3MS Viewable Impressions FAQ for Publishers

Answers to questions about the Viewability Advisory Lift and the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines to help publishers transact on viewability

  1. What does the viewability advisory lift mean?
  2. Why is the viewability advisory lift happening now?
  3. Why doesn’t the viewability lift address video?
  4. Does the advisory lift have any legal implications?
  5. What are the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines? 
  6. There is a public circulation period for the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines. Does that mean that the guidelines aren’t final? Will there be further revisions after this period?
  7. What is the relationship between the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, the Media Rating Council (MRC), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and the viewable impression?
  8. Are the IAB Rising Stars and other large-scale ads unfairly penalized for being large?
  9. Why is it important for publishers to transition to the viewable impression?
  10. Will publishers lose money by implementing the viewable impression?
  11. Is there a relationship between the viewability standard and fraud detection?
  12. Are other countries adopting this standard?
  13. What is the IAB doing to support its members during the shift?

Questions about Viewable Impression Implementation, Discrepancies & Vendors

  1. Does the advisory lift mean that there will no longer be discrepancies in viewability impression counts from MRC-accredited vendors?
  2. What are the main reasons for variations in viewable impression measurement across vendors and what is being done about it?
  3. How can publishers manage discrepancies between first-party viewable impression vendors and a client’s third-party vendors?
  4. How do vendors become accredited by the Media Rating Council?
  5. How long does it take for the Media Rating Council to accredit a measurement vendor on the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines?
  6. What is the Media Rating Council’s Reconciliation Study?
  7. Should publishers test the viewability measurements of multiple measurement vendors? If so, how many?
  8. How should publishers decide what campaigns to test? Is there a recommended minimum number of impressions for testing purposes?
  9. Will the IAB provide guidance on T&Cs?
  10. What is SafeFrame? Are there additional benefits to SafeFrame over and above facilitating improved viewability measurement?

1. What does the viewability advisory lift mean?

When the Media Rating Council (MRC) lifted its advisory against transacting on the viewable impression for display ads on March 31, 2014, the advertising ecosystem was given the green light to transact on the viewable impression for the first time.

To learn more about the previous advisory, refer to the original advisory dated November 2012, the June 2013 advisory update, the November 2013 advisory update, and the announcement regarding the advisory lift.

2. Why is the viewability advisory lift happening now?

The advisory was initially issued by the Media Rating Council (MRC) in November 2012 because of limitations that were known to exist in viewability measurement and the advisory was extended to afford the marketplace the opportunity to prepare their systems and processes for the standards.  It is MRC’s view that these situations have greatly improved and the lifting of its advisory is meant to communicate this to the marketplace. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of advertising buyers and sellers to transact business in a fully informed way. The MRC seeks to provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions.

3. Why doesn’t the viewability lift address video?

The Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines do account for video advertisements. However, the advisory against transacting on viewable video impressions will remain in place with the gating period ending June 30, 2014. This is to allow the marketplace the opportunity to assess the potential impact of the viewable video metric and the thresholds that were introduced more recently into the guidelines.

4. Does the advisory lift have any legal implications?

No. The Media Rating Council (MRC) issued the advisory based on the best information it had at the time to caution the marketplace about certain issues that existed with viewable impression measurement. The marketplace is free to buy and sell advertising on whatever basis buyers and sellers choose to transact business.

However, in its role as an industry governance body, the MRC felt a responsibility to communicate its knowledge to the marketplace and thereby allow buyers and sellers to be more informed. Lifting the advisory is a message to the marketplace that the MRC believes its concerns around viewable impression measurement have been greatly alleviated since the advisory was first issued.

5. What are the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines? 

The Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines define specific parameters for how viewable impressions should be measured. The guidelines draft, which has been in development for more than a year, state that 50 percent of pixels must be in the viewable portion of an Internet browser for a minimum of one continuous second to qualify as a viewable display impression. The shift from a “served” impression to a viewable impression standard will provide marketers with a more accurate way to quantify their investment and deliver increased value for all parties involved in brand advertising.

For more information, read the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines available here.

6. There is a public circulation period for the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines. Does that mean that the guidelines aren’t final? Will there be further revisions after this period?

This document has been through an extensive 18-month vetting period in which all of the major stakeholders—buyers, sellers, vendors, and others—have been heavily involved and have had multiple opportunities to provide feedback. Much of this feedback has been incorporated into the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines released on March 31, 2014.

It is, however, standard operating procedure of the Media Rating Council to allow all new guidelines to go through a "Public Circulation" period. The intent is to codify the Guidelines after the 30-day period expires.  

7. What is the relationship between the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, the Media Rating Council (MRC), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and the viewable impression?

Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) is a cross-ecosystem initiative founded by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The IAB is comprised of more than 600 leading media and technology companies that are responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the United States. 

