Time Spent Ad Measurements: Finding Scarcity in Advertising

October 29, 2014

It seems appropriate that just days after the banner ad turns 20 that Ad World turns its attention to the complete subversion of the click-through: time spent ad measurement is starting to get some traction.

Since the inaugural run of the banner ad in an online issue of Wired magazine 20 years ago, publishers have been selling on clicks. That first banner ad – the first of its kind – saw a 44% click-through, and the clicks declined sharply after that. Still, advertisers, website owners, and eventually digital publishers agreed the best way to determine the quality of the audience coming to a page, the performance of a particular piece of digital real estate, and the quality of an ad was in how many people clicked an ad link.

This was an Internet-wide problem. With the Internet’s explosion in popularity, digital real estate was being manufactured at an unfathomable rate. With the oversupply of inventory, and a limited supply of demand for advertising space on the Web, ad prices dropped. Publishers and website owners were all grouped in competition, and the main selling factor became CPMs or cost per thousand views. The industry supported CPMs and click-throughs as a measurable, standardized method of proving one piece of real estate as better than another.

Now, publishers like the Financial Times and the Economist are looking to subvert that standard. The click-through is far from a perfect system, and they’d like to see quality gauged by something else: attention. Paul Rossi, president of the Economist’s group media business, was quoted in an article by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) as saying, “‘We need to find ways to highlight to advertisers that there is a different level of engagement they get from our readers, value that isn’t reflective in just clicks.” In other words, the Economist, along with other publishers, would like to reposition the sales story as one where their content gets more attention and engagement than their competitors, and therefore the ad will be seen longer and by a more attentive audience.

According to Digital Content Next’s recent primary and secondary research, all of their surveyed publishers “are already using time-based metrics or have plans to do so – and a full 80 percent say they’re interested in transacting on the basis of time.

Time-Based Metrics

Currently, time based metrics, such as time spent per page, are used internally as proof of quality. They’re also used (though underused) in selling to advertisers the amount of time their readers will be exposed to their ad. At Nxtbook Media, we’ve often encouraged our clients to sell sponsorships into their magazines as advertisements surrounding the pages will be viewed during the entire length of the reader’s interaction with the magazine. The concept of engagement time, however, is still slow to be adopted.

The hesitancy seems to be in understanding the gap between someone giving their attention to a page and someone deciding to click on an ad. It’s in that moment that the reader is having an emotional response to either the text or the ad, which motivates their next action. By relying on the click as proof of a solid connection with a reader, it doesn’t account for a wide range of actions that could happen in the gap, including:

Publishers have a long list of reasons why counting on clicks is a poor indicator of quality, and an even longer list against simply selling on impressions. The hope is that while it doesn’t truly measure the “gap” between a reader’s experience of reading and clicking an ad, measuring the amount of time a reader is engaged with a page or publication will point to a reader’s positive reaction to the environment, willingness to devote dedicated attention to the digital page, and the quality of viewer an advertiser can expect to view their ad.

Benefits of Time-based Metrics

The Digital Content Next research report also spells out 5 statements in support of time-based metrics reporting and selling. They are outlined both in the report and in this article summarizing it:

  1. Time-based metrics enforce the need for viewability.
  2. Time-based metrics create an inventory constraint that will introduce scarcity into the market.
  3. Time-based metrics realign pricing with quality by naturally diverting revenue to higher valued content.
  4. Time-based metrics provide a better measure of advertising than click-through rate.
  5. Time-based metrics work across platforms.
While the industry is still deciding how broadly to adopt time-based metrics or the value of “attention minutes,” there is obvious value in devoting resources to understanding this metric fully. Not only can it provide a better picture of the viewer or reader’s interaction with the content for publishers, but it can also provide scarcity for advertising. Imagine a world where the standard isn’t that 50% of an ad is viewed for one second, but an entire ad is viewed in a publication that boasts whole minutes of a reader’s undivided attention.


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