Sony’s Crackle Aims to Thwart Digital-Advertising’s Viewability Problem

Will it take a TV company to solve one of the biggest problems plaguing digital advertisers?

Crackle, the streaming-video outlet owned by Sony, will enlist analytics company Moat and video-management service Freewheel in an effort to provide advertisers with what the companies say are real-time gauges of how and when digital commercials are seen in the realm of what the company calls ‘connected TV,” or TV programming seen via digital means. Executives say Crackle will become the first video-on-demand operation to employ such measures.

In doing so, the companies hope to offer a potential solution to what has become a big challenge for web-based advertising: thwarting claims of how many consumers viewed a digital ad even when that ad is not served in a way that makes it easy to interact with or see. “With more and more linear TV networks announcing streaming plans and entering the digital space, it’s important to ensure the premium experience is properly valued,” said René Santaella, senior vice president of global ad strategy and operations at Sony Pictures Television Digital Networks, in statements provided via email.

The issue of “viewability” — or ensuring that an ad slated to unfurl on a web venue or mobile site can actually be seen — has become a major one. Advertisers have complained that their ads are positioned so far down on sites that consumers never happen upon them as they scroll, or that measures of viewer traffic are inflated by the work of “bots” that may load a screen multiple times.

“There is a lack of transparency, a lack of trust at some level,” said Jonah Goodhart, CEO of Moat, in an interview.

Last year, consumer-products giant Unilever and its media buyer, GroupM, set forth new demands for online display and video ads, noting they would only count display impressions on ads that were seen in full, and, in the case of video ads, when the ad plays with full sound for a certain period of time and a viewer physically activates the ad’s stream.

More recently, Yahoo said it would allow advertisers to verify viewability by using analytics from Moat, ComScore, DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science. Meantime, Kellogg Co. disclosed in March that it had stopped buying ads on YouTube because Google would not allow third-party verification of viewability measures.

Crackle, which distributes Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” video series (pictured, above), has proven willing to break with convention in the recent past. In 2015, the outlet broke away from the series of pitches from digital media venues known as the “NewFronts” in favor of staging a presentation that positioned it with cable and broadcast TV networks.

In a world where streaming-video companies like Netflix and Amazon generate so much attention, old-school media companies could be in a better position to bring more order to the nascent but growing venue. While audiences have begun to splinter away from traditional TV-viewing, they still flock to the programming made by familiar media outlets like CBS, Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox and Sony. As such, these companies have a vested interest in making certain digital ads that accompany their series in digital venues are seen.

During a recent upfront presentation to advertisers, Fox Broadcasting ran a funny video starring actor Rob Lowe, who will star in the network’s sitcom “The Grinder” in the fall. “You know, TV ads are full screen and 100% viewable. Tragically, current online video standards require only 50% of the screen be viewable for just 2 seconds,” Lowe told the assemblage last month. “So you can buy crappy online video where you don’t know what you’re getting, or you can buy Fox’s premium programming across platforms and get the full picture.”

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