With ‘The Economist’ and the ‘Financial Times’ Now Selling Ads Based on Time Spent, Who’s Next?

Two of the smartest publications in the world are now experimenting with replacing the pageview with a new dominant metric for setting the price for ads bought and sold on the web. That metric? Time spent in view.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal‘s Suzanne Vranica reported The Economist will start selling ads based on a new program called “TimeGuarantee,” which ensures that readers will spend at least 250 hours with an ad in view on The Economist’s digital platforms, such as its app. This move follows the lead of the Financial Times, which announced a similar currency in early June.

“We have a hypothesis we want to prove: that the longer you show somebody a piece of brand creative, the more resonance that piece of content has with an audience,” Jon Slade, commercial director of digital advertising at the Financial Times, told us in June. “That’s normally not how we value advertising; we’re talking about an attention economy. I quite like it because it says to me that all of the time we spend engaging with our audience building great experiences, putting a great environment in place, remains the focus of our game.

“Are we honestly saying that there’s no difference to the brand between one second of exposure and five seconds of exposure?” Slade continued. “Logic would say: Let’s start to value the amount of time spent with a brand.”

With The Economist adopting a similar model, it’s clear that logic is gaining traction amongst some publishers—and appealing to advertisers. After all, if you’re a publisher with a dedicated readership like FT, The Economist, or The New York Times, you want to capitalize on the fact that your readers are spending quite a lot of time with an advertisement in view. As analytics platform Chartbeat noted in their Summer Quarterly Report, “Visitors who read for more than 75 seconds see more than 60% of advertisements.”

And if you’re an advertiser, you want an antidote to remedy the fact that most of the ads you’re paying for aren’t even being seen: As Chris Smith noted in a must-read article for Digiday, only 47.6 percent of ads on desktop and 44.2 percent of ads on mobile even meet the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s viewability standard of one second in-view.

In addition to The Economist’s “TimeGuarantee,” they’re also offering a “ViewGuarantee” that 75 percent of ads served during a campaign will meet IAB standards.

Still, two publications doesn’t necessarily make a trend. The Financial Times and The Economist are tailor-made for this kind of experiment, with high-quality readerships that are spending a lot of time with their content, instead of just clicking and bouncing after a few seconds. And Pearson, the Financial Times’ parent company, owns 50 percent of The Economist. But there are other tea leaves forecasting that the pageview’s tenure may be ending: This week, the Media Ratings Council made Chartbeat the first platform to be certified to measure reader attention. As Gigaom reported, the Media Ratings Council is the body that determines what metrics can be used as a currency for advertising in the U.S., and the revolt against the pageview in the media industry this year has been fierce. The announcement seems to be paving the way for a new world of content measurement.

So who’s next? The New York Times, Vox Media, Gawker Media, Wired, and Gigaom would be the top 5 on my purely speculative (and half-baked) short list.

“This gives brands exactly what they want in a transparent way—they want the attention of their audience, and this gives them that in a completely measurable way,” Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, told Gigaom. “And for publishers, they want to know that they’ve created something valuable that holds people’s attention, and this tells them that.”

Image by Studio 37

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