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 WeatherChannel.com, 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.”