The Financial Times intends to move to a new measurement for trading ad space that measures value based on audience time with an ad rather than overall impressions, after a trial that ends this month.
The trial is being closely watched by media bodies, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau – the peak association for online advertising in Australia.
The Financial Times primarily sells ad space on cost per 1000 impressions (CPM), however this new currency for ad sales allows the newspaper to sell online advertising as “chunks of time – or share of attention – of our high value audiences,” says the newspaper’s commercial director for digital advertising, Jon Slade.
For example, advertisers might purchase a package that gives their display ad “1000 hours of CEO time within a month”, with a “minimum active exposure of each ad of five seconds”, with the term exposure essentially referring to the time that a reader spends with that ad actively appearing on their screen.
To attain the granular and complex data that is required to use time-based currency as a way to sell ad space, the Financial Times has employed the services of New York-based data and analytics company Chartbeat.
“Chartbeat analyses everything that moves (literally) on the site – pages, ads, users,” said Mr Slade. “The data is hyper- granular. We can segment every page, ad unit and audience cohort, and we calculate those packages of time in real time.”
Lauryn Bennett, Chartbeat’s head of brand and communications, said that the company’s data is able to provide information on the quality and engagement of a news site’s content, rather than measuring solely how many people go to a page. She says time-based data provides advertisers with statistics on a reader’s activity on a page and their direct exposure to an ad.
“Numerous studies show that active audience exposure time correlates to things like brand recall,” said Ms Bennett.
“By understanding and valuing the amount of time your audience spends actively reading your content and actively being exposed to ads means you can tell the difference in an impression/buy that’s working for you and one that’s not.”
The Interactive Advertising Bureau in Australia and its members are monitoring overseas developments in this space – particularly the technological solutions used to accurately track data on “active time” and “attention”.
IAB research director Gai Le Roy said that new models were increasingly emerging that focused on qualitative metrics, rather media buying that is structured exclusively around volume and yield.
“Two of the main areas of focus at the moment are audience metrics and viewability/ time metrics,” she said.
“As digital advertising continues to increase its share of the advertising pie, currently 30 per cent in Australia, more sophisticated models will be developed.”
Chartbeat also provides data and analytics for media companies Gawker Media, Al Jazeera, Time, Forbes and NBC.
“While the metrics themselves are incredibly important, our main focus is less about data pulls, lots of numbers, or raw analytics and is more about surfacing the unique story about a publisher’s audience through this attention data,” she said.
Mr Slade said that the Financial Times, which is trialling this system from June to September 2014, expects to fully roll out this currency platform to the market some time in September, however he said that the company’s sales teams would also work with other measurements to suit the needs of buyers.
“We expect to offer both CPM and time-based currencies in parallel,” he said. “Obviously a brand or agency can choose which might be more appropriate given the specific needs of their campaign.
“More importantly, what we’re focused on is delivering the best possible outcome. If we can prove that time-based access to our audience gets the best results then clearly that would become predominant.”
The Financial Times came to this idea after consideration of debates around ad viewability. The current requirement for a viewable impression, as per the standards of the cross-industry initiative 3MS, is that “50 percent of pixels must be in the viewable portion of an Internet browser for a minimum of one continuous second to qualify as a viewable display impression”.
Mr Slade said that the Financial Times research shows that to be the absolute bare minimum requirement and that publishers should go further to help brands and help themselves understand the value of a given ad, particularly if publishers want to show audience engagement with premium content.
“Unlike traditional measures of time spent, which have long been discounted as an inaccurate blunt instrument, Chartbeat measures the attention surrounding both the ads and content on a page to a second-by-second, pixel-by-pixel level of accuracy,” said Mr Slade.
“That means we can tell the difference between a second where someone is actively engaged with an ad in view and a second where someone has an ad in view but has been distracted by a friend asking them if they want coffee.
“It brings an unprecedented level of accuracy to the measurement of attention.”
Time-based measuring of audience engagement is relatively new and is “tough to build”, which is why Ms Bennett says that at this stage many online publishers have not transitioned over to using this metric as their ad sales currency, when dealing with advertisers.
“And the concept makes sense — the idea of buying time with an audience isn’t new, as TV and radio have been selling 30-second and 60-second spots for decades,” she said.
“But the ability to be able to tell the return on that buy, if those 30 or 60 seconds did their job in reaching people, holding their attention, that’s something that our technology finally allows them to do in a simple, understandable, usable, scalable way.”