The mission of 3MS is to revolutionize the way digital media is measured, planned, and transacted across the advertising industry to make it a more valuable medium for everyone involved in brand advertising. Its goal is to define and drive—across the marketing ecosystem—clear standards-based metrics for digital advertising that are comparable to existing media.

Transitioning from a served impression standard to a viewable impression standard is the number one guiding principle in the Five Guiding Principles of Digital Measurement as defined by the 3MS initiative.

The MRC is the independent industry body recognized by 3MS as responsible for setting and implementing measurement standards.

The viewable impression standard for was developed in alignment with the Five Guiding Principles of Digital Measurement, as defined by the 3MS initiative.

8. Are the IAB Rising Stars and other large-scale ads unfairly penalized for being large?

No. The Viewable Impressions Measurement Guidelines provides an exception for display ads that are larger than 242,500 pixels (which is equivalent to the size of a 970 x 250 display ad) or greater. In this case, a viewable impression may be counted if 30% of the pixels in the ad are on the viewable space of the browser page for a minimum of one consecutive second.

9. Why is it important for publishers to transition to the viewable impression?

The viewable impression is the key to making digital media measurement comparable to that of legacy media. In television and print, the consumer has the opportunity to see the ad. Television commercials are rendered on screens. Radio ads are broadcast. This is not always the case with digital media. Foundational industry technologies only measure if an ad has been served, not how fully it rendered on the screen or how long it was present.

With the viewable impression and technologies like IAB SafeFrame supporting it, marketers will have assurance that their ad has had the opportunity to be seen, and they will also be encouraged to purchase digital media because of its comparability to legacy media. This is an essential shift in order for marketers to be able to more intelligently allocate their budgets between digital and other media, invest more confidently in digital media, and increase accountability, performance, and marketing budgets overall. Additionally, the brand impact of digital media will improve by definition, because unviewed impressions—that people could not see and therefore could not be influenced by—are removed from the calculation.

It will likely drive a stronger and more prosperous digital advertising industry overall. Transitioning from a served impression standard to a viewable impression standard is the number one guiding principle in the Five Guiding Principles of Digital Measurement as defined by the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative. It will allow for, among other advances, the formation of a digital gross rating point (GRP) that provides reach and frequency reporting of viewable impressions and cross-platform comparisons.

10. Will publishers lose money by implementing the viewable impression?

Initially, the transition to the viewable impression standard as currency will require financial expenses and resources, as this shift in currency will be the catalyst for many changes. In addition, the transition will likely decrease inventory. The decrease in inventory should alter supply-demand ratios and it may take some time to get a good handle on forecasting inventory and revenue. While change can be inconvenient, the end result is expected to be higher CPMs and a greater investment in digital media from marketers. The upside potential is quite significant.

From another perspective, if a buyer is asking for a transaction based on viewable impressions and a publisher isn’t transacting on them out of fear of losing inventory, that publisher will lose the sale. Publishers that aren’t able to make the shift may lose out altogether. Publishers that move forward are likely to reap great reward.

11. Is there a relationship between the viewability standard and fraud detection?

The Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines do not introduce new techniques for detecting malicious traffic. In all likelihood, stringent viewability standards will alleviate some fraud issues, though certainly not all of them. For example, some viewable impression measurement vendors apply additional techniques to identify suspected fraudulent impressions subsequent to making a viewability determination about an ad.

The IAB is working actively to combat fraud and secure the digital advertising supply chain through many other measures.

12. Are other countries adopting this standard?

The IAB encourages collaboration across the globe in developing and adopting standards. Although the Media Rating Council sets standards in the U.S. only, various international markets are exploring viewable impression standards. We are delighted that IAB UK, with other organizations in the UK market, are nearing an announcement of their own that will advise on a currency change identical to the U.S. standard. In addition, other markets are actively investigating and pursuing the notion of the viewable impression. However, different international markets are at various levels of readiness in their measurement systems and, therefore, global change will happen gradually. There is no guarantee that every country will adopt the IAB US and IAB UK standard. For more information contact the IABs throughout the world.

13. What is the IAB doing to support its members during the shift?

The IAB is offering educational events for its members. For up-to-date information, please visit:  www.iab.net/3MS and www.MeasurementNow.net

Additionally, the IAB will be providing guidance on T&Cs and can provide members with the IAB SafeFrame technical solution, which provides publishers with a simple, transparent, standards-based, and cost-free API that allows viewability to be measured in display ads.


Questions about Viewable Impression Implementation, Discrepancies & Vendors

1. Does the advisory lift mean that there will no longer be discrepancies in viewability impression counts from MRC-accredited vendors?

