When the history of audience measurement eventually gets written, 2022 will be remembered as the year when Madison Avenue officially scrapped long-standing methods of industry self-regulation in favor of ones based on certifications by its suppliers.

It will also be remembered as the year when the world’s biggest advertisers and agencies finally lost their minds and agreed to do business on the basis of their suppliers grading their own homework -- because, you know, it’s just easier that way.

If you look back at some long-term and recent events, you probably could have seen the inflection point coming.

Long-term, the ad industry has increasingly accepted doing business on the basis of self-reported data processed by third-party suppliers that have been “certified” by the big digital platforms they spend billions of dollars on: Google/YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, etc.

The ad industry has long groused about that imbalance, but has begrudgingly accepted it because that’s how “walled gardens” do business -- doling out metrics and performance data from their own black boxes -- because that was the only way they could buy them.

Now the big legacy broadcast media companies want to do the same, leaning into and repositioning themselves for their digital future, and taking a page out of the platform’s playbook.

“Today, NBCU continues the next step in the journey to provide marketers optionality when it comes to measuring the value of their media investments reflecting a modern TV landscape, announcing their first certified measurement partner, as an alternative currency,” NBC Universal said in a press release issued last month, which singled out Publicis Media as the first agency holding company agreeing to test the new ratings this quarter, just in time for NBCU’s Winter Olympics coverage.

That release followed weeks of off-the-record briefings with trade reporters spinning them on how NBCU had been carefully developing a handful of alternative currency suppliers and that it planned to utilize its Olympics ad deals as a means of generating trial and awareness around them.

The use of the Olympics makes sense, because NBCU has had a long history of using the Games as a means of introducing alternative currencies -- notably its “TAMI,” or “total audience measurement index” that it doled out with its coverage of the 2008 Summer Games to show how much bigger its audience was than Nielsen’s ratings estimated.

It was not the first time big network research and sales organizations have pushed alternative currencies on the ad industry.

For years, ABC and ESPN had spent millions producing alternative measurement of out-of-home audiences and tried to convince Madison Avenue to buy on the basis of it, but most advertisers and agencies resisted back then, arguing that whatever incremental audience could be measured via out-of-home tracking was already baked into the underlying currency of the Nielsen ratings they actually did business on.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the supply-side appears to have won, mainly because the demand-side -- or at least the big ad agencies representing it -- have simply caved in, citing the fact that digital has always done business on the basis of their own certified chain of third-party data and metrics suppliers, so why shouldn’t TV?

I’ve been hearing this sentiment for a while now, mostly from the digerati side of the house, which has been gradually assuming control of the overall media-buying enterprise, but it was stated clearly, emphatically and empirically during a prep call I did last week for a panel I’m moderating midday Thursday for CIMM (Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement).

The panel, which is part of CIMM’s annual Converged TV Measurement & Data Summit, is entitled, “Buyers & Sellers Debate One Currency vs. Many,” but if you ask me, it won’t be much of a debate, just a lot of kumbayaing about why it’s time to get over it, and just move one.

Specifically, the panelists echoed a growing sentiment I’ve been hearing throughout the industry that the industry’s self-regulatory approach to audience measurement -- especially the notion that ratings services should be audited and accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC) -- is quaint at best, and far too slow-moving for today’s real-time digital world.

There are a variety of other “perfect storm” factors contributing to why 2022 is the year media audience measurement will reach its digital tipping point, including the fact that none of the services of its de facto currency -- Nielsen -- are currently even accredited by the MRC.

Add to that the fact that Nielsen itself will effectively zero-base its own currency this year by introducing a new, presumably digital-friendly, “cross-measurement” service dubbed Nielsen One.

I sense some other factors in the mix too, including some personality ones, which I won’t dwell on in this column today, which is mainly being written to make the point that 2022 has effectively become a game of jump ball, and that at least one big TV-centric organization, NBCU, is using it to push through new alternative currencies, even as the rest of the industry -- both buy- and sell-side -- talk about using “shadow currencies” to do business.

The truth is that the concept of alternative currencies is not new, because what defines a “currency” is not whether it was audited, accredited, certified, or any other word you want to apply to make it seem sanctified.

What defines a currency is that two sides agree to do business on the basis of it.

Of course there are actual laws -- not just industry self-regulatory practices, that could come into play here, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires publicly traded companies like agency holding companies and big media suppliers to disclose potential business risks they are taking with their shareholders.

And then there is the U.S. Constitution, which as part of Article 1, establishes that the “weights and measures” used by our industries are a “direct concern of the federal government.” I was just reading that as part of a review of the Harris Committee report published by Congress following its original investigation of broadcast ratings in the 1960s that led to the creation of the MRC (formerly Broadcast Rating Council), and a self-regulatory state that has existed for more than half a century.

I know Congress has a lot on its plate these days, and that is more likely to take a direct concern in the weights and measures produced by the algorithms of big digital platforms -- especially social media -- than it is in revisiting the regulation of the converged TV measurement and analytics supply chain.

But it’s pretty clear from my panel prep call that the industry already has abandoned its long-standing approach to self-regulation in favor of speed and pragmatism. And I, for one, consider that certifiable.

6 comments about "Certifiable".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 7, 2022 at 9:48 a.m.

