Madison Avenue's New Impressionistic Movement

After a brief flirtation with higher-order metrics, some major media are pushing to revert their advertising currencies to impressions-based measurement, albeit for different reasons.

The Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) has been lobbying to scrap Nielsen’s long-standing ratings in favor of impressions for local TV advertising buys, and last week reiterated it, pushing out a statement from Disney’s ABC-owned TV station group to use audience impressions to “evaluate, sell and buy local broadcast video.”

That was followed by a statement by local TV station sales rep firm Katz appealing to “national buyers” to use impressions as “a common currency for local cross-platform execution.”

The local TV industry push comes as the out-of-home media industry trade association, the Out-of-Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA), released new audience measurement standards based on impressions.

The moves follow nearly a century of advertising industry attempts to to move media measurement to higher-order metrics -- like “exposure,” “viewability,” “likelihood-to-see,” “eyes-on” -- to make advertising in various media even more accountable in order to tie it to explicit outcomes (like actions, conversions, purchases, or changes in human behavior).

The out-of-home industry’s shift is especially perplexing, because the industry’s official currency -- the audience estimates provided by Geopath (formerly the Traffic Audit Bureau) -- had already moved beyond impressions to a likelihood-to-see basis.

Equally perplexing was how the OAAA released its new -- or is it old? -- standard, unveiling it on the eve of a jointly hosted annual event with Geopath, a move that prompted Geopath President Kym Frank to step down.

In the aftermath, OAAA President-CEO Anna Bager published a mission statement asserting it gave Geopath an opportunity to “collaborate on or engage with us,” before it issued its impressions-based standards.

And as some observers have noted, the OAAA and Geopath share some common board members, though the OAAA’s are exclusively sell-side media suppliers, while Geopath’s board is comprised of a mix of advertisers, agencies and media sellers, making it the closest thing to a JIC -- or joint industry committee -- the U.S. has ever seen in audience measurement.

It’s still not clear to me why the ad executives on Geopath’s board would support the move, but after discussing the events of the last couple of weeks, the consensus seems to be that the OAAA’s Bager -- formerly a long-term Interactive Advertising Bureau executive -- wants to make out-of-home measurement more easily translatable into the metrics the digital advertising industry uses -- if for no better reason than to get OOH metrics into the same planning, buying and programmatic trading platforms used by digital media buyers.

To do that, my sources say, the OAAA needed to revert to the common denominator of impressions.

While some say that’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water, others say there is some upside for out-of-home media in the move too.

Interestingly, the Media Rating Council (MRC) -- a truly tripartite and objective industry arbiter -- has been working on its own new standards for out-of-home media measurement.

Still in draft form, the MRC’s standards are not likely to actually nail down a single common currency, but will most likely be a series of standards for different levels of out-of-home media exposure:

  • Basic traffic counts (ie. impressions).

  • A higher order based on a “viewable impression” (similar to what the MRC did initially for digital media).

  • And possibly even higher orders including likelihood-to-see, eyes-on, etc.

The MRC is expected to release its final draft of new out-of-home media measurement standard in about a month and is expected to finalize them by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the local TV industry’s embrace of impressions appears to be similar for some, but also for very different reasons. But mainly, it is because the local TV industry has finally seen the writing on the wall and has accepted the fact that its audience-measurement standard is going to change anyway, so it might as well look at the upside.

The backstory here is that Nielsen has been planning to include so-called “broadband-only” homes in its TV ratings samples for a while now -- and following some postponements -- says it’s ready to begin that in October.

The inclusion of broadband-only homes will immediately have a pronounced effect of lowering linear TV’s share of viewing in Nielsen’s ratings, because broadband-only homes don’t watch linear TV.

So what’s the upside? Well, local TV stations also distribute “over-the-top” (OTT) digitally, and have streaming services too, so there will be some incremental gain from the digital ad impressions they sell on those platforms.

While Nielsen will continue to report conventional TV ratings and shares, its the local TV industry’s hope that advertisers and agencies will continue to uitlize those metrics for planning and for calculating reach and frequency, but that commingled linear and digital audience impressions will become the coin of their advertising realm for negotiating, guaranteeing and posting advertising buys.

So the good news is that more media will be operating on the foundation of a common currency.

The bad news is it will be the lowest common denominator possible: and impression.

8 comments about "Madison Avenue's New Impressionistic Movement".
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  1. Jerome Samson from 3.14 RMG, June 7, 2021 at 11:13 a.m.

    Thanks for the overview, Joe. Mathematically speaking, ratings and impressions are the same thing, so what's the objective here?

    1) It helps monetize small audiences that go unreported by Nielsen (or get rounded up to the nearst tenth). But that ignores the fact that those audiences go unreported because they're outside confidence intervals, not because they don't exist. In a panel-based measurement system like Nielsen's, statistics are important. Less so in a comprehensive census-based system, but we don't have one yet.

    2) It's an invitation to ignore frequency. Not saying everyone will do it, but if you mean to turn a blind eye to duplicated audience, it's an easier jump from impressions than it is from ratings or shares.

    Hard to imagine that buyers are very pleased with these moves :p

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., June 7, 2021 at 11:26 a.m.

    @Jerome Samson: TV ratings are a percentage of an audience that watch a TV show.

    I think the objective may be somewhat different for the OAAA and the local TV industry, but I think they're both trying to find a better way of representing the gross value of their mediums relative to others.

