It’s axiomatic that digital technology radically alters every business it touches, turning long-held assumptions on their respective heads. (If you’re a veteran of the music or newspaper businesses, you probably just winced reading that sentence.)
There is no question that digital has fundamentally altered the advertising and media measurement landscape. Viewability and fraud are probably the most ubiquitous topics in the digital audience measurement space today, and neither of these were media hot topics just a few years ago.
I’ve worked in the audience measurement business since 1980 (I know what you’re thinking:“Josh, come on! You must have been four years old when you started!”) so I’ve always tended to see the digital metrics landscape through old-school goggles.
One of the long-standing assumptions in audience measurement has been the notion of currency — and more to the point, of a single currency. I learned about the one-currency model in a very real way working at Arbitron in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We won one single-currency battle: spot radio measurement, where we competed with Birch Radio. And we lost one: spot TV, where we competed with Nielsen.
Back then, in looking at the TV ratings business, we used to say that there was enough money to support one-and-a-half players. And while data users very much like competition, historically they (you) believed that multiple currencies led to confusion. Thus, as with Simmons and MRI in print, Arbitron and Birch in spot radio, Arbitron and Nielsen in spot TV, Nielsen and a number of players in network TV, eventually a single currency won out. More often than not, the losing player went out of business.
But I’d like to offer a radical opinion. In the digital age, multiple transactional media currencies can, do, and will continue to exist. Indeed, they need to exist.
Consider viewability. Right now we have over a dozen accredited third-party viewability providers. Presumably all these companies have customers. While it’s almost certain that some thinning of the herd will take place over time, I don’t think it’s realistic, or even desirable, to expect we get down to a single viewability provider. Certainly buyers and sellers want to understand the reasons for differences between vendors, and the MRC’s recently released study will help provide some clarity about these differences. But it is almost equally certain that multiple viewability currencies will continue to compete in the marketplace. And the world will go on.
There is a need for a single currency, but the need is per transaction, not per market. The entire marketplace need not convene around a single currency in order for commerce to take place freely. Rather, in a given transaction, the buyer and seller must agree on a single currency. But different clusters of buyers and sellers can and will convene around different measurement currencies, and everyone will still be able to conduct business efficiently.
The counterargument one might make to this is that if there are multiple currencies, then none of them are currencies at all. But this is a false premise, as multiple currencies absolutely can co-exist. You can buy the same good or service right now using dollars, euros, pounds, or even bitcoin. These are all currencies.
The media marketplace is fragmenting and growing increasingly complex. In a simpler time, a single-currency marketplace seemed simple and orderly. But anyone who has seen the Lumascape knows that our marketplaces are neither simple nor orderly. Advertisers and their agencies negotiate increasingly diverse and expansive packages with media operators; media deals might include digital display, digital video, traditional TV, OTT, terrestrial radio, and digital streaming.
Buyers and sellers will almost certainly convene around different currencies to valuate such complex media packages moving forward. As we move further and further into an era of multi-media, multi-screen media buys, new currencies will have to emerge, as single-media currencies will prove inefficient.
This post was previously published in an earlier edition of Metrics Insider.