Column: Measurement - Cultivating New Media Sciences

  • by May 25, 2005
BY Mark Green

Why is media planning becoming an art form again? Twenty years ago, media science began its ascendance and injected empirical analyses into the artful form of media planning. Digital technology has changed the dynamics of innovation by making media platforms independent. The result is a viral epidemic. Media is spreading across and inventing new platforms from emerging technologies as it replicates and mutates.

Take radio, for example. Five years ago, radio was rather straightforward - it was over-the-air frequencies and measured by Arbitron via weekly diaries. National radio was measured with day-after phone interviews. Today, it's over-the-air plus satellite, Internet streaming, podcasting, wireless, and likely something that I haven't heard of yet.

And despite Arbitron's best efforts to modify its measurements with personal people meter technology (PPM), radio is still measured by weekly diaries and day-after phone interviews. Let's forget the technology and editing issues that ppm is struggling through, and ignore the fact that its planned national rollout smells like a quota sample. Innovation requires breaking a few rules at the beginning. Let's pretend PPM works, and its measurements are actually representative of something.

ppm changes the measurement game. It creates a single point of information, while introducing the challenge of encoding and identifying sources. PPM works by identifying encoded sounds within its range and organizing them into currencies that value media. Arbitron, in its joint venture with Nielsen Media Research, has good resources to get this done for traditional media. Nielsen has an extensive catalog of standard television broadcasts, while Arbitron has traditional radio covered. And, embedding a Global Positioning Satellite locator into PPM will link it to catalogs of out-of-home displays.

Can this measurement technique control the digital media virus? What are the incentives for new platforms and channels to share their self-tracked audiences? How is Arbitron-Nielsen going to handle sample size challenges as media fragment and personal media environments emerge?

Consumers have already taken control with digital technologies. They customize and manage their own media environments. Digital video recorders that allow consumers to easily skip commercials are very real. Embedded distributor codes, alongside time stamps, provide a good foundation for tracking programming content, but what about commercials? Adding commercial signatures might get the job done. ppm is a great stab at innovation, but can it handle the digital media virus? Since the ppm is an audio-based monitoring system, the signals would need to be audio-based.

The complexity of media consumption behaviors has overwhelmed the media measurement sciences. While Arbitron and Nielsen Media Research grapple with the changing dynamics of radio and television, digital media is mutating into uncharted territory. Meanwhile, media planners still have to evaluate the plethora of options and make decisions. Overwhelmed, they often make decisions from limited information and on instinct. This is not necessarily bad. Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Blink" and "The Tipping Point" makes the case that experienced practitioners make good "instinctive" choices when confronted with decisions. Media science is losing control of the digital media virus, and the instinctive art of media planning is filling the data void. As Jim Stengel, chief marketing officer at Procter & Gamble points out, the marketing model is broken.

We need new media sciences to manage the digital media virus and get financial decisions grounded in facts again. Everybody sees this challenge, but what about today? Gladwell warns that only experienced practitioners make good instinctive choices. Personally, I would recommend checking a practitioner's experience before empowering them to helm marketing and media decisions.

Mark Green is senior vice president, media services, Spectra/VNU Global Modeling & Analytics, and the founding partner of the Media Learning Institute. (

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