While much discussion of viewability has taken place, there is still room to discuss viewability in the context of media markets. The true price at which something will sell in the market contains a very important bit of information. Pricing and market data within media are like the DNA building blocks for our understanding of the market. You need to have all the pieces to understand what is going on. True price is the most important piece of information. For buyers, not having the ability to understand the unit price of inventory, which will be viewed by real audience members matching their targeting, means there is a missing piece in the DNA that makes up that buyers’ understanding of the market. Without the knowledge of price, a significant amount of decisions cannot be made with certainty. An impression that is not known to be viewed has a price that has little information buyers and sellers can glean from. Viewability measurement is so important because without it, price cannot be used to compare the value of different media inventory. In turn, that means that a real negotiation is more difficult.
Buyers and sellers want to know that they are doing business ‘on the level’. Viewability is not about higher or lower prices, viewability is about finding the right price. For those hiding in the shadows, lack of viewability hides true quality, artificially raising effective price, and can be used as a negotiation bludgeon to artificially lower price. In the end though, all the good folk of the media market just want fairness.
In media markets, buyers know ‘a price’, the problem is that the price they know is not exactly for what they are buying. Some media buyers will read the previous statement and disagree. I argue that the only price the buyer cares about is the CPM of all the real impressions. If a buyer knows how many impressions were shown to their specified audience of real people, in a viewable manner, and the real unit price of what they’re buying, before the purchase, they can proactively select the inventory that will perform best.
Media is not a commodity, the viewability of each publisher is unique and the mix of real and bot impressions is unique. Moreover, two buyers who buy the same inventory at the same price will not achieve the same ROI. So, every publisher is different and so is every buyer.
Let’s work through an analogy. Imagine you’re a contractor building houses. You have an opportunity to build houses that you know will sell for $1000 per square foot. What should you build to maximize your profit? Well, if you consider all the materials and labor, you can mathematically figure out the most profitable size house to build. But what if you had no idea what the price of the real materials would be when you need to build the house? What if the amount of defective materials varied by store and manufacturer and you had no way to measure it? Viewability is exactly like that. Without viewability you don’t know the actual price of the product that you need to buy.
Today, the data landscape is rich with solutions that help separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to impressions. This data powers buyers’ ability to look past the amount they paid and into the price of target audience and media.
Using that data to power media buying decisions, the ability to measure substitutability begins to emerge. Figuring out “what to buy instead” is a very important function of the buy side. Houses are not commodities, but we all know that when you have to choose a place to live you figure out how to balance the good, bad, and price. The second choice at a lower price can quickly become your first choice. Without viewability, you cannot accurately measure price, and without price you can’t make good decisions to balance the good, bad, and price.