The PostView: Why The vGRP Might Not Be The Silver Bullet For Display's Metric Problem

The PostView is a new column written by senior execs working in the European online advertising industry.

It is fair to say there has been some fanfare recently around comScore’s attempts to bring digital metrics into the 21st Century. Or is it, as vocal detractors have been arguing, actually regressing the industry back to 19th century metrics and dumbing down the channel? It has been heralded by some as the key to unlocking valuable brand budget – while others remain sceptical. Regardless of what side of the fence you sit on, you can’t escape the fact that this new measurement standard has the potential to disrupt the industry.

There are two key questions around this debate. First, how does the industry change the way it packages impressions in view and monetise them differently? And secondly, how does a different vGRP change the way we trade?

Monetising Viewable Impressions

It is going to be hard to be able to price and sell only viewable impressions. The current definition of an in-view ad from comScore is 1 second in view (in the UK). So whilst retrospectively, you could report on it, how would publishers be able to forecast and sell it? It could be argued that publishers are already in effect selling unknown quantities of impressions, but modelling equations have become so precise, it has become easy to predict traffic flows and consumer consumption, ie. how many impressions can I sell this month? Will it be easy to predict volumes of viewed impressions? This could be trickier to execute. It seems more susceptible to erratic consumer behaviour and how sticky any given piece of content is.

With regards to RTB, it simply would not be possible to help publishers monetise only viewable impressions. It would not be efficient to teach technology to second guess an impression that could or could not be viewed. A major problem could arise when publishers did try to sell viewable impressions (via the predictive modelling approach outlined above). In this situation, they would only be able to sell into direct channels. This would ultimately mean inventory they know to be out-of-view would inevitably be dumped into the exchange (what buyers would knowingly upfront budget into inventory more likely to be out-of-view?). This could be a major setback for the industry given the advancements made over the last 12 months in building more premium liquidity.

The Publisher Opportunity

There is an opportunity here though. The smarter publishers could start using data “clean up”. Clean up in the sense of de-cluttering – removing non-valuable inventory. They could start leveraging the insights a comScore (or technology offered by the likes of Burt Corp) can provide by learning what ads are never seen. Coupled with mounting pressure from agency side and the procurement divisions of major advertisers, publishers will be forced to remove impressions adding no monetary value. Everyone knows bottom-of-the-page leaderboards are placed there only for cookie-bombing gamification. Hopefully this initiative will start putting the spotlight more on this type of erroneous tactic.

How can a publisher make more money from cleaning up? Simply by creating more scarcity for valuable inventory. Develop a holistic yield management strategy and let RTB create upward pricing pressure for valuable inview impressions. The smarter publishers will see this as a massive opportunity – one where value will not be created with out-of-view, “last ad call” inventory.

It will be interesting to see if comScore open up this data via an API. Smart apps could be developed around this, creating a possible Viewable Impression Index (VII). This type of index could then be used for bid decisioning. A centralised repository of viewable impressions across all campaigns by site would enable DSPs to potentially factor in VII scores into any bid decision. It is hard to imagine this would ever come to fruition.

Implications Of The vGRP

The second part of this debate is centred around the vGRP being adopted as a measurement standard. Looking beyond the obvious of how a digitally native GRP metric might make it easier for marketers to interpret digital performance, there are a numbers of implications to consider:

Audience Validation

Those active within the data space will appreciate the need for a separate validation service. 3rd party data is incredibly inconsistent. Different vendors have different taxonomies and methodologies, which ultimately creates a lot of fragmented data. comScore should be seen as a useful validation point. Granted, it’s still grounded in panel based data, but it would provide a form of consistency.

Creating Scarcity

Although covered in some detail above, a vGRP could help promote the need to create scarcity. To date there has been no financial incentive to do so. Publishers have been rewarded for trying to play a game that ultimately no one wins. Mike Nolet referenced this as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” at the recent Appnexus Summit. However, if advertisers throw their weight behind a vGRP metric, there is no hiding place for publishers who stuff ads below the fold and out-of-view. They would be simply be poor performing and inefficient from a vGRP measure. There could now be an incentive to build better user engagement and deliver more value to advertisers.

Algorithmic Decisioning

This obviously becomes dependant on the speed of the feedback loop from a comScore data source. However, for a given campaign, after an initial data collection phase, why wouldn’t a bidder be able to ingest a data feed from comScore with vGRP figures? A bidder currently uses CPC/CPA as a measure in order to systematically decide how much it should bid. Could it soon use a vGRP and CPP (cost per point) metric instead? The data flow would be different (external data feed versus native pixel data) but it should be possible. If the RTB space wants to evolve and continue scaling and the brand spend still follows outdated measurement models, why not follow the money?

comScore’s initiative is certainly not the Silver Bullet the industry had hoped for. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.