Publishers Are Responding to Brands’ Viewability Concerns

A discussion with Evolve Media president Brian Fitzgerald

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Viewability has been one of the hotter topics in the digital marketing space this year, and at the heart of the chatter is the Media Ratings Council's decision to lift its advisories against viewability metrics for display and video ads in a staggered fashion during the last three months.

These were moves that may reshape the $50 billion ad marketplace and strain publisher-brand relationships, while putting in motion a surge in the number of online promotions sold on viewability metrics—pricing that functions on how frequently ads are seen by viewers. But some tech players are attempting to get out in front of the movement, as vendors like Tremor Video have trotted out enhanced systems that promise to give marketers more transparency. Evolve Media, publisher of lifestyle sites CraveOnline and TotallyHer, last week unveiled a video ad product called INGage that it claims will go a long way in assuring brands that they're getting the impressions for which they paid.

Adweek caught up with Evolve Media president Brian Fitzgerald over the weekend to address the development while zeroing in on how fixable the issues around viewability are.

Can you guarantee, with INGage, that a video ad is viewed?

Yes, but not necessarily based on third-party audits because every accredited vendor uses a different methodology to measure an impression and determine if it is in view. We are working with the major vendors to optimize their code to more accurately track views.

Do you think more and more publishers are going to follow suit with similar formats thanks to the concerns over viewability?


Can you briefly explain how it affects your customers' pricing for ad buys? It seems to me that this could be seen as a premium structure. 

This is premium. We have created a new cost-per-engagement pricing model for this product. We only charge when at least 7.5 seconds of a video have been viewed.

Does this move underscore that Evolve has gotten the message from brands that want more accountability for seen ads versus unseen ads?

Absolutely. It is critical that publishers get out of a pure impression-based economy and offer brands accountable media. It affords publishers the opportunity to up charge the [cost-per-thousand-impressions rate] or change the pricing model all together, as we have. We did it recently when we began offering social/native video on a cost-per-view basis.

There seems to be viewability products popping up. From a pure market observer standpoint, is there now a lot of money to be made by companies offering viewability software?

[I'm] not sure how big a market there is for viewability software that enables delivery on an in-view basis. We created our in-view delivery and tracking capability. That said, there is a big market for audit vendors, like [Integral Ad Science], Moat and others, to charge to audit viewability. The problem is the accuracy of the results. They are consistently, across all vendors, off in terms of the impressions they can even measure, and then what is "in view" from the baseline of "measured" impressions. 

Is there a lot money to be made by publishers that get out in front of the issue?

Not necessarily. I think most publishers will adopt or deploy viewability products to drive premium pricing, much in the same way publishers have embraced native content models to create a product that is not commoditizable and can allow for premium pricing.

Still, do you think the topic is being overblown right now? Or do you think brands have a right to more transparency? 

The issue is a real one, but the speed with which standards are being adopted, the number of vendors are flooding the market, are concerning. The technology is barely proven, the methodologies and applications varied, and there is a bit of a "rush" to apply the standard, adopt a vendor and begin buying all media on an in-view basis. This is good for the market but is unfairly cannibalizing good, quality, in-view inventory because the audit technology is not perfect. As inventory gets squeezed, prices will go up. 

Across the industry, how fixable do you think the problems actually are in the near term? 

Very fixable. Viewability measurements and buying models are being integrated into exchanges, so this is moving fast. It will eliminate the widespread practice among certain publishers of littering the page with ads out of view because they won't get paid for them. This is good provided the viewability audit technology improves to be far more accurate.

Won’t black-hatters keep on mutating, though? Isn’t that the real problem? 

Of course, but the market is getting smarter. Audit firms are unearthing even more clever fraud schemes as many trades have recently reported. I feel as if the market is catching up faster than black-hatters can innovate.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.