app environment is very different—you can't always load JavaScript, [and] it's much more difficult to determine whether all the pixels of the ad are present. Mobile app viewability is considerably more difficult.

In May, we saw the possibility that we would have a bunch of vendors come to us and say, "I want to be accredited for viewability in mobile Web because it's easy, but I don't want to be accredited in mobile app because it is going to take me a long time to set up that measurement."

We were thinking that's a bad situation, because that's going to get confusing for the marketplace. So, we didn't want to have a one-or-other choice.

So, we created a metric called a loaded app. It just involves saying, "Did just one pixel load?" We said in the interim guide that it's not a viewable impression, because it's only if one pixel loaded.

Well, it turns out now that time has passed, we have companies that are submitting their tech [to be accredited], and they're all capable of measuring the desktop standard in app, because they've solved the technology problem.

It looks like we're not going to need this "loaded ad" concept.

With mobile video, are you looking at both autoplay and click-to-play formats?

We are, but we are qualitatively looking at them differently. Click-to-play is something that you might have clicked on to play it, but that doesn't mean it's viewable yet—you stay with it for a certain amount of time. Autoplay is different. There is no user interaction with it because it automatically plays. We're analyzing them differently, but we're looking at both times. 

This story first appeared in the Oct. 26 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.