Of Media And Measurement

It was, I suspect, a scene played out in living rooms across the country. As I glanced around my home this weekend and watched my family, it became apparent what a nightmare it must be to get any reliable measurements and metrics on how the modern family consume their media. A quick count showed up the following: One TV, one laptop, two tablets (one iPad, one Nexus) and three smartphones. Oh, and let’s not forget two glossy magazines for those "I need to get away from a screen" moments). All the tech was charged and online. 

Let’s take a snapshot of how it works. In an ad break on my sports show, a commercial plays. It features talking hedgehogs. My 12-year-old daughter flings off her earphones (she had been listening to music she liked on my Spotify account) and immediately texts her friend to let her know the earth-shattering news that an ad has talking hedgehogs (OMG, totes amaze sooo cute etc etc..). Somewhere in North Essex, the ad is found on YouTube and played again. Incidentally, I pay her phone bill as well.

All this fuss is enough to rouse my 9-year-old son who, while publicly is beyond all this, secretly loves a talking hedgehog as much as anybody. He sits up from his Netflix viewing (on a tablet registered to me, on my Netflix account, naturally) and demands to see the ad. Sky + is used to live pause and rewind, ad is watched twice more. All other ads are sacrificed to the fast-forward button and sports can safely recommence. So as far as I can tell, the ad is seen four times. Three times supposedly by me. Of course, I’m also supposedly listening to Imagine Dragons on Spotify and watching a Pixar film on Netflix. Also, according to the broadcaster, I watched the whole ad break, when in fact I all I saw was talking hedgehogs..

Recent Thinkbox figures claim that the traditional TV set accounts for 98.5% of average daily viewing, while the average Briton watched about three minutes of TV a day on a mobile device. Obviously, what Thinkbox doesn’t tell you is that average daily viewing includes a large section of elderly viewers and that the coming media consumers watch an awful lot more on mobile devices.

So what are we to believe, and consequently, what do measurement companies need to provide to remain relevant to advertisers' strategies?

Not surprisingly, the answer is itself not straightforward. There is no doubt that a revolution of sorts is taking place, but it needs to be put into perspective. The media column inches and discussions devoted to viewing TV programmes on demand on a mobile device are out of proportion to the amount of time people actually spend on the activity. However, while the numbers may in total be small, they need to be measured as they are beginning to drive fundamental change in TV viewing behaviour.

Knowing who is watching what, where and when in the new TV world is undeniably challenging, but essential. UK TV advertising spend continues to grow (the latest Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report shows an increase of 3.6% to £4.65bn in 2013), and broadcasters need robust data to value their growing portfolio of inventory while advertisers expect to realise optimum ROI on their budgets.

I’m really not sure how beyond panel-based research and, one assumes, return path data from set-top boxes we can find any sort of reliable data on modern media consumption. I’ve also heard lots about cross-device measurement but when all the devices allegedly belong to me but I’m not using them, how much value is there in that?

And so, according to the broadcaster, Spotify and Netflix, the only person in the room returned to my viewing, none the wiser as to which brand employed the seemingly genius talking hedgehog technique.

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