If there was one clear story that came from TV this January, it was the story of interactive TV.
That, for starters, was a clear major takeaway from CES. TV platform after new TV platform introduced opportunities -- from apps to newly interactive consoles -- for advertisers to share content and advertising directly via the TV set itself.
That’s also one of the big stories revealed ahead of time about the Super Bowl, during which up to 1/3 of ads will be Shazam-enabled. Shazam, you’ll recall, is an app that lets TV advertisers embed digital information within ads, allowing TV viewers to download branded mobile content and coupons off TV commercials.
Suddenly, the very divided worlds of TV viewer and TV advertiser have just become intimately connected. As media professionals have correctly observed, that new connection also makes TV newly measurable. It’s a huge step forward for metrics.
But even with all that said, there’s still a huge problem for metrics lurking in the background. It all goes back to what kind of transformation we’re actually seeing in the TV world today.
You see, much of today’s newest TV technology -- like addressable TV, for instance -- is a genuine transformation of a 60-year-old channel into a truly digital, and digitally interactive, medium. But other changes are less examples of transformation, than they are a layering of new technologies over old ones. Shazam is a case in point: advertisers have flocked to it because it allows them to sidestep the networks’ inability to link directly with mobile devices.
Now, every time two systems work together -- particularly in the case of an old system and a new one -- two things can happen. One is that the old system and the new system share data, making all parties involved much smarter. Another is that the systems keep their fundamental disconnect. The result of the second case is that advertisers expand their media universe without expanding their data universe along with it. Critical data goes lost.
For an example outside of TV, let’s consider a thoroughly widespread example of old-meets-new in the print space: mobile QR codes. QR codes take one of the oldest media channels in the world – print -- and make it interoperable with mobile, one of the newest channels in existence.
When the two systems work together, how much data is really shared? In the best of scenarios, QR codes make it possible to marry information about a publication’s readership with the precise device-specific data, like location and time of day that the QR code is used. The result is a truly holistic picture that helps advertisers not only understand exactly how engaged a user is with an ad, but also helps them plan future print buys based on past mobile performance (and can even introduce dayparting elements into a print-driven experience).
Of course, the other extreme is that very little data is shared beyond information about the exact inventory that drove the mobile engagement. One factor that could keep information siloed is a lack of standards across mobile and print metrics. Another could be that systems housing the different kinds of data have trouble communicating. (You’re familiar with the varying degrees of communication across technology generations, even if you don’t realize it: consider how easy it is to play a CD on your laptop, and how hard it is play a cassette on the same machine.) Whatever the disconnect, advertisers are left with just another version of last-click metrics: great information about the specific engagement, but limited global data with which to truly help in future planning.
Nor is this just an issue of forging synergies between the oldest and new technologies, either -- whether that’s old TV and new TV, or mobile and print. The rate of media upheaval means we’ll be melding older and newer generations of media channels for a very long time -- whether that’s social media and blogs, or the desktop and mobile Web. And for as long as we’ll face these pairings of older and newer technologies, advertisers and agencies will need to think seriously about how they can merge data across old and new worlds, too.
Allowing this kind of data sharing across old and new channels is far from a computational problem alone. It’s a problem of allowing different data cultures to work together across older and newer media, and a problem of making new technology interoperable with old systems. It’s a workflow problem and a software problem.
Is workflow and interoperability the kind of issue we tend to think of when we’re talking about media metrics? For many of us in the media business, the answer is: not quite. But if January 2012 has been any indicator of the rest of 2012 -- and the rest of the decade -- I’d say it’s the issue we’ll have to deal with for a long time to come.