Alt Currency Race: Why It's Time For A Pit Stop

With the recent news of’s acquisition of 605 -- both leading TV ad measurement companies -- and premium publishers’ adoption of VideoAmp’s dataset as a new video currency, it’s hard to ignore the race toward alternative currencies across the media industry.

Nielsen, as the dominant legacy TV measurement partner and a shared currency across buyers and sellers alike, now has serious competition from a host of new players who have built massive viewership datasets that include upwards of 80 million TV households compared with its much smaller panel of just 40,000.

With so many new measurement options and lack of auditing or independent third-party accreditation, it’s easy to see why some of us are waving the red flag at this stage in the race.

It reminds me of when my father was teaching me how to drive. He focused on the usual things like using the pedals, reading the dashboard warning lights, and how to parallel park, but those were not the most important things to learn in his opinion. He also stressed the importance of using all my mirrors.



“The best way to avoid an accident is to know your surroundings,” he’d say. “You don’t just need to see what is ahead, but what is to your sides, and what is behind you.” This lesson came long before lane change assist sensors, blind area detection technology or the backup camera, but it is still sound advice for today.

So what does this have to do with alternative video currencies?

Most of us in the marketing business are focused on the future -- and therefore looking through the windshield at what is ahead. We see fresh, entrepreneurial companies challenging the incumbent through innovation and ingenuity.

They are young companies like VideoAmp and, and ones with slightly more mileage like Comscore, which all have developed and continue to grow massive viewership datasets for planning, buying and measuring video campaigns against advanced audiences.

They shift positions at each turn as they announce new publisher partnerships, release new measurement features and add to their household panel coverage.

Meanwhile, it seems like most of the industry sees Nielsen in the rear-view mirror -- an older car with less horsepower and diminishing grip on the track. Slow to the start and less able to hold the turns.

Even their tune-ups, like the release of NielsenOne that promises deduplicated, cross-media measurement in one place against both broad demography and advanced audiences, doesn’t seem to thrust them back into the lead.

But as Nielsen’s competitors race for lead position, there should be serious concerns from the spectators.

Younger and faster isn’t always better. While they may have much larger datasets than Nielsen's 40,000-household panel for TV, all this data is at a household level, not an individual level.

So as an advertiser, you don’t really know who you reached in that household since many TV screens are shared devices. You have no guarantee that you hit the right person in that home who is part of your intended audience.

Nielsen’s people panel, while much smaller, is at the individual level. It knows who in the household is watching TV content and can account for co-viewing at the program level.

It is also important to remember that while this person-level viewership data is based on only 40,000 households, Nielsen does calibrate its currency against its own set-top box and smart TV data set of nearly 72 million households.

The challenges of household-level versus person-level viewership data are not just limited to the currency. This delivery data is the basis of all reach and frequency analyses, which are crucial in supporting efficient media strategy.

The goal in media planning is often to maximize your reach and control frequency against your intended audience -- not against the household. To optimize your plans against household level reach and frequency measurement could really get you off track, leading to significant waste.

Finally, unlike Nielsen, alternative currencies also lack third-party accreditation from the industry's de facto self-regulatory source, the Media Rating Council (MRC).

This poses significant challenges for advertisers, agencies and publishers alike. How do you standardize value when multiple currencies are involved? How long will it take for all parties to agree on which alternative currencies are audible? These are serious questions that will take time to answer.

So, before we swap measurement and currency partners as easily as we change lanes, let’s slow down. Let’s make a pit stop. Refuel and kick the tires.

And as we drive back into the oval, I say let’s use all our mirrors. We need to know where everyone is on the track.

Who knows? This race might take multiple partners to win.

7 comments about "Alt Currency Race: Why It's Time For A Pit Stop".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2024 at 1:48 p.m.

    Matthew, as you may know, I and some others have been pointing out the fallacy in the use of the term "currency" is this context as there can only be one "currency" which all parties use or else we are facing chaos. The so - called "alternate currencies" were never intended to be adopted instead on a unified "audience" measurement. And their use was always going to be optional---which means that none were envisioned as the standard "currency". Instead, they provided add-on metrics to be used selectively by sellers  with the standard "audience" data used as the base for negotiations.
    As regards Nielsen, it's all well and good---perhaps even fun----to describe Nielsen as a "legacy" operation, trudging slowly along when much more "modern" and/or "relevant" metrics are supposedly available. However the reality is that Nielsen will---barring a huge blunder----continue to be the national TV rating standard bearer  where "currency" is concerned and it will, as you note, be offering a huge "big data" set usage base, combined with viewer-per-set findings derived from its much smaller people meter panel. Also, in some cases, Nielsen will use actual device usage information supplied by certain sellers as the basis for some of its reporting.

