Media Researchers' Takes On VAB's Cross-Media Metric Proposal

This week — timed to make a splash before next week’s digital video Newfronts — the Video Advertising Bureau released a research report that proposes the adoption of average audience per minute as a “common currency” for evaluating audience claims across television and digital media.

The metric combines three measurements applicable across media: Unique audience is multiplied by average minutes viewed, then divided by the total minutes in the time period being evaluated.

According to the VAB, a trade association of broadcast and cable networks and MVPDs, when this “apples to apples” method is used, it reveals exaggerated audience claims for Internet platforms and non-TV devices. VAB reports that TV’s audience per minute averages 45.4 million versus just 12.7 million for smartphones and 9 million for PCs, and that in any given minute, TV accounts for 95% of video consumption among adults overall (and 88% among Millennials). It also offers specific examples showing TV beating competitive platforms, including Facebook (by a factor of 7 to 1), Pandora (15 to 1) and YouTube (15 to 1).   



Audience Buying Insider asked three respected media research analysts for their takes on the VAB’s proposal.

Foster: All Impressions Not The Same
VAB “is right on the mark in underlining that we not only need cross-platform measurement, we also need to evaluate this idea that all impressions are equal,” says Frank Foster, a consultant who most recently served as SVP, general manager for TiVo Research and Analytics. “I would posit that they are not equal — that an impression associated with a 30-second ad with a $2-million production budget that’s viewed within premium content, on a 70-inch TV screen, is worth more than an impression associated with a low-quality video ad viewed on a 4-inch phone screen.

“That said,” Foster adds, “we do need standards — but there’s no rush. Until a couple of years ago, we had no cross-platform measurement. I would prefer an open approach, where we don’t necessarily default to the dominant providers, but also give new companies with new ideas a chance to devise solutions. Let’s spend a few years trying secondary metrics with secondary guarantees associated with a variety of approaches in the real world. Spend the money, share the results, and let buyers and sellers determine and negotiate what works, rather than trying to figure it all out in three days behind closed doors.”

Feldinger:Buyers And Sellers Will Likely Decide
“Without a doubt, there is ease of use in adopting a uniform metric to measure content consumption on all screens,” says Sheryl Feldinger, a media measurement and market research specialist who served in several executive positions at NBCUniversal, most recently SVP strategic marketing and metrics. “And when the content is of the same duration, mathematically, that works. Hence the interest in ‘pure program ratings’ that remove the ad load — which often varies in duration by platform — so that the same exact content can be measured in VOD, linear and other formats.

“I would add that I agree with a point made recently by [veteran media researcher] Bruce Goerlich: Using the same metrics to count platforms doesn’t mean that they will be valued in the same way,” Feldinger says. “I also think that the metrics will most likely be sorted out by buyers and sellers.”

But she cites one factor likely to pose challenges. “Having worked for large media publishers, I know that they distribute content on all platforms,” she says. “And there’s a huge amount of digital content available in apps and online, beyond what’s available on television.

“If I own a major media brand, I want to know how many consumers are touching my brand, in reach and average minute audience terms. That extends beyond the accumulation of consumption of the long-form video content that was televised. And that raises a question that I’m not sure VAB’s proposal addresses: If I spend a few minutes every morning visiting, will my visit contribute to an average audience for the morning day part, or how would that be counted toward total brand consumption?”

Harvey: Good To Go Back To Basics
Media research consultant Bill Harvey points out that while averaging TV audiences by minute is the dominant approach, audiences can also be averaged on a by-second basis, which provides more precision when commercials are shorter than a minute. (The TRA viewership/buying habits matching system, which he co-founded — part of TiVo Research since 2012 — aggregates set-top box data by second.)

That aside, he says, “This average-minute approach that VAB is proposing for cross-media comparison is very sensible, because it puts everything on a level playing field. And that debunks myths, like the myth of Facebook having bigger viewership than television, which have resulted from people not using a comparable yardstick. It’s a good idea to go back to basics.” 

5 comments about "Media Researchers' Takes On VAB's Cross-Media Metric Proposal".
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  1. David Wiesenfeld from Tru Optik, April 29, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    Like the "avg audience per minute" concept in general, though it almost certainly favors linear TV, which is more likely to be on with no one in the room (or no one paying attention) than time-shifted or on-demand TV.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 29, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    You are right about unknown percentages of "linear TV" audiences who are not in the room during commercials, David. Although time buyers and national TV sellers use so-called commercial minute ratings as their negotiating "currency" something like 10% of the "viewers" aren't even in the room for an average commercial while others, who the system counts as "viewing", stopped watching a while ago but failed to log themselves out of the audience in their peoplemeters. An even larger segment, that remains in the room, ceases to pay attention and/or does something else during commercial breaks. Still, the peoplemeter system does require people to indicate whether they are "watching" when a show is tuned in, which allows us to have a pretty good idea who the ad viewer might be.

