Measurement Miscues Abound, Poltrack Says

CBS research chief David Poltrack has been around the measurement business since back when it was simple educated guesswork. He came to the Advertising Week festivities on Wednesday and after talking about 40 or minutes or so about how advertisers are missing out on network TV, concluded with this observation:

“Five years from now, people will remember this period for having the greatest amount of advertising money wasted in history.”

Maybe that won’t be true; we don’t know what the next five years will bring to present competition for the last five years.

But his point was that while nearly everybody with a speaking part in the ad tech business serving online video has written off the traditional TV business, well, it still works really well. It’s not an opinion highlighted much anymore.

Poltrack complains that the shorthand -- “millennials don’t watch TV” -- is sometimes fortified by dubious sleight-of-hand stats. For example, he says, it’s reported that Jimmy Kimmel’s nine million monthly views on YouTube overwhelm his ABC-TV audience. In fact, Poltrack says 43 million millennials see some part of Kimmel’s show every month.

Advertisers are shucking “reliable, consistent metrics” for digital massages. Poltrack said he had heard other Advertising Week panels talk about audience measurement and concluded a lot of them don’t have the foggiest about what they’re measuring.

Poltrack was making his comments the day after comScore announced its acquisition of Rentrak that promises to give some renewed competition to Nielsen. And he mentioned it on the day that -- as if in response -- Nielsen announced that from now on, it will calculate CBS ratings adding in viewership from the CBS All-Access online service, laptop/desktop computers and Android and iOS devices.

That was supposed to be taken as a sign that glacially slow Nielsen’s total audience measurement tool finally will be up and running for all by the end of the year. That was promised by Nielsen global chief executive Steve Hasker who was on stage with Poltrack just after a more awkward session that included his counterparts from comScore and Rentrak.

Maybe better measurement will help compare online to network TV. Poltrack and Hasker seemed to agree that consumer packaged goods advertisers were now so CPM oriented that they’re not buying to maximize reach anymore; Poltrack said packaged goods advertisers are only reaching 40% of their potential customers on TV, an all time low, and they weren’t interested in buying premium content.

Poltrack made two other points worth noting:  Over-the-air television would be a lot better off if it could undo the DVR. That’s not news in itself, but Poltrack presented that reality as a situation that still could be changed by more aggressive VOD and streaming, where at least networks get to present commercials a user can’t bypass. But seriously? Good luck getting that toothpaste back in the tube.

And he said, there was research that said two-thirds of viewers who are using a second screen while watching TV have better recall than those just watching TV alone, because they’re likely to let the commercials hum along while they are occupied on pad or cellphone. “We tell advertisers, make sure you sell with audio,” Poltrack said.  

At the MediaPost OMMA Programmatic Video confab, Christy Tanner, senior vp/general manager of CBS Interactive Media Group (see separate article), had a refreshingly realistic view of who watches what. “The assumptions we make about people are often false,” she said.

So get out of those pigeon-holes!

For example, when CBS and its owned queried viewers about what they watched, the answers were random and/or surprising: Every young man mentioned how they loved watching Netflix comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” specifically because it was executive produced by Tina Fey.

“I don’t think there is anyone in the business who would taken a look at ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ and say: ‘That’s a show that’s targeting 25-year-old guys.’ ”
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