Is TV's Latest Cry For Help A Call for Attribution?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, August 30, 2017

A recent Wall Street Journal article unearthed a little-known trick by TV networks to hide low performance from Nielsen and boost their average viewership ratings on days they expect viewership to be down (holiday weekends or national sports events).

By spelling the name of their shows incorrectly on those days — for instance, “Nitely News” vs. “Nightly News” — Nielsen views the fake show as different from the real one, leaving the real show’s overall average viewership rating unscathed.   

Networks are naturally protective of their ratings because viewership has a disproportionate influence on their GRP, which is still the primary TV metric for understanding an ad's performance and influence on audiences.

While this new practice by networks is questionable, it reveals bigger issues — namely, TV’s outsized focus on audience size and its lack of standards for measuring ad performance, audience influence, and the impact of advertisers’ investments on their KPIs. 



Marketers’ move to digital was never in response to TV reaching less people. Instead, they gravitated toward digital channels because they measured audience behavior in addition to creating awareness among increasingly segmented consumers.

Brands fell in love with these channels because they told them what their consumers were doing, not just the possibility the viewers might do something.

While TV, unlike digital, wasn’t built with measurement in mind, marketers have become accustomed to a granular level of knowledge about their audiences and are now demanding the same from TV. For advertisers, this problem has finally reached its tipping point, and there is no better change agent than customer demand to get traditional TV up to speed.

Here are the questions advertisers are demanding that TV answer:

What did my audience do as a result of seeing my TV ad(s)?

On digital channels, advertisers can attribute specific ads to specific actions and determine how active and engaged audiences are. This attribution data allows them to understand which ads and channels are driving results and which ones aren’t. They can then refine their media buys.

Gaining this level of understanding of the TV viewer is very different — and far more difficult — than gaining the same understanding of the online or mobile user. One primary reason is that household-level data is crucial to unlocking true “TV attribution” and answering key questions, such as: How many times did my target audience see my ad? What was the resulting action from that household? Did they visit a nearby store? Go to our website? Follow us on social?

By marrying smart TV data with household level IP activity, TV moves one step closer to a measuring direct response and ROI of TV spend.

 Where did my best audience outcomes originate?

If limiting a TV advertiser’s knowledge to market, audience size, age and gender is not enough to effectively measure a national campaign, then local attribution is even further behind. For the many industries that still rely heavily on in-store traffic (Auto, CPG, Big Box Retail) to drive sales, half the data story is essentially missing. They need to know how national and local campaigns influenced market-level revenues.

New metrics are emerging to help brands compare their TV performance in select markets with first-party data, including point-of-sale transactions, brick-and-mortar foot traffic, dealership visits and other in-person engagement.

This geo-specific level of measurement helps advertisers understand not only which behaviors their ad investments inspired, but which markets resonated best with consumers. As a result, these measurement techniques also reveal which markets were over-invested in or overlooked completely.

Should I move my ad dollars elsewhere?

With advertisers investing nearly $70B a year on TV, it’s no wonder the industry is starting to scrutinize how TV proves its value. But it’s important to remember that not all TV appearances are necessarily paid. Earned media plays an important role in the path-to-purchase. 

On digital channels, there are several platforms dedicated to helping advertisers determine where earned mentions of their brand occurred—Google being one. But when it comes to TV, spoken mentions and logo appearances are far more difficult to track and measure.

This was traditionally monitored manually by people whose job it was to literally watch TV endlessly and count every appearance and mention of a brand.

But thanks to the advent of image-detection technology and access to closed-caption data, there are now platforms that give advertisers a nearly laser precise understanding of where their brand appears, and most importantly—what those mentions are worth in media and audience values.

If they like what they see, they now have the data to devise an earned-media strategy around TV to create more opportunities.

As an industry, we’ve experienced huge breakthroughs in targeting and measuring digital platforms—leveraging the power of data-management platforms, first-party data, point-of-sale data, IP addresses, device IDs, you name it. Now it’s time for traditional TV to acknowledge that advertisers, like their audiences, want to move freely between the many channels they're active on.

Therefore, TV metrics need to be at least as good or better than digital channels to fit into the interconnected marketing ecosystem.


3 comments about "Is TV's Latest Cry For Help A Call for Attribution?".
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  1. Harold Geller from Ad-ID LLC, August 30, 2017 at 10:15 a.m.

    This is an excellent Op-Ed!  As an industry we must become more attuned to the need for granular measurement.  In addition to the consumer, and device IDs, we must adopt support standard IDs for both Ads - Ad-ID ( and content - EIDR ( these ID systems are widely adopted, and must become more widely deployed in the measurement and operations ecosystems.

  2. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, August 30, 2017 at 10:54 a.m.

    One of the key metrics that all kinds of advertisers should be using to measure the effectiveness of their advertising is some very easy-to-use math called "The Barrows Popularity Factor." The math will actually let you quantify the relationship between your advertising and sales and all kinds of businesses can use the math to help them make a lot more money. You can read more about "The Barrows Popularity Factor" online.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 30, 2017 at 1:23 p.m.

    I'm sorry but I have to disagree. TV advertisers are not "demanding" that time sellers tell them what happened every time someone "sees" an ad because, for the most part, they are waging extended campaigns to gain awareness, get their basic message across and, hopefully, to motivate people to try their brands or, if they are already brand users, to reinforce those convictions and get them to stock up. For most TV advertisers---like 95% of them---it's not about determining exactly what everyone who "saw" a given commercial placement did immediately---or almost immediately---in response, it's the cummulative impact of the campaign as a whole--as it builds, then plateaus and, later begins to wear out its effectivness---in which case a new positioning strategy and creative approach is usually called for. We are not talking direct response here,but branding----the two are not the same thing.

    As regards advertisers abandoning TV to move into digital, actually, if one notes what's been happening, quite the reverse is true. Major branding advertisers are saying that digital media buying is a mess or worse, and that they have not found digital media to work effectively for them. So lets not be mislead by the "ad" revenue tallies, which include huge amounts of non-branding dollars, and let's not be confused by the hype about the 18-34s "deserting TV"-----they have always been TV's lightest viewers and, from a marketing standpoint are not the key sales drivers for most advertisers. 

    Of course, TV should try to provide more and better information about its audience---though, at present, the focus seems to be mainly on device usage, not viewing---and people are the targets of all advertisers, not TV sets. But even as "linear TV" explores new ways to buy and sell time, whatever it comes up with must balance the needs of both buyers and sellers-----not just the former. It's a mistake to try to force digital's direct response template upon "linear TV"----square pegs don't fit readily into round holes. Both diciplines have merit; both can contribute to our skill as media professionals---it's not my way ( digital ) or the highway.

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