It’s been six months since I stopped putting quotation marks around the term “JIC” when writing about the U.S.’s joint industry committee, but I’m still ambivalent about that decision.
I agreed to discontinue the quote marks in May, when the JIC added members representing the buy-side.
Specifically, big agencies including Dentsu, GroupM, Havas, Horizon Media, IPG Mediabrands, Publicis Media, Omnicom Media Group, RPA and Stagwell.
And although it was not truly tripartite – meaning that advertisers were participating directly in its certification process -- at least it said it had the Association of National Advertisers playing a “coordination” role.
Six months later, I’m not so sure.
And while I’m not about to change my quotation marks publication policy, some recent conversations I've been having have led me to at least start making air quote gestures with my fingers every time I type the U.S. acronym for JIC.
“Ostensibly, the JIC represents buyers and sellers. And they have this committee of eight companies that are doing the certifying and it’s four buy-side and four sell-side,” one alt currency researcher I know and respect confided in me recently recently, adding, “However, the only employees associated with the JIC work for OpenAP. And OpenAP is owned by the networks. Literally, owned by the networks. It’s hard to overlook that.”
When I asked this audience measurement pro what that means the underlying value of the JIC’s certification, he said, “We’re playing along and I see the agency people at the meetings and they seem to be playing along, but it’s hard to shake the fact that fricking OpenAP is driving the thing.”
Honestly, that was my initial concern when I first began writing about the JIC, and especially after when it was conceived following independent efforts by OpenAP’s owners – big TV-centric companies like NBCUniversal, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery – to begin certifying their own currency providers on their own.
Apparently, that wasn’t good enough to pass muster with many on the demand-side, so the JIC was conceived, and following months of it being incubated by OpenAP and its owners, buy-side representatives were invited to participate.
But as the researcher quoted above notes, that’s not how JICs are supposed to be conceived, is it?
If you want to understand how they’re supposed to be conceived, you can read an excellent white paper created by a couple of worldwide media research authorities – Olympic Consulting’s Tony Jarvis and GAP Research’s John Grono – here.
Jarvis’ and Grono’s contention is that the U.S. JIC is a JIC in name only, and probably one that should have indelible quotation marks associated with it.
But as ANA Group Executive Vice President Bill Tucker described the U.S. JIC when he introduced a panel discussing it at the ANA’s media conference in February, America’s has a “different operational structure than international JICs.”
And while it’s not unusual for Americans to have different operational structures than the rest of the world, I’m writing this column today, because I think people in the ad industry also ignore the fact that there are very explicit reasons why the U.S. operates structurally different than other markets when it comes to media measurement.
Part of that may seem like ancient history going back to the 1950s quiz show scandals, followed by a number of Congressional hearings, including one specifically about the TV ratings business, which resulted in a Justice Department consent decree enabling the ad industry to regulate its own audience measurement vis a vis a neutral third-party.
Ever since its inception, the Media Rating Council (originally the Broadcast Rating Council), has been the source of truth for accrediting audience measurement used as the basis of advertising transactions – or what many in the industry call “currencies.”
And honestly, my biggest pet peeve about OpenAP’s JIC isn’t the way it’s operationally structured, who owns it, or what their agendas are, it’s that I believe their agenda is to intentionally create obfuscation about the underlying credibility of currencies and to dilute the meaning of the MRC’s rigorous audits and accreditation.
When I’ve spoken to people on the “buy-side,” mainly agency research execs, they justify their support of OpenAP’s JIC based on some very understandable and pragmatic reasons that can be boiled down into two essential points:
The MRC’s process is too complex and slow in a time of rapid media evolution and they wanted a process that was more agile and could deliver better speed-to-market.
They add that it’s important that alternative currencies not just be certified, but that they are capable of being easily onboarded into the stack that agencies use to plan, buy and pay the media.
