Catching Up

Ratings are the currency of the television business, but that currency begins to lose its value when it can't measure everything the industry needs to know. Advertisers need to be convinced that various online and mobile opportunities are as good as television, but right now the eyeballs content providers are chasing are going in more directions than the research community is currently prepared to follow.
March 1, 2010

Ratings are the currency of the television business, but that currency begins to lose its value when it can’t measure everything the industry needs to know. Advertisers need to be convinced that various online and mobile opportunities are as good as television, but right now the eyeballs content providers are chasing are going in more directions than the research community is currently prepared to follow.

‘The technology is beginning to outstrip our ability to measure it,’ says Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal. Currently there are no audience measurement tools that measure every channel, every platform and all demographics to give the clearest picture of the viewing public. Combining measurement systems could be the trick, but when each system uses different methods to gather the goods on their selected group, comparing data becomes that much more difficult.

The research industry is taking a proactive role, with various companies looking into ways to more fully measure who’s watching what and how. For instance, NBCU conducted a groundbreaking study of cross-platform measurement at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. One element of the study was the first-ever single source measure of two platforms (Internet and television). In collaboration with Arbitron’s Portable People Meter media measurement service and comScore and Omniture’s Internet data, NBCU measured individual online and television usage around the event. ‘What was so interesting was how much simultaneous use there was,’ says Wurtzel, who found that people who used the Olympics website spent three times the amount of time watching events on TV as those who just used television to access the Olympics.

In addition to quantifying the use of Internet and television for the Olympic programming, NBCU’s study looked at the use of social media and word of mouth, monitored second-by-second viewing habits through its partnership with TiVo and studied mobile usage. ‘I call [the Olympics] the ‘billion dollar lab,” says Wurtzel, ‘We really got to see what the future is going to look like in terms of consumer consumption.’

Kate Sirkin, Starcom MediaVest Group’s global research director, says this could be a watershed year for peeking into the future of online video and the consumer habits around it. Pointing to the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup – during which ESPN will launch ESPN XP, a cross-platform measurement campaign similar to NBCU’s Olympic study – she says these two major case studies can help prove the value of different platforms to advertisers. And if more of these sorts of collaborative projects work – where two companies share their expertise by comparing their databases to find common links between their data – not only will the value of the platforms be proven, but even more information about the audience’s media and buying habits will be available to advertisers.

A group representing measured media, agencies and clients was formed to push for this very innovation in cross-media measurement. The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) was founded by 14 buyers and sellers of media content – including Viacom, Discovery Communications, NBCU and Starcom MediaVest Group – with an aim to bring the industry together to come up with high quality methods to measure cross platform media. Its initial focus is directed at two initiatives: evaluating the value of Set Top Box (STB) data (the data that can be measured directly from cable providers and satellite companies) and developing cross-media measurement of video content. The STB study was initiated because this data could potentially produce second-by-second information about what individuals are watching and it can measure a large sampling of the viewing audience, as well as local and cable channels that aren’t currently measured by Nielsen. The other value in measuring STB data is that, if overlapped with demographic studies of the areas the boxes are located, it could allow advertisers the opportunity to target people directly based on their specific household needs. This, however, brings up privacy issues that will need to be addressed before implementing this system.

Though accessing a larger sample sounds ideal, there are some snags, outside of the privacy issue, to studying STBs. Currently each provider calculates their data differently, so for STB data to be accurate it would mean cable and satellite providers would need to work together. ‘What CIMM is trying to do is create an understanding and a way of looking at that data which allows us to use more of it,’ says Sirkin, who is a member of CIMM. ‘What we don’t want is seven different rating levels or estimates for one program in one market, and that’s what’s available right now.’ This is why CIMM is currently consulting with the research companies, multichannel providers, industry associations and hardware, software and middleware companies to create a lexicon (a glossary that will define a lot of the terms involved in gathering this data) that should put everyone on the same page and align all the research.

Making STBs work for measurement purposes could be a large step in the direction of more detailed audience measurement, but the main purpose for the creation of CIMM was to help push the industry towards finding more innovative systems for measuring cross-media usage. Right now research companies internationally are trying several different approaches, and CIMM is watching. One approach, which is working in the UK under the title UK Touchpoints and will make its official move to the U.S. in 2011, is a survey-based time-use hub. The survey, which is controlled by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), asks participants to use a PDA diary system to log their media use every 30 minutes over seven days. This data is then fused to other single-media currencies such as television or the Web to understand how media is used at various times of the day. ‘It’s very elegant because it maintains the integrity of each of the existing currencies but it allows you to use all of them across [various] platforms in any combination,’ says Jane Clarke, CIMM’s managing director.

There’s an added complication to measuring ratings for programs across all platforms: the program being measured must run the same length across all media, which means having the same national commercial pod. This is what Nielsen is trying to do with its new strategy, dubbed ‘Extended Screen.’ In order to compare each platform, for rating’s purposes, the content being viewed must be identical, and must be properly encoded and converted for online distribution. In order to measure video viewership across platforms, Nielsen is rolling out Internet meters into roughly 7,500 National People Meter households. It plans to launch its Extended Screen initiative with data from September 2010 no later than the end of the year and to fully integrate online reporting into their standard data by February 2011. In the meantime it aims to create a small client committee to help define what online programs qualify for this kind of combined reporting.

‘The idea that television is [something] you watch at home, it comes to you one way and that’s it, is essentially over,’ says Wurtzel, who is a member of CIMM. And there’s no question that with this new reality, Nielsen and all media measurement systems have their work cut out for them. Moving into new levels of measurement is easier said than done and, as William Morris Endeavor Entertainment’s head of research and consumer insights, Keith Friedenberg, points out, it’s also quite expensive. ‘[We need to] make sure when we transition from one multi-billon dollar metric of measurement to another multi-billon dollar metric of measurement that we’re doing this right,’ he says.

However long it takes or how much money it costs, finding that method is imperative. ‘If the consumers are going across all these platforms and the advertisers are trying to reach them, if we can’t measure it properly we can’t monetize it properly,’ says Clarke. ‘So we’ve just got to move faster and innovate more to keep up with where the consumers are already ahead of us.’

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