Crossroads In Cross-Media And Return-Path Data

Last week’s Cross-Platform Video Measurement Summit not only addressed new advancements in cross-platform measurement, it also provided an update on the state of return-path data. For those of us who have been grappling with how to best measure content in the world of Big Data, it was an opportunity to have some of the best minds in the business present their vision of the digital future.

There seems to be embarrassment of riches in the cross-platform measurement arena. Research companies such as Nielsen, Arbitron, ComScore, Simmons, GFK MRI and Google are forming partnerships, merging data streams and creating market positions. But the ability to measure a specific piece of video across all potential platforms remains elusive. Artie Bulgrin from ESPN said, “We need passive real-time measurements” for cross platform in the form of universal watermarks.

CIMM (The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement) is doing just that – developing a universal watermarking protocol for the measurement of video across all possible platforms. This initiative, called TAXI (Trackable Asset Cross-Platform Identification) started in 2010 and, as Managing Director Jane Clarke announced, will be entering a Proof of Concept pilot stage this fall. As with CIMM’s Set-Top-Box Data Lexicon, which strives to form a common language for return path data measurement, TAXI should help create a common language for cross-platform: a universal watermark that enables video across platforms and across companies to be measured and compared.

Moving the industry toward new measurement protocols takes time. Some are impatient with evolution and advocate an upending of today’s measurement shibboleths. As NBC’s Alan Wurtzel said, we need to “rethink the idea of TV video measurement and be open to new ideas.” Maybe that means dropping household and demographic group metrics (which are only proxies for individual behavior anyway) and focus on behaviorally segmented data.

Return-Path Data is another area where measurement partnerships are finding fertile ground and where the need for a common language remains acute. In 2010, CIMM produced a Whitepaper on the STB Data Landscape. This whitepaper was recently updated, and the results were presented by GroupM’s Lyle Schwartz and ABC’s Mark Loughney at the Summit. Both the original whitepaper and the re-contact study are posted on the CIMM website.

From 2010 to today, CIMM found that there has been positive movement in the use of return-path data, predominantly in the advancement of addressable advertising and local measurement. There has been much more acceptance over the past year of the use of data in various forms – both within companies and externally in the industry. There is even some movement toward standardizing the data with the creation of foundational datasets.

But privacy concerns continue to be an important consideration in both cross-platform and return-path data implementation. In the area of RPD in particular, privacy is one of the reasons why there has not been greater rollout of data across all MVPDs. The perceived limited amount of data as well as the cost associated with the available data is a source of frustration for some data end users.

For those of us immersed in big data for the media industry, the challenges of last year are still challenges this year. But forward movement is palpable. Some of these challenges are finally, albeit slowly, being met in the form of universal watermarks (for cross platform) and foundational datasets (in RPD). Can we be content with a slow but steady evolution -- or are we ready to foment a revolution?

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