The Media Rating Council’s proposed Cross-Media Audience Measurement Standards, especially its plan to implement “duration weighting” in 2021, has produced confusion and some concern among industry stakeholders. The following interview with George Ivie, MRC executive director-CEO, was conducted to set the record straight, clarify the standard, and explain why duration weighting make sense.
Tony Jarvis: Can you provide the current status of the standard (Phase 1 Video) and feedback, and/or issues you’ve encountered in trying to finalize it?
George Ivie: The [standard] sets the foundation for business processes, methods, calculations and disclosures necessary for the measurement of ad and video content across all video platforms and channels -- linear TV, VOD, time-shifted, OTT and streaming video -- on an apples-to-apples basis.
The standard, when implemented by measurement vendors, will enable advertisers, agencies and media organizations to understand unduplicated reach across these platforms and channels, as well as set the processes to manage frequency across these environments -- something that is extremely difficult to do.
The standard addresses measurement granularity, quality of data for audience characteristics, raises the viewable impression pixel threshold to 100%, requires sophisticated invalid traffic filtration for all aspects, measurement of duration (enabling various methods), inclusion of audio, as well as guidance for quality methods of deduplication among various platforms and channels.
MRC is in the process of finalizing the standard after a lengthy public comment period. The standard is substantial, with about 70 pages of content and a significant level of detail that provides value in the form of guidance for sound measurement of cross-media video.
The vast majority of this document is not being debated; essentially having no negative comments from the working group participants or the public. We are now focused on one remaining area requiring attention, where we have introduced a new metric timed to be effective in 2021: "duration weighted viewable impression."
This new metric has received a lot of attention and driven debate among a wide range of industry practitioners. We are working to address concerns and commit ourselves to a process to resolve questions and finalize these requirements by driving as much consensus as possible. Other industry organizations have committed to working with MRC on further research over time, which will help inform the future implementation of duration weighting.
We expect to finalize the Cross-Media Standards in August. It is likely this will contain a provision for “duration weighted viewable impressions,” but this aspect will not be effective until a future date.
We will embark on later phases of the cross-media measurement project, to incorporate display and audio-oriented media into the cross-media guidance in the future. The exact timing is to be determined but definitely only after finalizing the Phase 1 video component.
Jarvis: What does duration weighting cover and what does it not?
Ivie: The duration weighted viewable impression is a counting metric MRC has proposed. It would provide proof-of-performance information on how long the viewable impression conditions persist. Specifically, for the entire ad, or in part thereof, as a ratio to a denominator, either fixed or relative to the ad duration.
“Duration weighted viewable impressions” have nothing to do with whether the user saw the ad, liked the ad, disliked the ad, or any other form of audience or outcome measurement.
The duration weighted viewable impression is being carefully differentiated from outcome metrics in the standards document. We believe duration, including duration weighting, can be used as one of the inputs into outcome metrics. However, this has to be done thoughtfully, since value and duration are not necessarily related on a linear basis. We have seen fairly strong evidence that duration is meaningful to value, but the relationship varies based on a large number of factors: creative quality, placement of brand message, attentiveness, and many others.”
Jarvis: Is duration weighting, as proposed, an unfounded leap based on both Advertising Research Foundation’s 1961 guidelines “Towards Better Media Comparisons” and its 2003 “Making Better Media Decisions,” especially if substantially based on ROI?
Ivie: MRC is not wading into that conceptual framework at the present time. This would be a matter for ARF to consider, rather than MRC.
However, important and relevant to our current cross-media standards draft, a duration weighted viewable impression has nothing to do with ad attentiveness. It’s merely a measure of the extent to which the viewable state -- which is strictly a hardware/browser state -- persisted through the duration of the video advertisement.
Jarvis: Based on the ad industry’s use of the term “impressions” in audience measurement, is the term “viewable impression” the bête noire in these proposed standards?
Ivie: Interesting question. MRC has used the term “impression” in a context that does not include audience or outcome implications, along with IAB, for over a decade. However, you are asking if the user community may be confused simply because that term generally is used in the context of audiences. That may be an issue, and a point we should consider in writing our definitions and making things clear in the written language, although we are not likely to use a different term at this point.
Some on the seller-side continue to consider viewable impressions to be a bête noire, but not MRC. Just a few years ago, the industry was trading on served impressions for digital. We found 40% to 50% of all impressions didn’t even make a single pixel or any amount of time in the viewable port. We believe they should not have been counted, nor serve as an input into outcome/audience metrics.
The viewable impression initiative cleaned that up. Sellers and buyers may still squabble about the parameters (e.g., should it be one pixel for any amount of time, should it be 50% of pixels, 100%, should the time be longer or shorter?), but one cannot ignore the obvious benefits of eliminating advertising waste at the very core.
The use of the term "viewable impression," and the requirement for viewability as an input into cross-media metrics, has not been a point of contention among the vast majority of participants and commenters.
Jarvis: If duration weighting is to be embraced as part of a conditional “proof-of-performance” or “accounting measure” for subsequent audience measurement or payment verification, should a “complete duration” be simply based on the duration specification by the media seller or like the TV industry’s 30-second ad?
Ivie: The draft cross media standard addresses and codifies a metric called a “complete.” However, realistically we know that many -- at times most -- impressions do not have the viewable conditions the persist to completion of the ad. We needed a measure of proof of performance for less than a complete, because those exposures, beyond the base viewable impression threshold, do have meaning and should be counted. We believe they are a viable and important input into downstream outcome metrics, and they have potential value; they should therefore be counted.
The remaining debate around duration weighting, among those who favor it, is whether it should be based on the creative length (relative) or another fixed denominator (absolute). Our public comment draft of the standards proposed an absolute method, based on research that indicated potential bias toward short form may occur with a relative approach. Recent feedback from the working group and the public has emphasized the logic and simplicity of a relative approach. We are considering this when finalizing the overall calculation requirements.
Jarvis: Is the current confusion about duration weighting driven by the “need to remove apparent bias” resulting from very different “viewable impressions” across different screens, in different environments with often different creative treatments?
Ivie: I don’t believe today’s [effectiveness or outcome measures like lift and ROI] are solely reliant on duration as a variable. Most I'm aware of incorporate other types of campaign information beyond duration. Overall, I believe that should be the case -- that duration is only one in a series of inputs that could be used to inform outcome.
However, it is clear that duration and outcome are related in ways difficult to determine and related in ways that depend on a possibly large numbers of factors. Ad agencies have dealt with the relevance, impact, value and contribution of different-sized ads (size in its many dimensions and environments beyond duration!) for an eternity, based on the unique brand marketing requirements, objectives, category position, timing, budgets, efficiencies, reach, etc.
One thing we do believe about outcome metrics. None of them are based on industry standard processes, since no standards exist yet, and just as important, none of them are audited. Don’t forget about that source of “noise.”
For this first Cross-Media Audience Measurement Standards phase strictly for video, I believe we have made a reasonable attempt to create counting metrics that are fair and use consistent viewable impression parameters (now changed to 100% of pixels). For the next phases of cross-media, where we incorporate other media types, such as display and audio, beyond video, I believe your question will be much more relevant and challenging.