NBCU Counting On 'Simus' To Offer Olympian Insight

This may be a cool time to be in TV research. The C-suite seems increasingly interested with some expectation that the number-crunching will no longer mean just processing ratings, but profits, too.

It’s also a cool time for research-speak. A linguist would be impressed by the neologisms popping up. There seems to be an arms race to coin the most lasting description of a new field.

CBS’s David Poltrack is championing “volumetrics,” a data stream that looks for micro-targeting to yield ad exposures that boost sales. At PrecisionDemand, the measurement firm now headed by Jon Mandel, there are “buyometric portraits,” which could be a “volumetric” cousin.

In a different realm, another moniker came forward Wednesday: Simus.

“Not a creature from the ‘Black Lagoon,' nor a Jewish dish my grandmother would make with carrots -- that’s Tzimmes,” said Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal’s research chief, at the Advertising Research Foundation conference.



Simus (pronounced Cy-muss) is short for simultaneous media usage. For the 2010 Olympics, NBCU found 32% of people who consumed its coverage did so on more than one platform simultaneously (at least once). Demographics were largely balanced for the multi-taskers, with 52% men and 48% women.

As simultaneous devicing balloons, NBCU wants to delve further into the trend for this summer's London Games, hoping there is long-term potential for multi-platform ad sales.

Simus is not the first time NBCU has used the Olympics to try and inject new argot and methods into the research realm. In 2008 for the Beijing Games, there was TAMI (Total Audience Measurement Index) that looked to get a sense of consumption across all screens. The pursuit of cross-platform measurement is burgeoning, but the TAMI acronym didn’t seem to catch on.

But Simus has a shot, though networks and research companies don’t like to adopt another’s creation. There is ample research showing Americans watch TV not just with popcorn or a beer in hand, but with a smartphone, tablet or laptop. (Some may even double-fist with an Amstel and Android.)

Companies such as Shazam and Nielsen have products that synchronize what's happening on the TV with content on digital devices, allowing double-screen activity and providing all kinds of opportunities for networks and advertisers. While NBCU did it in 2010, measuring that concurrent use is a shiny new research arena.

NBCU hopes this summer that Simus will offer behavioral insight and possibly some ROI arguments for advertisers, which run multi-platform campaigns. If Coke has a TV spot next to a Michael Phelps race -- and traffic increases concurrently on, where there’s a Coke banner -- then there could be something there.

As much as Wurtzel is an advocate for industry collaboration, NBCU isn’t conducting its sprawling and expensive London research initiative -- where Simus is just a small part -- as a public service. It wants Coke and others to spend more on "The Voice" and "Celebrity Apprentice." Even though it’s a silo, it wants Simus data to inspire advertisers for years to come.

There are a slew of reasons why Simus numbers should increase significantly this summer compared to the 30% in Vancouver in 2010. Tablets weren’t even on the market then, with the first iPad launched a few months after. Smartphone penetration is much wider. And, NBCU plans to offer all London events live on some platform, which could prompt viewing of more than one at the same time.

Also, while social media may have been hot two years ago, its searing now. The volume of conversation on Facebook and Twitter this summer about Phelps and the U.S. women’s soccer team and LeBron James should be massive. And, how does that dynamic play out for the most part? Commentary from handheld devices in reaction to TV coverage.

How NBCU will compute Simus isn’t exactly clear. It has hired so many research firms to track viewer behavior in so many fields that it could do all kinds of merging and fusing of data. But, it will again have an “Olympic Twitter Tracker” online, giving people a live tabulation on what stories and athletes are generating the most tweets at any given time. If tweets are blazing about what’s happening on TV, there’s grist for Simus there.  

Expect Wurtzel and NBCU to use the Simus term liberally this summer. And that may continue after the Olympic flame is extinguished. At least until researchers zoom in on another metric or warm to another slickly branded term for simultaneous media usage. Which can happen faster than Usain Bolt.   

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