In Cross-Platform Measurement, Effectiveness May Be Getting Short Shrift

Five times during an NBC.com stream of “Smash,” the same ad for Campbell’s appears. So, the second time, you put your hands on your ears, open a new browser and check your email.

Walking down the street, you’re watching “Desperate Housewives” on Hulu on your iPhone. Of course, you look up and take your headphones off when a spot appears.

And, then there’s something called a DVR for last night’s “NCIS.”

Ad avoidance takes on different forms depending on the screen. Some on Madison Avenue, however, seem to be giving that short shrift with the rush to develop a sturdy cross-platform measurement system.

Yes, much of the industry’s future is dependent on Campbell’s knowing how many people watch its ad on what screen. So, entities from Arbitron to Ernst & Young are involved at different stages in a process that could yield an industry standard for a consistent screen-to-screen viewing metric.

This week, GroupM and Nielsen jointly announced they would work together to develop “cross-platform campaign ratings,” which would yield reach and frequency for both TV and Internet viewing.

But, how valuable is that if all ad impressions aren’t equal? If an apples-to-apples comparison from screen to screen is rotten, is that more of an Ivory Tower pursuit than a practical one?  

At a recent cross-platform measurement event, amid all the bullishness about following the video, SMGX chief investment officer John Muszynski effectively said: great, find a way to track all the video on all the screens you want, get a combined figure for a campaign, but we’re not going to write a single check based on some total.

“We’re still going to have the question of how effective is this particular ad in this particular environment?” he said.

With sessions carrying teases such as “Cross-Platform Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs,” next week’s Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) conference might give the same weight to multi-screen ad effectiveness as ad reach, though doubters might triumph.

Regardless, those wanting to delve into how ads work on different screens will have plenty of time before industry forces agree on how to gauge multi-platform reach. Those hungry for a unified currency should have their stomachs churning for a long time. At least, according to Todd Juenger, who oversaw second-by-second measurement services at TiVo before joining Bernstein Research.

He’s not scheduled to weigh in on those “trials” and “tribulations” during the 30-minute panel at the ARF event, but a report he issued Friday suggests he could fill three hours laying out the roadblocks.

Broadly speaking, he dialed up this on the GroupM/Nielsen initiative: “This could be the game-changer we have been waiting for to unleash ‘TV Everywhere’ applications. But don’t hold your breath, it’s gonna take a while (i.e. years, not months).”

Juenger says that contrary to conventional wisdom, measuring TV consumption is actually easier than online viewing. In the Internet space, there are so many varying methodologies that different services produce “staggeringly different audience estimates with no consistent correlation.”

Check this: sure, comScore and Quantcast come up with different numbers for Hulu -- but Hulu doesn’t even know its exact traffic itself, Juenger says. It’s complicated, but he notes Hulu and other Web publishers’ data “systematically overstates audience, because it cannot distinguish one person using multiple browsers, account for cookie deletion, or distinguish content served to non-human audiences (i.e crawlers, bots).”

There is no panel at the ARF expected to examine non-human audiences, so that's a pretty good sense of the extraterrestrial challenges right there.

Juenger further says online data does not offer insight into demographics. Which might lead one to believe that panel-based measurement, which has brought demographics to TV, might be a good way to go? No, he says, an assortment of issues make what can work on TV unworkable on the Web.

Bottom line: if there is no reliable way to measure Web video viewing, even if TV tracking is perfect, forget the cross-platform thing.

As Juenger’s blanket gets wetter and wetter, industry executives on the sell side who buy his arguments have to be demoralized since he estimates solid cross-platform measurement that allows a singular GRP for TV and online, could expand the ad market by $2 billion to $4 billion.

GroupM has some of the smartest people around. As Juenger notes, the agency led the industry’s shift to a C3 currency in TV.

So, if Juenger's right and there is an extra $4 billion in the balance, surely a lot of people up and down Madison Avenue are pulling for them and Nielsen to come up with similar cross-platform magic.

Of course, to truly succeed, their initiative would have to find ways to determine both reach and resonance. That challenge indeed could be out of this world.

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1 comment about "In Cross-Platform Measurement, Effectiveness May Be Getting Short Shrift".
  1. Daryl McNutt from Adaptive Media , March 23, 2012 at 9:13 p.m.
    These are the great conversations that need to be had. Unfortunately Nielsen rarely stops to allow a true peer review of their methodology. As we move forward I hope GroupM and Nielsen allow the industry experts to help build out a standard that we all can implement.