Unfortunately, no. However the acceptable level of discrepancies will be limited to 5%-10% when comparing viewable impression counts among accredited vendorsonce they have adapted their production procedures to align with the MRC-guidance outlined in the advisory lift and in question number 2 below. Accredited vendors will have 60 days to align their processes to this guidance.

For additional information on managing this issue, please review the advisory lift, as well as these questions below:

  • What are the main reasons for variations between viewable impression measurement vendors, and what is being done about it?
  • How can publishers manage discrepancies between my first-party viewable impression vendor and my client’s third-party vendors?
  • Should publishers test multiple measurement vendors? If so, how many?
  • How should publishers decide what campaigns to test? Is there a recommended minimum number of impressions for testing purposes?

2. What are the main reasons for variations in viewable impression measurement across vendors and what is being done about it?

Through an extensive reconciliation study, the Media Rating Council has identified the following reasons why discrepancies in viewability metrics have existed among measurers and has provided these solutions:

Granularity of Measurements: Measurers may make viewability determinations based on sub-second “snapshots” of different lengths and these differences can result in counting discrepancies among measurers. The forthcoming viewability measurement guidelines will specify 100 millisecond intervals as a minimum requirement for viewability measurement of display ads and 200 milliseconds as the minimum interval for the measurement of video ads (in other words, 10 consecutive positive observations are needed to constitute a viewable impression).

Non-rendered Served Ads: In the course of its work on viewability, the MRC has determined that served ads measured using a “Count on Decision” methodology, which is a method in which the count occurs relatively early in the ad serving process, often do not actually render on the user’s screen in today’s online environment. This can impact viewable rate calculations, as the served ad count is the denominator in this equation. Count on Decision has been considered an acceptable client-side counting approach since the issuance a decade ago of IAB’s Display Advertising Measurement Guidelines, but it is clear that with the changes to the ad serving environment that have occurred since then, ads counted this way are particularly challenged in their ability to result in an “opportunity to see” the ad by the user. As a result, the MRC intends to work with IAB later this year to revise the measurement guidelines for counting served ad impressions to eliminate Count on Decision as a recognized legitimate client-side counting approach, and encourages measurers who use Count on Decision methodologies to migrate at the earliest possible time to an accepted client-side served ad counting approach in which the count occurs later in the process.

Order of Processing and Processes Applied: To further promote consistency in measurement, MRC has specified that the order in which the viewability thresholds should be applied when determining whether an impression is viewable is: 1) Space: determine that the 50% pixel threshold is met; then 2) Time: determine that the continuous second threshold is met. Also relevant is the fact that some measurers sometimes apply additional processes, such as ad verification procedures, to filter or otherwise exclude certain impressions from their final counts. The application of these additional procedures also can affect viewable impression counts. MRC has specified that certain processes that extend beyond viewability decisioning should be executed separately and subsequently to the viewable impression count, which should lead to greater consistency in the viewable counts among measurers. 

Ad Versus Ad Container Measurement:  Viewability measurers may differ on whether they measure the ad itself or the ad container (i.e., the I-Frame) in which the ad appears.  While measurement of the ad itself is generally preferable, both approaches are acceptable.  However, it must be recognized that measurement of the ad container involves an inference that the ad appears in the container as intended (i.e., the ad is properly sized, etc.). MRC will require measurers to disclose whether they measure the ad or the ad container, and, in the case of the latter, will direct the measurement organization to periodically study that the assumptions implicit in container measurement remain valid over time.

Out of Focus Conditions: Differences in how viewability measurers account for ads that may be in the viewable space of a browser window, but are in an out of focus browser tab, also can result in differences in counts of viewable impressions. MRC has specified that measurers should segregate such Out of Tab Focus ads from their viewable impression counts and will allow accredited measurers a limited amount of time to adapt their systems to be able to distinguish these if they do not currently have that capability.

Human Error:  A primary reason for discrepancies in served impression counts through the years was human error, in operational areas such as campaign setup, ad trafficking, or other processes that required human intervention.  Similarly, human error in viewability tagging or other operational processes can result in discrepancies in viewable impression counts. IAB issued guidance to the industry on this issue in 2008 with the publication of its Ad Campaign Measurement Process Guidelines document and this document takes on enhanced relevance today, as many of the same issues that it originally addressed in the context of measuring served impressions are also applicable to quality viewable impression measurement.

MRC will require all accredited measurers to align their processes in light of the factors noted above. Accredited vendors will have 60 days to adapt their processes and MRC will be disclosing accredited vendor adoption of this reconciliation guidance as it is occurs at www.mediaratingcouncil.org

3. How can publishers manage discrepancies between first-party viewable impression vendor and a client’s third-party vendors?

The Media Rating Council (MRC) has been working to understand what the causes the variance in MRC-accredited vendor counts. This process has been known as the reconciliation study and it is the reconciliation of discrepancies that caused the MRC to issue its advisory against transacting on the viewable impression.

