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Digital was supposed to fix that old adage about an advertiser knowing that half of its ads are working but being unsure about which half. Instead advertisers are scratching their heads over whether half of their ads are even seen.
Typically the industry's viewability discussion focuses on display ads. Static banners can be appended seemingly anywhere on a site, including tucked out of view in order to juice the number of ads on a page (and the money a publisher can make per pageview) without making the part of the page most visitors see look like Times Square. That practice is so pervasive that Google said last year that 56% of the display ads it served on its own and others' sites never appeared in view on someone's screen.
But it's not only display ads. Video ads are often put on the viewability backburner because most video ads are thought to run inside a video player, usually before or during the video someone has chosen to watch.
Video ads, however, aren't guaranteed to grab someone's attention. They can't even be guaranteed to be seen. Sometimes while the pre-roll is playing, people might switch to another tab or scroll down to the comments section, leaving the video ad playing out of view. Then there are the more malicious examples of publishers putting videos ads inside out-of-the-way banners that play automatically when a page loads.
Nearly half -- 46% -- of the video ads running across the desktop and mobile web never had a chance to be seen, according to Google. That figure is based on the video ads the search giant has served across the web, but doesn't include YouTube.
Not surprisingly, the numbers play out much better for its own service. According to YouTube owner Google, 91% of the video ads running on YouTube's sites and mobile apps showed up on someone's screen at least half in view for at least two seconds (in line with the Media Rating Council's adopted standard).
Juxtaposing YouTube's 91% viewability rate with the wider web's 54% viewability rate isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. YouTube only runs video ads within the YouTube player where they have a better chance of being seen because that's where the main content is, and its primary video ad product, TrueView, only charges advertisers if someone watches at least 30 seconds of the brand's ad. Meanwhile other publishers can stuff video ads within banners and make them play automatically on a page's fringes; they can even do that with entire video players.
$142.5B 2015 U.S. ad spending for 200 LNA
Most the time when a video ad goes unviewed, the viewer never even had a chance to decide whether to view it. Of the unviewed ads -- not including the unviewed ones running on YouTube -- 76% never appeared on the device's screen or played in a background tab. For the remaining 24%, people had a chance to see the ad but scrolled past the video ad before it could play for two consecutive seconds. Google wouldn't break out those stats for YouTube's unviewed ads.
Google wouldn't break out separate viewability rates for in-banner and in-player video ads. So it's unclear the extent to which advertisers may be better off cutting back on in-banner ones and buying ads guaranteed to run in the video player and therefore more likely to be seen instead.
Of course Google's hope would seem to be that advertisers will come across these stats and run out to buy its growing lineup of TrueView ads -- which are seen unless the audience decides they don't want to see it -- and adopt its DoubleClick ad reporting tools to track what percentage of a brand's ads had a chance of being seen.