Someday, like maybe a year from now, we’ll be able to look back and see ABC’s announcement today that will use Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings as a big moment, when one of the major broadcast network companies decided to get on a streamlined bus, for the benefit of their advertisers and themselves.
Three of the Disney-owned networks—ABC, ABC Family and ESPN—will use the Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings to give advertisers a way to get demographic guarantees on their ad buys on the devices of our times, from TVs to smartphones, and computers and tablets.
Like the steps of denial, the steps of recognition arrive when large institutions finally and formally change the way they do business. It’s not like the Walt Disney Co. is going to begin speaking a different language but they will officially be using one dictionary, and so will the people who buy from them. The Online Campaign Rating and established C3 ratings from the TV end of the business will deliver a single audience guarantee. ABC is calling it ABC Unified and most of the time, it will be. ESPN apparently will be a little rogue, because its audience can change so much depending on the sport.
How it actually works—better, worse, or about the same as what advertisers figure out about now networks and digital viewing guarantees—the fact that the facility for it is established means something about the inevitable meshing of content sources down to head-counting.
It’s not like anyone has doubted it, but each new coordinated effort is a verification of where things are, and where they’re headed. It’s a little like the old AFL football league merging with the NFL. When it happened, at the beginning of the 1970 season, nobody thought the upstart league was equal to the established NFL. Within a very few years, the division was all but invisible except to historians and some bitter fans in Green Bay.
In a statement, Geri Wang, ABC President of Sales said, in part, “Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings is a good first step at addressing the new realities of our business—it helps our clients better understand the audience value of online video, and gives us a more accountable way to package and deliver advertising value across platform.” Indeed, as advertisers increasingly and seamlessly calculate the utility of various content platforms—a smartphone and a TV set are wholly different beasts—it’s quite likely that the biggest guarantee of today’s announcement is the certainty it will give sturdier data to change marketing strategies.