  3. Jerome Samson from 3.14 RMG, June 7, 2021 at 11:41 a.m.

    Thanks for the pointer, Joe! (I'm a Nielsen alum, I'm familiar with the definition of a TV rating ;). Call it 'share' then, and my points are the same. You're calling it 'gross value' and I agree that's what it is. A metric ton of iPhones weighs the same as a metric ton of scrap metal :p

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 7, 2021 at 1:11 p.m.

    Joe, the real reason---in my humble opinion---for the move by the TV stations is they are concerned about the way buyers use GRPs and the way Nielsen reports them. Many years ago it ws decided by Arbitron and Nielsen to round off local ratings to the nearest whole percentage point due to the hoplessly small panel or sample sizes used in most markets. So a 2.5  rating became a 3 and a 2.4 rating became a 2. Worse, a .4 rating became zero. So many years later, with rating fragmentation causing many local and syndicated or network shows to to come in at .4 or lower---especially for the so-called "key" buying "demo" of 18-49---the stations believe that they are not getting full credit for the eyeballs they are supposedly delivering to the buyers when a number of shows on a schedule turn up with zero ratings---even though they "reach" a small number of people, anyway. So instead of pressuring Nielsen to carry out its ratings to one decimal point as it does nationally, the stations want to "ditch" ratings and switch tio "impressions" which are based entirely on the same sample's findings. Allof the rest---about facilitating "cross platform" comparisons, for example, is a smokescreen. 

    Unfortunately for the stations, media planners and advertisers will still express their goals in terms of GRPs and now, buyers will have the task of taking their "local TV impressions" and converting them back to ratings, anyway, so they can show that they attained the desired goals. By including those eyeballs where ratings were below .5, total GRP attainmnent will be slightly easier which may mean that it now takes fewer---not more----spots to attain the desired GRP goals. Is that good for spot TV ad sales? I wonder.

  5. mark sherman from Sherman Media, June 7, 2021 at 2:59 p.m.

    Bang on Ed !
    These two developments-- OOH and Local TV)  are completely unrelated, other that in both instances they are misguided;

    1. The OOH instance to boost their numbers by removing the quality (viewability/ eyes on) of a location from the measurement mix.

    2. The Local TV instance to monetize the sleeping 1's (dashes).

    The TV guys have a point (pardon the pun), the OOH folks are just looking to bilk advertisers, which doesnt seem to me like a smart path. 

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 7, 2021 at 5:01 p.m.

    Mark, what is obvious to me, at least, is that media space and time sellers for the most part don't really understand how media is planned. So they think that puffing up the numbers means more ad revenue---which is often not the case. For example, magazines warmly embraced the total audience concept which "Life Magazine" initiated in the late 1940s in its battles with "The Saturday Evening Post" and "Look" for ad dollars. And once syndicated  total audience studies became the norm in the 1960s magazines of all persuasions found that their "readership" increased two fold over their primary audiences--those who actually paid for the publication. Then, when the recent reading methodology again produced a huge lift in claimed readership, it replaced the "through-the-book method, producing more huge increases in readership---especially for monthlies. All of which meant that if an advertiser wanted 100 GRPs per month from magazines this could be attained with many fewer insertions and fewer magazines---not the other way around. Couple  bigger "readership" numbers with massive rate cutting and the result was a steadily declining share of national ad dollars for magazines. Where did most of that money go? To TV, of course.

    The OOH turn to traffic counts---err "impressions"---follows in step with the magazine way of thinking and the same can be said for local TV. Here we have Nielsen reporting quarter hour audience---not average minute ratings---and commercial zappers  are included. Also, broadband-only homes, which are light TV users, are not included and now we will have "impressions". Will any of that stimulate ad spend?

  7. mark sherman from Sherman Media replied, June 7, 2021 at 6:13 p.m.

    Mark, what is obvious to me, at least, is that media space and time sellers for the most part don't really understand how media is planned. So they think that puffing up the numbers means more ad revenue---

    How true Ed....the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    When Canada's PMB moved from through the book to recent reading, the "reported"audience numbers went through the roof....vendors popped champagne and held parties. Got drunk on their kool aid.

    It's quite pitiful that as an industry we have failed miserably to provide advertisers with a clear answer about wtf they are getting for their media dollars.....all 60 years later, with little progress, and few enlightened. Just sad.

  8. John Grono from GAP Research, June 7, 2021 at 9:44 p.m.

    One unadressed issue is that 'impressions' can mean two things.   Ratings doesn't have multiple meanings (in media), if understood and used properly.

    One meaning of impressions is technical, and one is behavioural.

    For example, a SSP may serve 1 million ad impressions.   Those impressions may be served to devices that are not in use (darn, there goes some more 'bings' on my mobile as I type this ... forget 'em.)   It's a spray-and-pray number.

    Technically TV broadcasters serve their signal to every antenna in their broadcast footprint.   But many of those antenna signals serve TVs that are not switched on .. or may not be tuned to that programme (or ad) ... and may not have anyone in front of the TV.   That is why we don't count them.   There are similar pitfalls in online ad serving.

    The more meaningful impression is one that is served, seen and sensed.   Currently, DOOH, TV etc are in the served area.   In OOH (and particularly DOOH) the served is OTS, the seen is LTS.   In TV the focus is on programme ratings, so you can think of the rating as an LTS for the programme but an OTS for the ad.   If you have minute-by-minute data you can derive an LTS of the ad-break, but as Ed routinely points out - how many people leave the room without logging-out.  

    The thing is neither measure the 'sensed' (i.e. attention, action etc.).

    I contend that the medium has primarily done their job in getting the ad seen - the outtake by the recipient is not the responsibility of the medium as they don't control the brand content (and neither should they).

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