Consumers are spending more and more time watching digital video. Currently standing at an average of 16 minutes a day, according to eMarketer’s Q2 2015 State of Video report, this has been a key driver in making online video the fastest-growing medium in terms of ad spend.

ZenithOptimedia predicts it will grow from $10.9 billion in 2014 at an average of 29% per year to reach $23.3 billion by 2017, so why do many advertisers remain unconvinced? WPP’s Martin Sorrell recently highlighted what could be the main reason when he revealed how worried his clients are about measurement for online video. Indeed, there’s a big chance we’ve picked the wrong metrics out of the gate. 

What’s in a view?

A key problem at the moment is the differing interpretations of what a ‘view’ constitutes. The industry-standard criteria for a video ad view outlines that at least 50% of it should be visible on a browser and it must be watched for a minimum of two seconds. YouTube adheres to this, but also offers its ‘TrueView’ format where advertisers only pay if a user chooses not to skip the ad and watches for at least 30 seconds or to the end of the video – whichever is less. Facebook, however, has its own three-second measure, which counts if any part of the ad is in view through an autoplay system.

If you’re a media buyer, getting to the bottom of this presents a massive challenge, complicated even more by the multiplicity of emerging online video advertising formats.

This issue is highlighted further by the growth of ‘completed views’, for which definitions vary once again, with some platforms charging when only 75% of the content has been watched. Does that really justify using the word “completed”? After all, you wouldn’t call a crossword complete if you’ve left 25% of the answers blank, would you?

Lack of standarisation

Sorrell quoted an unnamed client as suggesting that [Facebook and YouTube video] is “all overplayed” and that “the video focus and the value there is not proven”, adding that the ad industry “accepted lower standards in measurement, viewability and value” online. 

The root of the problem is the lack of industry standardisation. The constant development of new technologies and online tools drives innovation and the introduction of new ad formats, which means more pricing options and more complexity for media buyers and brand marketers. Arguably, what they really need is consistency in working out what they are actually getting for their money from different vendors and types of ads or content.

If there are no metrics that allow like-for-like comparisons of the range of online video advertising formats, then it’s only to be expected that the more unsophisticated media buyers and marketers will fall back on what they see as tried and tested measures of effectiveness, which may no longer be relevant. 

Our metrics are broken

Plenty of marketers are still programmed into asking for page views, cost per mille and cost per click, even though measures like these were arguably outdated almost as soon as they were first adopted, reflecting as they did a wholesale carrying over of old media newspaper and TV thinking to digital marketing.

Media owners have been trying to address criticisms of ‘old style’ media metrics, which focus on measures like pay per click and cost per acquisition, by moving to measures like cost per engagement. But then marketers needed a definition of what ‘engagement’ was, which became even more important when online video advertising took off. 

Differing interpretations of what constitutes as ‘engagement’ have fuelled the development of measures like cost per viewed video and now cost per completed video. Yet disagreements remain about what these terms should mean.

Media owners, understandably, want to select measures that will help them present their advertising formats and their sites in the best way possible, so we all look for measures that play to our strengths.

Action from within

Industry bodies need to develop standard metrics when it comes to the accountability of online video advertising. First, standardised formats for video ads should be developed before tackling how to measure their effectiveness. These formats should include length. For example, surely the same weight should not be given to a viewer watching the whole of a two-minute video as a 10-second video.

Then other variables need to be taken into account. Does the video run automatically, or does the user have to take some action to start it? Does it run with or without sound? Does a viewer expanding the screen indicate a greater level of engagement? Has anyone enjoyed it enough to watch it twice? And not forgetting, of course, what happens next – how many people click through to the advertiser’s site? And if they do, what do they do there? 

If online video is to mature into a viable communications platform that allows brand advertisers to create meaningful relationships with their target audiences, it needs commonly agreed metrics and a universal language, so that everyone knows exactly what a ‘completed view’ means. Only then will we truly be able to measure success.