02/10 Von Paul Astbury

The progress made by publishers in 2016 and what to expect in 2017

At the close of 2016, publishers found themselves faced with a somewhat confusing landscape. Whilst agencies and advertisers have been looking to define and implement some of their own viewability standards, publishers have in turn been trying to develop bespoke trading mechanisms. Some of these demands and metrics can include:

   100% ‚in-view’ requirements
   Time-based selling (e.g. CPH)
   Custom viewability thresholds (70% in view, 10 seconds minimum etc)
–     Only paying for viewable impressions

Alongside trying to improve their own viewability results and dealing with increasing agency demands, publishers have also had to contend with the recent increase of readers installing ad blockers. Ad blocking has raised concerns around the quality of ads and highlighted the importance of a good user experience. In order to reduce ad blocker usage, publishers should always keep the user front of mind whilst working to improve viewability, and ensure they deliver only high quality, relevant ads.

With both publishers and agencies somewhat veering away from the industry standard definition for viewability, some publishers don’t know where to turn. Many, of course, are staying put, and are trying to second-guess where the industry is heading. What does seem to be clear however, is that we are moving towards trading on viewability, e.g.paying only for viewable impressions. Publishers who are prepared for this will fair well.

So with the combination of ad blocking and a proliferation of viewability trading models, overall 2016 was a challenging year for publishers. But what has 2017 got in store?

Brand safety and ad fraud will continue to rise in prominence for advertisers, but 2017 will also see the industry move beyond viewability. Advertisers and publishers alike will consider both viewability as well as additional metrics when assessing a campaign’s success, such as:

–    The quality of ad placements
–    The quality of the audience
–     Average / total time in view
–    Time and exposure at a user level
–     Ad clutter

To date the ad blocking debate  has focused, somewhat unfairly, on the publisher side of the industry. 2017 will see increasing pressure on advertisers and their creative agencies to deliver more relevant ad formats, as well as lighter ad units. Heavy and slow-loading creative assets have a negative impact on user experience and have an impact on levels of ad blocking. For the most part this has been largely ignored, with most coverage around ‘poor publishers with large numbers of badly placed obstructive ad formats’. What about the premium publishers with a single ad format, or just two ad slots per page, who are handed a slow-loading creative which negatively impacts both viewability and user experience? We need to see more pressure from advertisers and agencies on creative agencies to deliver more manageable creative formats.

Whilst ad blocking, agency demands and media quality are all here to stay for 2017, a big focus for publishers will be time-based, or CPH (Cost Per hour) ad campaigns. The Economist was the trailblazer here, with the Guardian and the Financial Times following  suit with similar offerings. Research undertaken by IAS and IPG found that the ideal time for a user to be exposed to an ad is nine times, for over 10 seconds. We will most likely see an increase in the number of publishers offering time based solutions in 2017, especially if it can be proved to increase advertising effectiveness. The next step is how these campaigns can be delivered both programmatically and in an automated manner.

Finally, the industry will continue to focus on trust and transparency, with increasing relevance of industry bodies like the MRC and ABC. Publishers who embrace this and ensure they work with trusted vendors are a step ahead.

2016 has been a challenging year for publishers with the persistence and growth of ad blocking, a variety of agency viewability demands, and publishers looking at their own models. 2017 will see similar trends as the market slowly moves towards fully trading on viewability.

Premium publishers however should have absolute confidence in the quality journalism they produce, particularly with the rise of fake news sites, and should embrace media quality as a way of standing out from the crowd.