Condé Nast, the publisher of brands such as Vogue and Style.com, has agreed to GroupM's demand to pay only for online ads that are entirely viewable by consumers, a tougher standard than the industry has been pushing.
Where the industry has settled on calling an ad "viewable" if 50% is visible for one second, for example, Condé Nast will charge GroupM just for ads that become 100% visible (although not for any minimum amount of time).
"Ultimately we want to create an environment where humans see ads," said Condé Nast Chief Revenue Officer Lisa Valentino. "That's the most basic premise. We think their standard, while aggressive, sends the right message to the marketplace. Frankly, we want to lead that discussion."
The publishing giant and GroupM, WPP's powerful media agency network, will work with three independent tracking firms to measure adherence to the higher standards, as well as commission joint research on viewability.
When asked if GroupM also has made a buying commitment in conjunction with getting the stricter standard it sought, Ms. Valentino declined to discuss financial details. "All I can say is it's a significantly strategic relationship at the highest levels of our companies," she said.
"We're aspiring to do bigger and better business together and will do everything we can to do so," said GroupM's Chief Digital Investment Officer Ari Bluman. "That's the spirit of the deal." He also declined to discuss financial terms.
The move comes amid advertisers' growing concern that they're paying for online ads that few people see because, for example, they're served lower down on the screen than many people scroll.
Unilever and GroupM, whose Mindshare agency handles the marketer's buying, said recently that they were working with standards for online display and video ads tougher than the ones set through a process started more than two years ago by a cross-industry group called Making Measurement Make Sense.
No auto-play video
GroupM's new video standards include four demands: video players that are entirely visible, video that is played at least halfway through while in view, audio that's on throughout viewing, and video that begins only because a consumer pressed "play," not because the clip began automatically.
The Making Measurement Make Sense standard demands that 50% of the video be in view for at least two seconds.
"They have a minimum threshold with constituents which includes advertisers, vendors and publishers," said Mr. Bluman. "We got together with clients under GroupM, and they said we need more. We need ads to be fully seen, not half."
And as the conversation around viewability continues to heat up, some publishers like the Financial Times are experimenting with time-based metrics as a more reliable means of selling inventory than simple exposure. That means selling digital ads based on the total time that they're visible to consumers.
An executive at a Conde Nast competitor expressed support for the 100% viewability standards that GroupM is pursuing, but questioned the practical realities from measuring and auditing the ads' visibility to the business impact of writing off ads that are glimpsed too quickly to charge for.
Moat, which has been certified for video and display ad viewability tracking by the Media Rating Council, is one of the firms that will measure and track viewability for GroupM and Conde Nast. The other two might change because they're not yet video certified, said Mr. Bluman. He said he's been in talks with around 300 publishers about viewability standards.
The viewability deal between Conde Nast and GroupM spans the publisher's video and display ad inventory across its 20 websites, 14 branded video channels and video platform The Scene.
Conde Nast, whose other brands include GQ and Vanity Fair, has experienced a turbulent year. Print ad pages, where the company generates the bulk of its revenue, were down through the third quarter of this year, according to Media Industry Newsletter. Digital has grown sharply, but these gains have not made up for losses elsewhere.
Meanwhile, a number of changes washed across the company this summer, including a series of executive shakeups. It also spun off Lucky magazine, sold Fairchild Fashion Media and, more recently, laid off dozens of employees at its corporate sales division. Further staff cuts also affected individual titles, according to Conde staffers.
The new visibility arrangement began with conversations among GroupM Chairman Irwin Gotlieb, Conde Nast President Bob Sauerberg and Condé Nast Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff, Ms. Valentino said.
Contributing: Michael Sebastian