TV, TV Everywhere

Reading Mitch Oscar's characteristically insightful TV Board piece yesterday, I was struck by how the rich data sets generated by digital set-top boxes will take us to new levels of understanding with regard to how people actually view TV. And also, how many questions are left unanswered by such an admittedly huge leap in our knowledge.

This is not, in any way, to disparage the value of the data generated by the set-top box or the efforts to extract and make sense of it. Rather, I found myself thinking about what else we would inevitably want to know if we had access to that information. (After all, it's a consistently annoying characteristic of humans to continually ask the next question, even if we don't know how we'll use the answer.)

For a start, there is the issue of the non-screen based behavior, such as the use of other media, conversation, etc., that impacts the level of attention given to TV.

Beyond that, however, there is the bewildering number of ways in which TV content can potentially be consumed -- many are beyond current measurement, beyond the TV set and beyond the home. Yet all are part of the evolving face of TV consumption and therefore, necessary to understand.

Leaving aside the various options via digital TV -- linear viewing, DVR, VOD, DVD, etc. which can be captured with set-top box data -- think about how many ways we can currently view TV content. Consider the challenge of collecting all the data that will ultimately enable us to understand the totality of viewing as one coherent whole.

Without too much effort, it's pretty easy to draw up a list that suggests some of the complexity:

The Web, DVD from a computer hard drive, portable DVD, game console (designated TV from the digital system), portable game console, cell phone, other portable video player (iPod, Zune etc.), in-car video, in-store video, sports bars, etc, ambient media in public spaces, such as doctor's offices, gas stations, airports etc, in-flight video.

I've no doubt this list is not exhaustive -- feel free to add to it. It would be interesting to see how many ways we can think of to view TV-originated content.

This list does go some way, however, to illustrate just how multifaceted our relationship with TV content is becoming, and how sadly wanting any silo-based approach to measurement ultimately looks as the market develops.  After all, there's no such thing as a silo consumer -- and any approach to measurement that is silo-based is increasingly out-of-step and dysfunctional when put alongside media consumption.

Although Nielsen, TNS and others continually seek to develop, test and deploy new measurement and analysis tools to serve the market need, inevitably, measurement services follow behind the demand. Measurement isn't financially viable until enough consumers use emerging platforms to access video. Plus, new measurement tools must prove to be sufficiently robust before they can find a place in the market. As a result, the market will almost always demand such services be available before they are fiscally feasible. No-one is to blame -- it's just a fact of life.

With Nielsen's recent announcement of its plan to test and roll out measurement technology for portable video devices, we see continued progress toward measuring the currently un-measured. The sooner this can become a market-scale reality, the better.

Only then -- and when all other areas of out-of-home and other video are accurately measured -- will we know, for example, just how much consumption we are currently missing.  Right now, we can only guess. (Surveys don't tell us with any degree of accuracy.)

So while we wait for the riches of the set-top box to be unlocked, here's a question for you: What percentage of total TV/video consumption is on devices or in situations currently unmeasured?