With all the urgency to find a widely accepted cross-platform measurement system, one element of the chase involves going back to the future. Recall Project Apollo, the would-be breakthrough that looked to match media consumption with purchase data to get a better sense of the connection.
The initiative, a joint effort by Nielsen and Arbitron, included not just TV and radio on the media side, but magazines and newspapers. That seems laughable now, since hardly anyone is suggesting print be included in current efforts. The most prominent quest is for tracking TV, mobile and Internet video viewing.
Apollo was abandoned in 2008. Carrying the space age name, it may have come early.
“That was a pretty compelling product that was a little bit before its time,” said Arbitron COO-CFO Sean Creamer this week.
Yet, Creamer said lessons and insights gained from Apollo are informing R&D efforts at Arbitron, Nielsen and others racing to offer the industry standard for cross-media measurement. Nielsen’s Susan Whiting had indicated that potential back when Apollo was shuttered.
Few argue the collapse of Apollo was because the customers, which were the likes of Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart, balked at the investment costs. Maybe the recession played a role.
Now, though, with so much video consumed so many ways, the thinking may have changed. Advertisers are willing to spend in pursuit of a way to evaluate the effectiveness of TV, mobile and Internet video in an apples-to-apples way, that it's cost be darned.
Or, are they? And, what about their agencies? “Two or three years ago, there was a lot of talk and very little money flow,” Creamer said at an investor event. “Today, there remains a lot of talk and relatively little money flow, which is a positive advancement, but certainly not as far along as we’d like.”
Creamer does think a better roadmap will come into focus within the next 18 to 24 months. But, then that could be ripped up as media consumption changes so swiftly.
Arbitron is working to become a leading option in cross-media measurement through a recent trial it conducted with the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) and other efforts. It wants to “make sure we have a seat at the table once the money starts to flow in a significant way.”
Creamer said Arbitron is using its exposure to the CIMM membership, which includes marketers, agencies and networks, to expand its opportunities. If it's able to make inroads with, say, 10 CIMM members, it might have a very cushy seat.
“We are now working with individual members of CIMM to find out what incremental insights we can provide and how we can scale what we did … (to offer) something that has applicability to a broader customer base,” he said.
ComScore, which also has worked with CIMM, and others also want that seat at the table. But can’t Arbitron make a stronger case with its portable people meter (PPM) technology, a device people carry that picks up audio signals?
The PPM has the potential to not just capture video on the TV-mobile-Internet troika, but radio and out-of-home TV consumption as well. The latter two may be drawing less interest, but if Arbitron can offer at least a parity product, why not toss them in?
Certainly, the out-of-home element is important to CNN and CNBC, which have both sought Arbitron data there. And, ESPN is using Arbitron data for cross-platform tracking of football on TV and radio.
One hurdle Arbitron is working to overcome, which is driven by its core radio business, is how to recruit more people who have dropped landlines to join its 70,000-person panel. Those in an 18-to-34 demographic who only use mobile phones are tough to find, so Creamer said the company is investing about $18 million this year for cell phone and in-person recruitment.
Creamer doubts a panel with 70,000 could ever be assembled for cross-media measurement, let alone with an acceptable amount of mobile phone-only types.
“Would they agree to download a meter and something onto their cell phone, I think the likelihood of that is very close to zero,” he said.
Which shows just how thorny the multi-media measurement push will likely continue to be. And, if there's a Project Apollo-style retrenchment, who knows where things go?