Television networks are making their prime-time programming available in full form via their Web sites. And not just the latest episodes of "Desperate Housewives," either. CBS and ABC have both recently announced that they are now streaming from deep inside their programming vaults, bring back favorites like "The Love Boat" and "Twin Peaks."
Last month, Hula (a joint venture between NBC and Fox) attracted nearly 2.5 million unique viewers (presumably defined by distinct cookies), who streamed content an average of more than 20 times each! That's a bigger, more engaged audience than many cable stations draw in a month's time. And anyone who knows their way around a Bass diffusion curve will tell you that adoption of online viewing is on a trajectory to achieve substantial penetration very rapidly.
All this is causing pre-revolution heartburn in the media departments of major ad agencies today. They're trying to figure out which metrics best equate clicks (or streams) to GRiPs (gross rating points), so they can compare the costs of advertising online to advertising on TV. Apples-to-apples.
Online content streaming is, by its very nature, an active participation medium, while television is passive. As such, the metrics should reflect the degree to which advertisers actively engage the consumer: streams launched; ads clicked; games played; surveys completed; dialogue offered; etc. Selecting passive metrics encourages the content owners to use the computer to stream like they broadcast, thereby replacing one screen with another. In time, that will teach consumers to use it as a passive medium like TV.
If we (the marketers) want to capture the true potential of an active medium, we have to demand performance against active metrics. We have to design ads that give the multitasking consumer of today something else to do while they're watching the show - enter contests on what will happen next; decide who's telling the truth; test their show knowledge against other fans; shop for that cute skirt -- you get the idea.
Effectiveness in this new realm is a function of the actual (active) behavior generated versus the expected amount. And the expected amount is that degree of behavior shift necessary to make the business case for spending the money show a clear and attractive return. Efficiency is then how much more positive behavior we're generating per dollar spent than we did last month/quarter/year.
Sure, we need to have some sense of which content is attracting people who "look" like customers or prospects, but that's just the basis upon which we decide where to test and experiment. The real decisions on where to place our big bets will come once we learn what execution tactics are most impactful.
Until then, be careful what you measure, or you will surely achieve it.