Upfront season is upon us. CableFAX and similar publications are rampant with ads and press releases touting the value propositions of dozens of broadcast and cable networks to the advertising community. Whether the proving ground is a standard metric such as audience growth or total reach, or an emerging metric that integrates psychographic components, value propositions are being defined every minute—all in the pursuit of precious slivers of the multibillion-dollar ad pie.
In a year where both an Olympics and a Presidential election are occurring, coupled with the encouraging signs of a rising stock market, the opportunity to grow the sizes of these monetary slivers is as robust as it has been in recent years. At the same time, the slivers of the linear TV audience pie, particularly in the live and live-plus-same-day measurement worlds, are shrinking. Flat is the new “up.” English-language networks are regularly being beaten by Spanish-language networks and, more than ever, the viewing of episodic entertainment television is occurring when and where it’s most convenient for the viewer.
When non-live, non-linear viewing of content is aggregated, there is an assumption that more people are watching more different things, in more different ways, than ever before. Anecdotally and intuitively, between DVR time-shifting, set top box-enabled on demand, such as FOD and SVOD, and broadband-enabled on demand, such as Netflix or Hulu, this assumption should be easily demonstrable. However, the fluidity of technological development and deployment currently makes such proof difficult. There are myriad issues around the complexities of the process of accurate measurement of TV Everywhere—a process further complicated by good, old-fashioned competition.
Recently the CTAM Research Committee received presentations on cross-platform measurement from Nielsen, Arvitron and comScore, each of which provides test panel measurement. These companies already have beachheads at their disposal for baseline metrics. Nielsen has its National Peoplemeter TV panel, comScore has an online panel that has deep equity in the digital world and Arbitron has the technology and legacy of its expired Portable Peoplemeter panel, which attempted to measure multiple media concurrently.
However, each has significant hurdles to overcome to be a lead horse in the TV Everywhere measurement derby. In attempting to build out their respective incumbent platforms, each vendor has had its share of challenges. From panel acceptance of multiple screen measurement to the ability of the baseline panels to project an accurate representation of total U.S. demography, each company has spent significant time and money learning that initial assumptions were not necessarily correct. In turn, they’ve realized further advances were needed in order to keep up with fast-paced changes in new technology, such as viewing content within apps and TV streaming on tablets and smartphones. Unsurprisingly, each has both consistent and parochial views on which of their assumptions are correct and which need further refinement. The consequence of this competition is frequently conflicting results about the who, what, when and how of viewing on the second screen, third screen and beyond.
Disparate results from different panels are not uncommon in media research. Industry veterans know Nielsen and Arbitron co-existed in local television measurement for decades. As more demographic columns and viewing rows were added to the competitive matrix, the results for a specific program were often dramatically different. Buyers and sellers were often shrugging their shoulders and saying, “It’s just apples and oranges.” Digital researchers know this is currently true between Nielsen and comScore panels, let alone site-specific trackers. Let’s not even begin to touch on the degree of differences between the various—and still-emerging—metrics for social media.
The chief difference between the aforementioned situation and that of multiscreen measurement is that the very core of the media business as we know it is riding on the industry’s ability to find a way to produce an accurate number of collective eyeballs who are watching and interacting with content. Program suppliers cannot afford to produce quality product exclusively for a linear platform where fewer people are choosing to watch. “Digital dimes” cannot continue to be an accepted currency gap, when the growth rate and demographic breadth of device viewing far exceeds that of most incumbent media. There is always a need to be right, but equally critical is the need to be right—now.
The simplest way to advance this timetable is by creating a joint venture between people who bring something different to the table, whether it is client sector equity, more seamless technical adaptability or fiscal resources. This would harness the power of the collective brain trusts—and money—into a single project, uniformly aimed at creating a metric that would be accepted by both advertisers and producers, and by both traditional and emerging media. The revenue potential from the larger, holistic pie would more than cover the total investment over time, and with three companies sharing the costs, their individual downsides would diminish commensurately. There is an objective, experienced consortium already in place, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), to take a first pass on who would do what in such a JV. In addition, the majority of significant end users’ research management constitutes CIMM’s advisory board.
Working together to produce something that leads to incremental dollars versus working competitively to produce R & D that can’t is low-hanging fruit in this debate. Apples, oranges, or otherwise.
(Steve Leblang recently joined GSN as Vice President of Program Planning and Acquisitions, where he spearheads scheduling and competitive analysis for the network. He spent more than a decade as head of strategic planning and research for several divisions of FOX Cable, including FX, Speed, FUEL TV and FOX Soccer Channel. Steve served on CTAM’s Research Committee for many years and chaired the 2006 CTAM Research Conference, for which he was honored with a TAMI.)