As a result of this reconciliation work, MRC believes it will be reasonable to expect a discrepancy range of 5%-10% when comparing viewable impression counts among accredited vendors—once the vendors have adapted their production procedures to align with the MRC-issued guidance, which are outlined in the viewability advisory lift and in question #2 above.

All those parties using viewability data for the purpose of transaction are advised to work only with MRC-accredited measurement vendors. There are currently 11 accredited vendors; the updated list of accredited vendors, including full disclosures of measurement capabilities, and details of methodology are available through the News Section of the MRC website.  

It’s absolutely critical in the early phases of this currency transition that all sellers and buyers recognize understand that some variance over and above the desired 5-10% will occur and to be aware of the causes.

IAB advises where possible that sellers and buyers determine in advance of running a campaign which vendor(s) will be used for the purposes of transaction. If agreement can be reached by the parties prior to the transaction, it can alleviate potential sources of disruption. 

In addition, IAB recommends parties work toward minimizing human error in campaign setup, ad trafficking, viewability tagging, and other operational processes. This was found to be a primary reason for discrepancies discovered by the reconciliation study. IAB issued guidance to the industry on this issue in 2008 with the publication of its Ad Campaign Measurement Process Guidelines document and this document takes on enhanced relevance today, as many of the same issues that it originally addressed in the context of measuring served impressions are also applicable to quality viewable impression measurement.

4. How do vendors become accredited by the Media Rating Council?

Once a vendor requests an audit of their methods for measuring viewable impressions, the Media Rating Council (MRC) is legally required to honor the request. The MRC then accredits those companies found to be in compliance with MRC standards and other relevant industry measurement guidance (such as the Measurement Guidelines portfolio of the IAB), based on rigorous audits conducted by independent CPA firms at the behest of MRC. Audits are designed by the CPA firms in collaboration with the MRC, and audit findings are presented to audit committees comprised of MRC member organizations. These committees review the findings and make recommendations on accreditation. It is only upon ratification of these recommendations by the MRC Board of Directors that an organization is accredited by the MRC.

5. How long does it take for the Media Rating Council to accredit a measurement vendor on the Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines?

The time the Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation process takes can vary, in large part due to the level of preparedness of the audited company’s systems and processes.  Each company is validated against the MRC’s own stringent methodological standards, existing industry measurement guidance (to the extent to which it applies), and the company’s own disclosed measurement capabilities.

6. What is the Media Rating Council Reconciliation Study? 

The Media Rating Council’s (MRC) reconciliation testing project focused on evaluating, defining, and addressing the causes of viewable impression count discrepancies in order to better align vendor methodologies and recommend a vendor reconciliation process.

The adoption of the MRC-recommended guidance is required for all accredited measurers.  The list of accredited companies, including full disclosures of measurement capabilities, and details of methodology are available through the News Section of the MRC website.  

7. Should publishers test the viewability measurements of multiple measurement vendors? If so, how many?

Yes, publishers should test multiple measurement vendors and should test across as many as they have the resources for. There are currently 11 accredited vendors. Consider selecting the vendors to test by reviewing the Media Rating Council audits and choosing those that use different methodologies. (For the updated list of accredited vendors, including full disclosures of measurement capabilities and details of methodology, visit the News Section of the MRC website.) In addition, publishers should ask their sales agents which vendors are most likely to be used by their clients and include this information in the decision.

8. How should publishers decide what campaigns to test? Is there a recommended minimum number of impressions for testing purposes?

Every site has a different level of usage and all sites can be tested. Publishers should test a wide variety of campaigns measured by a range of impressions so they can be certain that they have covered the average and the two extremes—from the smallest campaign to the largest. In addition, publishers should analyze placements to determine if certain ad sizes and locations on page yield different numbers within and across the property. One convenient way to think about minimum test requirements is based on the concept of velocity: use a ratio of total uniques to average pages visited as a parameter.

9. Will the IAB provide guidance on T&Cs?

Yes. We will be assembling a T&Cs Task Force along with the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) to craft suitable legal language for the purposes of transacting on viewable impressions.

10. What is SafeFrame? Are there additional benefits to SafeFrame over and above improved viewability measurement?

SafeFrame is an ad serving technology standard developed to securely enhance communication between digital ads and the publisher pages in which the ads are displayed.

While SafeFrame has gained a lot of attention for providing publishers, marketers, and third-party ad verification services with a simple, transparent, standards-based and cost-free API that allows viewability to be measured in display ads, it does much more.

SafeFrame can help solve many issues that confront the digital supply chain. To name a few, SafeFrame supports the programmatic sale of expanding rich media, the sharing of metadata, consumer security and privacy controls, increased publisher security, and the prevention of cookie bombing.

Viewability is here. For the most up-to-date information on 3MS, visit www.MeasurementNow.net.