While those are all very legitimate reasons for – as they say in Silicon Valley, moving fast and breaking things – it doesn’t answer the most fundamental question that should be governing any currency an agency uses to plan, buy and pay its clients media buys with: Is it any good?
Don't get me wrong, I think both the buy- and the sell-sides participating in the U.S. JIC are working very hard. If you attended last month's Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement’s (CIMM) JIC panel two top agency execs talked about how involved they've been in the process, spending hours weekly on top of their regular chores, and taking multiple calls each week. (Omnicom Media Group's Mariel Estrada disclosed she even took one while in the hospital after having a baby.)
Clearly, members of the buy-side are putting a lot of effort into the JIC, which is great, but it's not the same thing as accreditation based on rigorous audits applied against explicit industry standards for the weights and measures of audience measurement. You know, what the MRC does.
And I can't shake the feeling that what the sell-side has been doing -- from the pioneering standalone certification pushes by the big network suppliers to their OpenAP's formalization of a U.S. JIC to their decision to "conditionally" certify at least three alternative ad currencies -- Comscore, iSpot.tv and Videoamp -- aren't some designed to nullify and/or void that.
Especially after announcing that they were expanding from simply certifying "currencies" to also certifying "measurement."
When it made that announcement, OpenAP said it would shortly post a "blog" explaining what the differences were between the JIC certification of audience measurement and MRC accreditation of it meant. That was nearly two months ago.
But it was the last conversation I had with Blair Robertson, CTO of InnovidXP that probably most inspired this column.
Innovid, is a technology company that has already received 11 accreditations from the MRC and has become the default currency used by some advertisers to pay for their CTV ad buys.
In August, Innovid asked 250 advertisers and agency media execs whether MRC accreditation was important to the data they used for measurement and insights on their ad buys as part of a broader survey of industry issues. The vast majority responded yes (see above).
Interestingly, a higher percentage of agency respondents (91%) and larger advertisers (92%) cited the importance of MRC accreditation vs. the average response.
This data was not released previously, so I asked Robertson what it means in practical terms. Here's what he told me.
Planning & Buying Insider: Why is this finding important?
Blair Robertson: The world of advertising has changed enormously, clearly, but for fundamental units – the weights and measures and the basics of counting – it’s really important that we have accreditation, because we need to use the same terms and definitions. And for our industry that means impressions, ultimately. And if we can’t agree on what that is, then everything else fails.
That's about quantifying volume, rather than quantifying value. And I think that's where the MRC comes in.
The higher up the analytics stack you go, the less appropriate it is to have accreditation, because that would risk stifling innovation.
If Innovid comes up with a new way of optimizing or a new modeling approach to show value, I don’t really want to go through a process to get at third party to sign off on it.
I don’t think the MRC or any third party auditor should get into the validation of higher level analytics, but I do think the MRC or somebody else needs to give a view on standardized, fundamental building blocks.
P&BI: Do you think having a JIC and/or media sales organizations certifying currencies dilutes the meaning of MRC accreditation?
Robertson: Because we predominantly work with the buy-side, and the buy-side ultimately are the ones who have the buying power and are the side that ultimately want the truth the most, because the buy-side cares about improving their media and optimizing and making things better – and therefore the buy-side want the most truthful view.
Our view is that brands want to have the same measurement that can be applied across everything with the same standard, and not to have one publisher’s currency, and another publisher’s currency, and another publisher’s currency.
If the power and oversight of the measurement lies with the sell-side, then there’s an incentive for them to control who provides that measurement. And if that incentive exists, then there is a risk towards bias and untruth, which is not what the buy-side wants. The buy-side wants something that is truthful across everything.
PB&I: One of the criticisms from of the MRC from agencies is that it's process is slow and that's why they're backing the JIC.
Robertson: Yeah, it’s slow and sometimes difficult to work with, but it’s still stringent, and that’s what gives the confidence for those basic building blocks that the data we have is correct. And then we innovate on top of that.