Survey: 80% of Premium Publishers Want to Sell Ads Based on Time

But Big Hurdles Stand in Their Way

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Publishers are interested in pricing and selling digital ads based on time.
Publishers are interested in pricing and selling digital ads based on time.

Just weeks after the Financial Times said it would begin selling digital ads based on the time for which they're exposed to readers, a new survey shows other digital publishers are growing bullish about the tactic. The survey, from Digital Content Next, found that 80% of "premium" publishers are interested in pricing and selling their advertising inventory according to time-based metrics.

The research surveyed 25 members of Digital Content Next, formerly called the Online Publishers Association, including Conde Nast, ESPN, Forbes, Gannett, CNBC Digital, Inc. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Univision.

Among them, 60% are considering transacting based on time, 4% are already testing it, 8% will begin testing it in 2014 and another 8% plan to test it in 2015. Meanwhile, 20% said they're not interested in pricing and selling their ads based on time, according to the survey.

Most advertising is bought and sold according to the number of people who are exposed to the ad, referred to as impressions. But digital publishers are seeing declining rates for their ads as an ocean of competition undermines prices. Readers' shift to mobile has only accelerated the decline.

Publishers hope that time-based metrics -- which measures the amount of time people spend on a page where an ad is viewable -- will allow them to charge more for their ads. The idea is partly that the supply of readers' time is more limited than the supply of web pages that might attract a visit, however fleeting.

A few weeks ago, the Financial Times began selling ads based on time as part of a pilot program. Other publishers, including The Wall Street Journal and Upworthy, are measuring time and showing it to their advertising clients, though they are not selling ads based on the metric.

The survey from Digital Content Next said that 52% of respondents believe a time-in-view metric could replace the standard impression as a universal currency for ad units. Another 48% said it could replace click-through metrics, while 32% said time can't replace the currently used metrics.

"The digital publishing media metric of the future will include some form of attention-based metrics," Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, said in a statement.

But there are a number of barriers to selling ads based on time. According to the survey, which asked respondents to named the three biggest hurdles to selling time ads based on time, 68% cited "lack of standard metrics and measurement methodology," followed by "lack of research showing that time in view is correlated to ad effectiveness" (48%) and "lack of marketer and ad agency education and interest" (40%).

The conversation about time-based metrics stems from the Media Ratings Council and the Interactive Advertising Bureau issuing a viewability standard for digital display ads this year. The standard said that an ad is considered viewable when at least 50% of its shows up in the viewable portion of a browser for at least one second.

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