A report by European ad verification company Meetrics has identified a noticeable drop in online ad viewability, citing a rise in automated ad buying processes as a key contributor.

According to recommendations laid out by the IAB and Media Ratings Council, an ad is considered ‘viewable’ if 50% of it is in eyeshot for at least one second.

Less than half (49%) of online ads served in the UK within the second quarter of 2015 met this criteria, a sizeable drop from 56% in the same period last year.

The UK figure is also well below the ones sported by its European counterparts in Germany (64%) and France (62%), where automated ad-buying techniques such as programmatic are less prolific.

Surge in programmatic

A recent IAB study showed a rapid rise in programmatic ad buying over the course of last year, finding that 45% of UK display ads were bought with this method in 2014 – up from 28% the year before.

The same study predicted that automated ad buying processes could rise to 70-80% of display ad sales by 2018.

“There’s no doubt programmatic brings many benefits to advertisers but there’s a flip side to every coin,” said Anant Joshi, Meetrics’ director of international business.

“It’s certainly less transparent than buying directly and there’s also a big question mark about the quality of much of the inventory sold this way and, clearly, that most of it never ends up being seen.”

Unseen spend

Meetric’s viewability figures imply that of the £960 million spent on programmatic last year, around £450 million spent on display ads that weren’t seen. It comes down to agencies to improve this, says Joshi.

“It’s vital that agencies, on the behalf of their advertiser clients, demand more accountability from the vendors and middle men used to buy their media.

“One way is to ensure any vendors are rubber-stamped by JICWEBS that they meet industry-agreed standards for online ad trading.”

Further findings from the report, including the average view-time of ‘successful’ ads and most effective formats for visibility, can be viewed in the table below.