    Joe, there are many ways to look at TV audience measurement---I assume that nobody cares about radio, magazines, newspapaers or OOH. For example when NBCU cites content-on-screen projections for the Olympics as an add-on to Nielsen's mostly "linear TV"data---which is based on claimed viewing---it's not so much a case of NBCU using an alternative source but, rather of NBCU combining several sources to provide a more complete picture. The main issue for future improvement is whether "we" are going to accept content-on-screen as a surrogate for viewing by people---and let's be frank, this is the direction in which the sellers are heading us. I don't blame them, by the way, as content-on-screen will give them much larger numbers to use in selling commercial time to advertisers---numbers which overstate actual commercial viewing by a huge amount that varies by the amount of ad clutter in the breaks, by daypart, program type, demographics, how othen the same commercial has been shown, etc.

    The answer, of course, is to build in an attentiveness measurement for all devices when they display any kind of content in any location---but I doubt that you will hear any seller---or Nielsen, for that matter---- pushing for this much needed improvement. So, if we believe that smartsets, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops represent TV's audience---instead of people---that's what we will get. It's nothing more than a great leap backward to the early days of TV when set usage was accepted as a surrogate for viewing---until we wised up and recognized the folly of this simplistic assumption.

  2. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, February 7, 2022 at noon

    Brilliant piece Joe. You nailed it. And once content (or ad) on screen is the metric, demos will be assigned based on household residents (as some measurement providers do already) so if a household has 5 people, all five are counted even if there is only one viewer. Or some "model" is used and everybody says ok. Of course, if the screen is off but the computer/device feed is on, those impressions will also count. 

    Thoughtful solutions have been proposed by Dave Morgan and others, but device based numbers are becoming the law of the land.  I for one prefer persons based data.  This can be made to look like it, but it isn't.  

    Be careful what you wish for, you may get it. 

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, February 7, 2022 at 5:55 p.m.

    Great piece Joe.

    The trend for the past decade or so is 'egocentric' measurement.   Media businesses are increasingly self-reporting and devising new metics generally with a cute moniker.   Yes, they know shed-loads more about how they operate and the KPIs imortant to them.

    But at the end of the day the important part of the marketing equation is the advertiser.   Media is hard enough to understand for the advertiser and its media agency.

    In essence we are ending up with a plethora of individual silos that are not comparable and often indecipherable.   The advertiser needs to see 'the big picture' then drill down to publisher level.

    We need more 'altruistic' measurement of the market.   At the micro level it won't match each and every publisher's claim, but overall it would be a more workable data set.   Once the strategy is established you can then drill down to the publisher level if you can decipher why each publisher talks a different language.

    Oh.   And of course it would be nice if all the heads were banged together and a 'trading currency' agreed upon.   If we focussed more on building that trading currency (across ALL media) rather than tearing it down then marketing and advertising would be in a better place.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 7, 2022 at 7:51 p.m.

    The problem with seeking a common "currency" for all "TV" platforms is simple, John. If you don't use an equalizing measure like attentiveness---which simply tells you if anyone watched a program or commercial no matter what other variables are at play, then you must eventually deal with those variables.

    Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that after much debate it is decided that if the commercial is on-screen for three or more seconds that that is the metric that lets us compare all TV exposure situations regardless of what device is used, where it is used and what's on the screen. The problem is that users of this magic metric will soon find themselves asking  how to differentiate between commercial lengths. Next---and right up there, will be how to evaluate varying ad clutter situations. Next we will have to ask ourselves about frequency---does the three second rule apply if its the first time the commercial gets to a set---or the fifth time---or the tenth time? Or is there a wearout factor to contend with? And what about age and education? Do 18-24s pay as much attention to TV commercials as oldsters? How about college grads?Then we need to think about the program content our commercial appears in. Does it matter if its a rerun of The Flintstones" or a taut, medical drama? What about the "Today Show" versus, a NFL football game? Last but not least, some products and their commercials are simply  more interesting than others. Yet the three second rule treats all exposure situations equally. Is that right?

    In short, we will soon be making adjustments to our magical metric to deal with such issues which means that we have accomplished nothing. Yet attentiveness avoids all of these pitfalls. It's the great equalizer.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, February 7, 2022 at 10:18 p.m.

    Thanks Ed.

    I was primarily referring to the medium that carries the ad, rather than the ad itself.   In essence we want to know that a 100k audience for (say) cinema is the same for a 100k audience for a TV show, a magazine, a radio shpw etc.   If we don't have parity at that level then we are pushing the proverbial up a hill.

    But not all media are alike.   One could argue that a cinema is a more captive audience meaning that 100k cinem probably exceeds 100k of  TV audience or an OOH audience.

    I'm bulish that we could derive 'medium attentiveness factors' for each medium that could be applied to the parity-based audience data.

    Then we have to consider the content that is carried by the medium.   Using TV as an example ... not all programmes are created equal.   It is probably possible to do some research to provide a "content attentiveness" factor - which programme is more effective by demo.   This would have to be a time-series factor.   Difficut but possible.   The respnsibility would be the media owner as they own the content and can modify its time-slot, environmant, talent, plot, producer etc (which they pour over but generally rely on gut-feel).

    Then comes the hard part.   The attentiveness of the ad.   Is the intro strong enough to deter channel changing or leaving the room etc?   How long does that specifc ad need to be viewed as determined by the creative (the tag may be in the ?   Is the audio good enough?   There are a plethora of factors to be taken into account.

    But the kicker is that the media owner doesn't own or control the ad content.   Surely that should be the remit of the advertiser - to know about how their ad works best.

    And then finally

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 8, 2022 at 2:04 a.m.

    Yes, John, but the media owner who puts out  silly, low budget, content and tons of  reruns and jams the commercial breaks with ad and promotional clutter ---as opposed to one who airs engaging fare and limits ad/promo clutter-----is affecting the performance of the commercials---no matter how well done or  relevant they are.

Next story loading loading..