Audience Attention: Media Currency Beyond Reach & Frequency

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The news regarding Facebook’s misreporting of average viewing time for video ads is drawing more attention to audience attention. Inaccurate measurement and reporting for two full years (essentially since the launch of Facebook video) is clearly of concern for Facebook advertisers especially in the absence of other forms of 3rd-party measurement. To be clear, nobody appears to be questioning Facebook’s integrity for the delivery and billing of video ads. Moreover, Facebook’s massive reach and the platform’s ability to deliver frequent video exposures remain intact as features most coveted by brand advertisers.

Perhaps an even bigger story here is that the advertisers affected by misreporting actually care about how much real attention their video ads receive beyond the 3 seconds of viewing time (as a billing event per view) they pay for on Facebook.

Moving Beyond Reach & Frequency

Since the advent of modern advertising, and more importantly TV advertising, reach and frequency have been the prime directives from most advertisers. If the ad could reach the right target audience and was delivered with the required frequency within a given timeframe, it counted as a valid ad impression. All a publisher had to do is play the commercial on the screen without the need for any form of confirmation that the intended audience was in fact focused on the screen the entire time the ad was playing.

With the emergence of digital ads where viewers have the choice of starting, skipping or scrolling past video ads, we can technically verify, by way of user action, if the target audience did in fact watch the ad partially or fully through to completion. With visibility into target viewer behavior in the face of choice, exactly how much attention are the video ads really receiving on major social platforms and video publishers?

The Attention Gap

According to Visible Measures’ cross-platform, video-ad tracking data, online viewers on average watch about 54% of the way through (representing an attention gap of 46%) a typical video ad on major social platforms.  Our data on average time-spent (or Engaged Viewing Time) is based on over a hundred video executions (on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) for major brand advertisers with ads ranging in duration from 3 secs to 3 minutes representing a total viewership of 37 million views.

As one would expect, the attention gap is generally higher for long-form videos (over 50% gap for 2-minute or longer videos) than for short-form videos (up to 30% gap for 30-sec or shorter videos). While one would be right to assume that the quality of the ad creative (entertaining, inspiring, etc.) does impact audience attention, publisher video-ad formats and experiences have just as much effect on viewer attention.

For example, a side-by-side comparison of two popular video-ad formats, using comparable duration video ads, shows that when viewers seek to watch (through either explicit click-to-play or by not skipping the ad in the first few seconds as in TrueView), the attention span tends to be considerably higher than when the video ad is delivered in-feed (with the option to scroll past the ad). There are other variations to these ad-formats with varying degrees of impact on the attention span.

Does More Attention Deliver Better Business Outcomes?

Early results from research studies coming out of Unskippable Labs at Google suggest that the more time viewers spend on video ads (time-spent in a given session) the higher the impact on brand favorability relative to control. The research involved video ads from a major CPG advertiser with ads ranging in duration from 15 seconds to 2 minutes and 17 seconds.

A similar study, involving a much larger sample of 40 campaigns from 30 major advertisers on Financial Times over the past two years, shows that the longer an ad is available for viewing on screen, the higher the impact on brand effectiveness (brand awareness, brand association, and brand consideration).

While the results of these research studies are highly encouraging, it would be safe to assume that the evidence of business impact directly attributable to video ad attention remains a fertile ground for further investigation.

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