YouTube is preparing to allow companies to independently verify what proportion of the adverts they place on the video platform can be seen by viewers.
The move is a response to complaints by advertisers such as Unilever and Kellogg’s, which have become increasingly concerned that they are wasting money on ads that are not visible.
There are many reasons why an ad may not be seen, such as when it loads in a part of a web page that falls outside of the viewer’s screen. In other cases, the viewer may scroll away from the ad before they have a chance to see it or minimise their web browser while the ad is playing.
Kellogg’s, the US food group, reportedly stopped buying ads on YouTube this year because it was unable to independently verify what proportion had a chance to be seen.
But according to people familiar with YouTube’s plans, the Google-owned company has recently given in to pressure to provide much greater transparency.
In particular, YouTube plans to let third-party verification groups insert small pieces of code on its site, which would enable them to collect data on the position and context of ads. This initiative is expected to start by the end of the year and is likely to attract interest from well-known verification companies including ComScore, DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science.
Google already offers an in-house measurement system called Active View for testing whether ads are seen. In May, it published a study of “viewability” across its ad networks, including DoubleClick and YouTube. It found that the average viewability of video ads across the web was 54 per cent — meaning that only about half of the ads could be seen — while on YouTube it was 91 per cent.
A video ad is counted as “viewable” when at least half of its pixels are visible on screen for at least two consecutive seconds, according to standards set by the Media Rating Council and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Some advertisers believe that this definition is too lax.
Google said: “We’re committed to meeting all of our clients’ measurement needs” and “are taking our clients’ feedback into account as we continue to roll out new solutions”. However, it declined to provide any details about the plans for YouTube, which is estimated to make revenues of more than $4bn a year from advertising.
Unilever, the consumer goods group and second-largest advertiser in the world, has been particularly vocal about the need for much greater transparency in the market for online advertising.
Keith Weed, chief marketing officer, said: “We see the industry continuing to move in the right direction. Our hope is that these steps will ultimately lead to 100 per cent viewability through third-party verification across the industry.”
However, Mr Weed’s hope that the company would only have to pay for ads if they are seen remains a long way from being realised. Obstacles include the lack of a consensus about exactly what “viewable” should mean and the resistance of many big internet companies and media groups to share data with advertisers.
Facebook said it was taking steps to give marketers “full confidence in their ads being seen”. However, it suggested that this could be achieved without opening up its app to independent measurement companies, arguing that “third-party verification view tags often slow down consumer experience and don’t always report views consistently”.
Another reason that some website and app owners are reluctant to allow advertisers to put third-party verification tags on their sites is that doing so risks compromising valuable user data.
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