    Thee real problem arises when we try to measure other "platforms"---meaning digital. Here it is not such an easy matter to identify the content viewer as all we are getting---pending the development of some methodology that replicates the "people" aspect of TV's peoplemeter---is device usage, not viewing. Unless the audience signs in and qualifies itself in some manner, we do not know who is watching, let alone how attentive they might be.

    If the industry goes to a currency that accepts device/set usage as its common base, this greatly inflates the presumed audience of digital, which usually has only a single user compared to linear TV which has more than one viewer about a third of the time, Also, there is reason to question the comparability of device usage data across platforms---especially in "granular", second by second, terms. Again, this probably favors digital, unfairly over "linear TV".

    I hope that whoever makes the final decision about cross platform measurement recognizes that while device usage may be easier to obtain, it does not really give us an even playing field for comparisons across platforms. A really definitive "viewing" metric would do this.

  3. Hannu Verkasalo from Verto Analytics Inc., May 1, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

    While this is a good idea – there has been a long-lasting discussion on the creation of metrics that put TV and digital on a comparable scale – this does not come with easy deployment. One of the areas we would point out as problematic are the ways to collect such engagement data in the first place across all platforms. With traditional TV measurement it was always difficult to validate if the person (and who was the person?) was in fact in front of the TV when programs were watched according to the measurement data. And while smartphones are personal devices and therefore the same problem of a multi-user screen is not present, it poses the challenge of separating background traffic from foreground media exposure. While we have now finally built a methodology to track foreground usage and validate that the user actually did spend time with a particular video stream or app across all key digital device platforms, it still remains challenging to put all that data into a comparison with traditional, or even new (PPM type), TV measurement data – the definition of metrics is one thing, the actual deployment of the measurement technology and methodology is another thing. Dr. Hannu Verkasalo / CEO / Verto Analytics Inc.

  4. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, May 2, 2016 at 6:02 p.m.

    Run don't walk to Solutions
    This rich dialogue underlines the importance of what level of measurement is actually required (it varies by situation and marketing objective) and ensuring that we use the same level of measurement across all media channels notably for cross platform evaluations.  The ARF Media Model (Bill's, "Back to Basics") serves as a foundational guide for either advertising or program measurement.  It differentiatied "pure" media effects, i.e. vehicle circulation - vehicle esposure - ad (or program) exposure versus media + creative effects, i.e. ad attentiveness - ad communication - ad pursuasion versus media + creative + brand response effects, i.e. ad response - sales response. 
    Unless these ARF buidling blocks are the framework for media measurement decisions  the industry will continue to wrestle with metrics that are simply not comparable or harmonized.  As Ed Papazian remined us all once again measuring the device (set top box, mobile, etc.) does not provide "viewing" as is often claimed.  It could be argued that a PPM device potentially delivers  both program and ad "hearing" and could easily provide average minute audience.  Perhaps we also need to be reminded of the significant difference between contacts/ Eyes-On/ad exposure, now a universal OOH media metric, and impacts or ad communication which first require real actual exposure or viewing"to brilliant meangingful creative that will effect the exposure generated.  It is this measurement level confusion especially "contacts" vs. "impacts" that usually underpins, "all impressions are not the same".  It is this difference that resulted in the use of impact weights on impressions when I was at Mediacom to try and level the cross media playing field.  Thanks Frank.  However based on Sheryl's great question for "major brands"  surely we need to run to solutions, not walk?!

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 2, 2016 at 6:40 p.m.

    Tony, even the PPMs are suspect as regards TV viewing. You can't assume that the PPM panelist is "watching" everytime the device picks up an audio signal from a TV channel---especialy for out-of-home venues, but in-home as well. I would guess that there's a built in inflation of average minute audience in the PPM system of anywhere from 15-20% and more so for younger audiences by virtue of their increased out-of-home activities. Now if the system was modified so a prompting sound alerted the panel member to identify him/herself as a "viewer" when a channel's signal was identified, that might be worth looking into in terms of comparability with TV's peoplemeter methodology.

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