The Guy Under the House.

Many homeowners share the experience - or the fear - of the guy under the house. He may be that exterminator who emerges from that dark crawly place under your fixer-upper and says "I've got bad news...worst case of termites I've seen in a long time." Or he could be the contractor who rips down the sheetrock from a single wall and solemnly utters the two words you dread most: "Mold. Everywhere." These moments with "The Guy" are so terrifying because they deal with an attack on the very foundations of the place we live.

Internet advertising - at least that part of it that relies on highly networked or exchange-based long tail impressions - may be having its own visit from "The Guy" just about now. The issue is "viewability." And if some of the current estimates of the problem are true, we may just need to take this place down to the studs in order to get rid of it.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PubMatic, which helps premium publishers take control by giving them a real-time media selling platform for managing revenue and brand strategy.

For those unfamiliar with the concepts behind "viewability," the story line goes something like this: Once we move beyond the tightly controlled world of structured media and vertical websites - out onto the long tail where all sorts of bulk audience buying and retargeting are taking place - things get dark and crawly. For lots of reasons - ranging from ads appearing "below the scroll" to rogue players jobbing the system by "stacking frames" of ads on top of one another so that a huge portion are never even technically viewable -big numbers of ads never even come into the view of consumers. How many? I've heard estimates that 30-40 percent of today's available exchange impressions can't be seen. I've also heard it said by other sources that that number can range into the mid-90s. Do I believe either of these numbers specifically? I have no idea. But do I believe that there is some number of non-viewable impressions in the water supply? Yes I do, and I think it's probably substantial. But then I think any number beyond a trivial rounding error is too big.

Anything that calls into question the integrity of the basic inventory supply can't be good. It hands one more weapon to those who'd like to slow the pace of change and the growth of the online marketing channel. We've been through this many times in the past: bogus website user counts because of search engine spiders and landing on questionable content pages.....discrepancies in syndicated research.....just one thing after another. I have no doubt we'll get this fixed and put the whole thing behind us, provided two things don't happen:

  1. First, we can't afford to deny the problem or waste time defending the undefendable. If we're selling stuff that has no possibility of being seen then we have to fix it. Hard stop.
  2. Second, if a dozen different standards emerge for measuring the problem, followed by 6 dozen mutually exclusive 'solutions,' that will be a recipe for disaster. We can't let this issue spawn an opportunistic tower of babel. If we do, the problem will simply linger and fester.

Some percentage of ad impressions is not in view. But the problem that creates clearly is. Time to move on it.