As everyone in the industry should be aware by now, on Sept. 4, the Media Rating Council released the final version of its Phase I cross-media audience measurement standards.
The standards address measurement of video advertising and content delivered through television, OTT and digital, including both desktop and mobile. (Phases II and III will address display advertising and audio advertising, respectively.)
The video standards were eight years in the making, starting with the Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative, which was jointly launched by ANA, the 4As, IAB and MRC. The Video Advertising Bureau also helped shape the standards. MRC released a draft version in March, followed by a 60-day public comment period.
“With the release of these standards, the industry now has clear path to produce cross-platform metrics that will allow for greater analytical insights into video audiences, both within and across platforms, and to better facilitate cross platform advertising commerce,” summed up MRC Executive Director and CEO George W. Ivie in announcing the news. “We believe this represents a major step forward, as well as a culmination of the 3MS initiative efforts that have led to it.”
With one notable exception, the final standards are little changed from the draft. The final 73-page document details standards for viewable impressions; sophisticated invalid traffic (SIVT) filtration; consideration of audio; and duration, among other elements.
In case you hadn’t guessed from the headline, the point of this week's ATV Insider is to share some reactions on these standards from industry leaders. (I requested thoughts on how the standards may influence the development of advanced TV, as well as other observations.) I hasten to stress that what’s reflected here is obviously a very limited sample, comprising executives at a few key industry associations, a measurement company and an independent agency principal.
Time and individual column length precluded reaching out to more executives (and one declined to participate), but the idea was to get the ball rolling on discussion of this important development — in line with my declared intention to make this column as much of a forum as possible. So please note that I encourage more input on the standards, or reactions to the below comments.
It would make little sense to try to summarize the standards here. Rather, I’ll mention a couple of key points in order to provide a bit of context for the comments below, and refer you to the full standards document and the summary in the MRC's release for the rest.
Since viewable impressions are, in MRC’s words, “the minimum required qualifying measurement unit for cross-media advertising reach, frequency and GRP,” for context, I’ll mention the council’s summary on that front: “For combined deduplicated cross-media video measurement, a viewability qualification threshold of 100% of pixels on screen for at least two continuous seconds must be utilized for both digital and linear components.”
It’s also important to mention the aspect of the standards that was changed between the draft and final: duration. This has been the most controversial area and, according to the MRC, was changed based on input — from advertisers, in particular — requesting more flexibility. Here’s the MRC’s explanation of how the duration weighting formula — which, importantly, still will not go into effect until January 2021 — has been modified: “This calculation is now subject to a relative approach (that is, the duration viewable is divided by the advertisement’s creative length) as compared to the previously proposed provision, which used an absolute approach (that is, the duration viewable divided by a static 30-second denominator)." The MRC said that it will conduct more research on duration weighting before it takes effect, and notify the industry if it determines that more refinements are needed.
Now, without further build-up (and with no commentary from me), the comments:
Bill Tucker, Group Executive Vice President, ANA: “The MRC has done an outstanding job of delivering a standard for video that enables marketers to plan for unique reach, manage frequency, eliminate waste and enable resource optimization allocations. The standard now also provides the base for the various advanced TV measurement companies to use as they build measurement products. This will be critical, as the standard ensures a level playing field for marketers.
“MRC deserves praise for the unprecedented and comprehensive process that they have managed. They managed with utmost neutrality the oversight of a process of extensive size and scope. This included a working group of over 300 people and 175 organizations. The process was fully transparent and included substantial opportunity for public comment.”
Eric John, Deputy Director, IAB’s Digital Video Center of Excellence: “The MRC Phase I standards provide an important step forward for understanding and analyzing how audiences engage with video in ways that reflect the specific platform being measured — including how content is served, how ads are delivered and how long ads were or could have been viewed in context of that platform.
“The standard’s support for duration weighting will require the measurement community to implement technologies to support more granular reporting, but will ultimately help enable a path toward better optimization of dynamically delivered ads and content experiences across screens.” (Editor’s note: Tucker is heading the just-announced new ANA division, called Measurement for Marketers, that aims to ensure that the ad industry’s measurement systems “are aligned to the business and measurement agenda of marketers.”)
