Digital Ad Metrics: Attention Is the New Impression, but Still Nascent

Decoding the latest digital ad metrics, and checking in on ad tech and a digital renaissance for a legacy title

Digital ad metrics rise, fall, resurface. New ones are invented every so often. But they’re something digital publishing companies must keep track of, because ROI and consumer action are what advertisers are (rightfully) focusing on when they make traditional IOs as well as programmatic ad buys.

Clicks and impressions have always seemed to us counter-intuitive ways to measure the success of your content. After all, they don’t truly reflect audience engagement, which is what both digital publishers and advertisers are after. On the other hand, time spent and attention earned do just that, and currently the industry is trying to figure out the best way to track those. tackles just that topic in recent coverage, as well as a couple of other key topics.


Digital Ad Metrics Based on Attention Are In Demand

Viewability has been the holy grail for years when it comes to digital advertising, but now the search is for attention and time spent. has a progress report.

“But viewability, after all, is just a baseline for just showing up, not the be-all and end-all, said Daniel Rothman, director of insight at the Financial Times, which has been experimenting with a cost-per-time model on its website for the last 16 months. … Transacting on impressions doesn’t make sense, Rothman said, because it values and prices each impression equally regardless of exposure time as long as it hits the minimum threshold for viewability – 50% of pixels in view for one second for display and two seconds for video. Same goes for mobile,” Allison Schiff writes.

“From the summer through the fall of 2014, FT embarked on a study with five large brand clients to measure the impact on traditional brand recall metrics of time spent engaging with ads. Using Millward Brown to quantify the results, FT found that when active users were served 100% viewable ads for five seconds or more, brand lift increased by 79%, while familiarity went up by 55%, brand association grew by 51% and brand consideration saw a 58% boost. … But although a number of FT’s brand clients have renewed their cost-per-time campaigns, buying on time is still the exception rather than the rule, partially because though the buy side understands the value in the concept, their legacy systems aren’t built to handle it.”

Publisher Tech: Hearst Redefines Itself in Age of Digital Platforms

How is Hearst handling the tech-heavy state of the publishing industry? By becoming a tech heavyweight, reports in an interview with Hearst Head of Corporate Tech Allen Yuan.


“We’ve removed the differentiation between the mobile and desktop experience. Fifty percent to 70% [of Hearst’s audience] are on mobile, so we pay attention to performance metrics like load time. Particularly on mobile, people are engaging with our content off property. We’ve invested heavily in aligning with partners to build out the mobile experience. We’ve made investments in AMP, Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, as well as a joint venture with Snapchat with Sweet, which is a new [content] brand,” Yuan told Sarah Sluis.

“Where there are solutions in market, we want to leverage the development that third parties have built. The areas we tend to do homegrown are where we want to differentiate, or where the solutions in market don’t solve what we are looking for. Machine learning is probably a great example of that. A lot of the great solutions we are looking for are not in market yet. We have data scientists, software engineers building toward insights we can’t get through the marketplace.”

Variety’s Online Publishing Renaissance Puts It Among Best Digital Magazines

Another worthwhile recent interview over at, this one with Variety Group Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer Michelle Sobrino-Stearns, who has helped turned around the Penske property’s fortunes.

“I have many challenges ahead of me. As publisher, at the end of the day I want to grow revenue and grow this brand. We are marketing to marketers, so we said, “Let’s make this brand beautiful.” That includes the print product and online. We’ve tripled the size of the newsroom. I doubled the business side. Our new CMO [Dea Lawrence, formerly of TubeMogul] comes from the tech world,” Sobrino-Stearns told Sluis.

“Part of our strategy is not to give Variety away. We have invested a lot in the print edition in the past few years. Digitally, we want to grow our traffic numbers, but we want to be authentic in our approach: We’ve never deviated from the message of providing information for the entertainment community. We had the highest traffic in March of any of our competitors. Now we’ve introduced video, and that’s growing our numbers dramatically digitally. … Digitally, it’s completely changed. Brands have stepped up. Native advertising was something we sold years ago, but we’re starting to partner with really big brands. Also, tracking and reporting. Buyers didn’t ask us for that before, but now they want to see an ROI on what they sponsor.”

Which digital metrics are you tracking? Tell us about your approach in the comments!

To read more about digital ad metrics and other industry trends, visit


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