Secrets Of A Not-So-Secret Society

I’ve been recommending he change the name of the “Secret Society” ever since U.S. International Media programmatic TV chief Mitch Oscar invited me to participate as a reporter to cover it. If you don’t get the irony of having a journalist report on something positioned as secretive, then you don’t know Mitch. Contrary to its name, USIM’s Secret Society is all about inclusion and collaboration, and its goals are to attract and involve the best minds -- and importantly, executioners -- in the industry to advance the business of television advertising and media-buying by leveraging the art and science of programmatic and addressable TV.

That obviously includes a technology, markets, people, and of course, a heck of a lot of data. The real challenge unveiled in special society meet-up of data providers held last October at USIM’s offices is that there is too much of it. And not enough of it. Or at least, not enough of the right kind of it. And figuring out how to get the kind you need from the overabundance of data purporting to unlock insights about targeting relevant audiences via programmatic TV solutions -- well, that’s the rub.

I got to observe some of that rubbing during the society’s data discussion. i came away thinking that the only real solution to the problem would be for the industry to figure out a way to pool various data sources to create a unified database using common definition and standards for defining viewers across platforms and segmentation schemes. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of black boxes processing a lot of subjective data that is difficult to benchmark beyond its application within those platforms and the campaigns executed on them.

In my opinion, what is truly needed to organize the morass of TV’s Big Data is the same thing I’d recommend for taming a much bigger universe of consumer data: a JIC. Right, I know what you’re thinking -- “Just what we need, another acronym.” But a JIC, a joint industry committee, actually predates the litany of ad-tech acronyms that clutter our minds and Lumascapes. It is a simple and logical idea, but one that seems to create anxiety whenever it’s uttered in the U.S. marketplace.

But JICs are used in other parts of the world when the media and advertising industry gets together to set the parameters of what they want to measure, how they want to measure it and who should do the measuring of it. The U.S. market is so reticent to the idea that when the Advertising Research Foundation proposed organizing a JIC to develop better TV measurement a couple of decades ago, Nielsen threatened to sue it on antitrust grounds.

Aside from the bizarre if-six-were-nine logic of a monopoly supplier suing an industry on antitrust grounds for creating competition (only in America, right?), the incident actually demonstrated what unchecked market power Nielsen actually has for keeping the lid on its status quo. The ARF simply backed down, and I can’t recall any serious industry discussion of a U.S. JIC since then.

But the funny thing is that JICs actually exist in the U.S., and they function extremely well. We just don’t call them that. One of the best examples is the out-of-home industry’s Traffic Audit Bureau. In order to improve out-of-home media measurement, the TAB organized all the industry’s stakeholders -- both the supply and demand sides -- to define the optimum method of measuring audience exposure and then to source research companies capable of delivering it. It is a great model and one I’d recommend the TV -- heck the entire audience measurement world, both digital and non-digital -- borrow. 

So I wasn’t surprised when I asked USIM East Coast President Russell Zingale how things were going since the last society meeting and heading into the next one, which takes place on Monday, and he explained that TAB chief Jeff Casper was joining the process. Huh, what’s an out-of-home measurement guy doing at a programmatic TV think tank? Well, aside from the fact that out-of-home media sometimes can be a form of programmatic TV, it’s just about the kind of learning, education and collaboration that the society is trying to spark to move things forward.

“I meet with media reps and association directors on a regular basis for both my benefit and theirs,” Zingale explained to me, adding “Jeff Casper and I were discussing the future of OOH from a client and vendor perspective -- specifically, how soon OOH will have a programmatic offering.

“In the course of our conversations, I related some of the events that had transpired on programmatic TV at our Secret Society meetings. He  was very interested in hearing about how our collaborative approach was paying dividends for the industry and for USIM in particular. We agreed that OOH was behind TV and well behind digital in terms of a programmatic offering, and that he could learn a great deal by listening in on these meetings.  I offered to have him to join us at the next, and he has accepted wholeheartedly."

I’ll be attending the session on Monday and will certainly report back with any news that comes out of it. It is a society that, despite its name, clearly detests secrets.

In keeping with Mitch Oscar’s penchant for irony, Monday’s session happens to be on Feb. 29, which is also the once-every-four-years Leap Day. But I’m sure Oscar will say he plans for it to become an annual event.

4 comments about "Secrets Of A Not-So-Secret Society".
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  1. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, February 29, 2016 at 11:41 a.m.

    If I agreed any more there would be two of me. Every partner, every platform, every data stack uses different nomenclature, data points, universes and samples (to name but a few) and woe to the poor media agency teams who have to put it together and tell an audience delivery story. 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 29, 2016 at 12:32 p.m.

    Dorothy, the sad but true fact is that, a few execptions aside, that most media plans are, in fact, a collection of little and sometime quite large individual media plans---without comparisons across platforms or an overall discussion of total audience delivery, logical alternatives, etc. Clients are used to deciding on their media mixes arbitrarily and the agencies go along with them because it's easier. That's why there is so little pressure to determine common definitions of audience across channels and platforms. Even if such a miracle can be orchestrated and, somehow, researched, it wouldn't be used nearly as much as is thought----the old "apples vs. oranges"  thing, you kow.

  3. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, March 1, 2016 at 1:43 p.m.

    Issue - what individual, or entity (small oin size, as few people as possible) will be in charge of keeping such a JIC on track, since all participants will have other responsibilities, often in some conflict with each other - their "day jobs?" For all the JICs that may have worked, there are probably as many, if not more, that didn't - they withered away from lack of attention, agreement on goals, commitment to stay focused on tasks. For example, anyone remember AdsML?

  4. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, March 4, 2016 at 1:10 p.m.

    Such a common sense insightful article that also underlines the vital necessity of creating JICs in the US to break our unregulated monopoly, Nielsen "... a monopoly supplier suing an industry on antitrust grounds...".  Joe, you could not have said it better!  So where is the FTC or the DoJ when we have needed them?? 
    Ed:  Miracles do and are are happening all around the world just not here!  Different media JICs are looking at developing common currencies/metircs across platforms for the Dorothy's of the world.  Have faith!
    Henry: Based our extensive international experience JICs really work.  Just consider the generally poor quality and egreguious costs of media ratings data in the US, e.g., Spot TV versus the success and overall quality of Eyes-On via TAB and the relatively low investment required for such OOH metrics at the commercial exposure level.  Say no more, nudge nudge. Wink, wink!

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