Greg Stuart, CEO, Mobile Marketing Association: “The concept of duration weighted impressions (DWI) is a giant step backward for advertising effectiveness. It threatens the credibility of marketing at a critical time, when companies are demanding more marketing impact and proof. With the new standard, a lot of marketing teams will likely high-five each other over-achieving what seems like the perfect plan (optimized to DWI), and then wonder why the sales didn’t follow. They won’t have an explanation to satisfy the C-suite or the board.
“Cross-media effectiveness is a complex, multidimensional relationship. We can’t capture it any one factor, especially time. MMA has done in-depth studies of the modern marketing mix for 14 brands in the past five years, and consistently found there is no direct correlation between time and advertising impact. And we’ve found that time/duration can be one of the most misleading metrics of all.
“The new concept of DWI doesn’t factor in attention, where a person is or what they’re doing when they view an ad, what format they view it in, what time of day they’re viewing it, or especially the data or targeting used to direct the ad. Each of these factors can affect impact by as much as three to five times. In the attribution study we did with Allstate, for example, we found that a :15 was twice as cost-effective as a :30 on mobile, which is growing rapidly as a video platform.
“In advanced TV, we should expect to see the same complex dynamics as in mobile and digital. Linear TV doesn’t have the same value between daytime viewing versus premium prime time, so to apply time does not make sense. In ATV, which is attaching data to create a more powerful impression, you can’t equalize to time, as it will exhibit likely variability similar to what we have seen in mobile… anyone who knows multi-touch marketing attribution knows that optimizing to time will cause sales to [suffer].”
Jane Clarke, CEO, Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM): “The industry will need time to adapt to these new standards, since most companies aren’t fully in compliance at this point. I stand behind CIMM's Cross-Platform Measurement Manifesto, which supports the need for standardization in the industry — whatever that might look like.
“The growth of addressable TV will help advance adoption of the new standards, since ATV is more similar to digital ‘impressions-based’ measurement. It’s not that the standard is advancing TV measurement, but rather that data and technology are changing the way TV is bought and sold, which is making TV more similar to digital measurement. This is what is bringing cross-platform video measurement closer to comparable metrics.”
David Algranati, Chief Product Officer, Comscore: “Any standards are a step in the right direction to enable synergy across the traditionally separate measurement frames of TV, connected TV and digital. Once standards are accepted and implemented, measurement builds trust in the ecosystem. Media can be planned, bought and measured with less discord about how media is being measured [in a given channel]. This all translates to better efficiency in reaching audiences in the right places.
“There’s a connection between advanced TV and programmatic in digital. Naturally, they share the objective of reaching the right audience targets as efficiently as possible. But both TV and digital planners also are often segmented where the workflow to plan and activate across platforms requires different tools and measurements. Cross-platform standards clear the path to make this possible and signal to the market that it’s time to start making this potential a reality…
“Duration-weighted metrics introduce a fundamental change from previous measurement orientations. Relative duration weighting will help normalize differential ad units so they can be optimized in linear and digital environments. The duration weighting leads into fractional impressions — a concept that hasn’t been transacted on in the past. We anticipate there will be an adjustment period extending past the deadline on those metrics. Additionally, for efforts that combine video and non-video into total campaign reporting, the duration-weighting approach to video advertising exposure introduces the need for future decisions as to how to report on campaigns that use multiple channels.
“Comscore cross-platform products have aligned measurements based on Comscore’s client input and research experience… [We also have] the underlying technical ability and expertise to configure cross-platform solutions to meet the MRC standards… [including] the technical ability to support the 100% pixel threshold (our research has shown that around 80%-plus of viewable impressions today would meet the 100% pixel coverage criteria)… Work is required to bring assets together from our TV and digital products, and we’re in a good position to move in this direction.”
Principal of an Independent Advertising Agency: “We of course need standards, and I give the MRC all credit for managing to create these amid all of the differing players and agendas. But even taking the most optimistic view, I believe implementing these will easily take 18 to 24 months, depending on how quickly measurement companies — which were certainly involved in helping to shape these — can implement the standards and be ready for a compliance audit. Those that have been building out their capabilities without cutting corners will be ready first. Obviously, no revenue benefits will be realized until MRC gives its blessing. And let’s not forget that this is the first step. Coming up with the standards for display and audio advertising could also take years.”