Media Measurement: One Currency? Multiple? Does It Matter?

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

In the last century, the advertising community lived in a world where there were TV ratings -- and then measurement of “other media.” All media metrics ultimately led to reach, frequency and GRPs. It was “easy” and understood throughout the industry.

(In all honesty, the currency was understood in that it was the one marketers were taught to look for. They did not necessarily understand the actual relevance or nuance of the metrics or the methodologies that created the metrics. The belief was “more is better”).

In today’s world, we seem to be easing into a model in which each platform has its own set of metrics and methodologies. Variety wrote last month: “For weeks, TV executives have been transfixed by seemingly endless episodes in which their own networks, upstart tech companies, Wall Street heavyweights and Madison Avenue stalwarts all try to figure out how to count media audiences in an era when many of them turn to streaming services to watch their favorite series.”



I can tell you, it's not just “TV executives” who are transfixed, but the whole advertiser world. Agencies, marketers, platforms, all of us are trying to understand what option seem the most promising.

NBCU is betting on “Together,” saying “In this era of new currencies, we need multiple trusted yardsticks that can measure ad campaign impact in its entirety—from emotion to content to conversion, and everything in between.” It is probably one of the most forward-thinking companies at the moment, not only forging a collective of NBCU-accredited measurement partners, but also making this open-source.

Of course the problem is that if you are Disney, Meta, Alphabet or the Chinese government TikTok, this approach is at best a sidebar, or worse, a competitive move that could harm your ability to sell. And so they all have their own measurement suites. Meanwhile Nielsen is fighting for the survival of its longstanding TV measurement currency, relevant for those buying linear or cable TV.

So as an advertiser, how do you measure now, since you are buying across a multitude of walled gardens, each with their own set of metrics? How do you measure the reach of a show that is owned by Hulu, streamed across platforms of Hulu, Amazon and Apple? Some with ads, some without?

The answer is that the industry should come together and figure this out. But that goes against so many principles and protectionist interests that it's more likely significant gun or voter reform will pass through our political system!

Maybe we have to turn to faith leaders for clarity. Here's an appropriate quote from Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “When performance is measured, performance improves.  When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”

Thus my recommendation is to work with your agency and collect all relevant-to-you metrics and data points, and try to make sense of them together. Define your objectives really clearly upfront. If you are ultimately selling something online and/or through stores, what metrics can help you get as close as possible to understanding the impact of your investments toward that goal? If you are trying to change a target audience’s perception of your product or service, what metrics matter towards that?

Let me know how it all worked out, will you?

3 comments about "Media Measurement: One Currency? Multiple? Does It Matter?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 12, 2022 at 9:51 a.m.

    Maarten, in olden times in The States most media buyers---agencies, mainly---settled on a single "audience currency" for their buys. In the case of national TV it was almost universally  Nielsen----using meters and diaries until 1987, then its people meter system. In local market TV we had Arbitron competing with Nielsen---both using similar methods---household diaries plus small meter panels in the larger markets. For Radio it was primarily Arbitron's diaries, with a little competition from Pulse which did yesterday recall studies. For magazines the main contender was Simmons using the issue -specific through-the-book recall method versus BRI, TGI and later MRI which did not actually show respondents the publications but used recall questions. Eventually Siommons lost out to MRI for a variety of reasons. However there was never any great interest at the agency level for comparing the findings from these often quite different surveys as very few plans made comparisons between media. In fact most media plans were, in fact, collections of separate buying plans for each of the media selected, the only unifying aspect being flow charts which told brand managers how much they were spending on a month by month basis.The decision as to which media were to be included---and how many dollars they got ---were usually made arbitrarily and no "Plan B's  were evaluated. So, that's why there were no cross platform "currency" issues.

    Hopefully this sorry state of affairs will gradually change and in this context the question of comparability is vital. The problem is that the digital folks with their "impressions"--based on ads appearing on users' screens ----think that they are supplying the same information as national TV does with its "average minute commercial viewing" stats. But, in reality this is not the case and neither "measurement" tells an advertiser who or how many are watching or reading an ad message. For that you need an attentiveness measure---but this is not in the works as the media sellers, who control the process and do most of the funding---won't permit it. That's the crux of our current problem. Without significant advertiser funding and active involvement, the sellers will prevent the creation of a truly comparable---and ad-relevant ---system. And, frankly, I can't blame them as they are paying most of the bill.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, December 12, 2022 at 4:44 p.m.

    Maarten, to answer the question in your lede ... "Media Measurement: One Currency? Multiple? Does It Matter?", in a single word ... yes.

    And it matters for very good reasons.   Can you imagine a scenario where one person said 4+7=11 and another said it was 20 ... or 81.  It appears that media is on the brink of marking their own homework and we end up with everyone #1 in some esoteric way.

    The challenge is to codify each of the pillars of media based on the bedrock of (a) unqiue audience (b) duration (c) frequency.   I've not included attention, because in the main attention is the holy grail for ads rather than media entities.   It bothers me that advertisers too often think that the conduit (the medium) is responsible for the quality of the input.   If they want better ad attention, make better ads.   (And when they do, they can reduce their frequency and be more effective and efficient at the same time).

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 13, 2022 at 8:42 a.m.

    Not to worry, John. Most if not all of the supposed "alternative currencies" are not substituting  for the single  and basic "audience currency" that is used. Rather, they are add-on metrics, in cases where the sellers believe their leverage can yield higher CPMs----which is why there are so many different sources for such information. Each seller who plays this game with like minded buyers---and I don't blame them at all as I would do the same thing were I in their place----picks those sources that it feels it can utilize to best advantage.It's simple and perfectly sensible from a sales promotional standpoint.

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