    All of which is fine---again, assuming no gigantic slip-ups. The sad fact is that our new national TV "currency"---as supplied by Nielsen----will not include any indication that people actually watched TV content---especially commercials. Instead that will be assumed by users of the data---which means that advertisers will continue paying for huge amounts of non-existant viewers. But that's what the sellers want---and that's the way it's going to be as the sellers control the purse strings.

  2. Gerard Broussard from Pre-Meditated Media, LLC, February 1, 2024 at 2:58 p.m.

    Matt, I applaud the notion of an eyes-wide-open view of "alt currencies."  And I believe that Ed P. makes a good point that Nielsen is likely to remain the primary currency for premium video in the years to come for all the reasons he's cited . . . at least it looks like that now.  But I think we all have to admit that without the presence of companies like VideoAmp, and Comscore, Nielsen would have taken baby steps towards capturing the ever-fragmenting cross platform viewing universe. Instead, they're responding with a 42k panel and 72 mm STB/SmartTV homes.  I only hope that at least one Video audience measurement in addition to Nielsen, remains in the industry to keep the improvements in product development coming.  And speaking of currency, think of all the fun when NielsenOne includes second-by-second data later this year.  I guess measurement perfection is truly a process and not an event.        

  3. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, February 1, 2024 at 4:31 p.m.

    So two things (disclaimer: until January I was at VideoAmp, and I remain a stockholder.)

    1. There absolutely can be multiple currencies. I can buy something from Joe Mandese in US dollars, and Matt Kramer can buy something from Ed Papazian using Euros or Bitcoin. As long as all parties in the same transaction use the same currency, trading may proceed. No need for all transactions to use the same currency. I know that transactions have occurred using Nielsen, VideoAmp, and Comscore. Maybe iSpot as well; I lack first hand knowledge to say.

    2. My former colleagues at VideoAmp have indeed embarked on the MRC process. Having gone through it myself multiple times, I can attest that it is lenghy and rigorous; but I can also attest to the fact that the company under audit begins reaping the benefits of the process almost immediately.

  4. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp replied, February 1, 2024 at 4:39 p.m.

    Gerard, re:  "I guess measurement perfection is truly a process and not an event." Yes, 100%. One of the major themes I have taken from the MRC audit process is that of perpetual striving for improvement. There's no such think as "finished." Literally the first entry in the MRC's "Minimum Standards for Media Rating Research" (Standard A1) begins, "Each rating service shall try to CONSTANTLY REDUCE (emphasis added) the effects of bias, distortion, and human errorin all phases of its activities." Constantly means, constantly.

  5. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, February 1, 2024 at 4:55 p.m.

    Once again Ed really nails the current dismal state of TV/Video measurement in the US.  When the TV/Video buyers and sellers embrace a real JIC (or MOC) to produce an agreed, true audience currency for this medium, (singular!), the research chaos sadly reflected by the "alt -currency" farago will continue.  And critically, similar to BARB in the UK, please ensure "we" agree to measure content/ads "fit-for-TV" which surely eliminates the purveyors of "Disinformation and Fake news" per the UK Parliamantary Report on Facebook, 2019, and those entities that have "blood on their hands" per Senator Lyndsey Graham. 
    Where, I must ask, is the chorus to rescind Title 47 U.S. Section 230(c)(1) of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that would significantly help protect consumers, our democracy and indeed, our industry? 

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 1, 2024 at 5:15 p.m.

    Josh, consider the problem of the buyer who is considering proposals from  30 or more sellers in a big upfront TV deal. One uses pupil dilations and will guarantte only on that metric; another uses Nielsen, a third is pitching attentiveness factors applied to Nielsen ratings, a fourth  will guarantee clickthroughs to your website---but that's all,etc.  How are the goals of the buy defined for the buyer. Do we expect the various brand managers to specify  how many billions of pupil dilations they want next season by quarter and by demo? And will the same brand managers come up with the number of Nielsen GRPs they need while they also supply demands for attentive viewing projections and website visits?

    Even if such a miracle is possible, how does the buyer determine that any of these goals is being satisfied for the total multi-brand buy when he/she has no way to compare the offerings of each competing seller---as they all use different metrics? The only way to do this would be to deal exclusively with a few  sellers who use the same metrics, thereby choosing which one gets what portion of the business. But how do you know that other sellers---who use different "currencies" ----wouldn't have been a better buy for your client than the one  ( s ) you chose based on the metrics you bought into?

    I'm not against a seller saying to a buyer, look we will guarantee "impressions" using Nielsen and on top of that we will toss in brainwave readings using source so and so which does this using small samples in a lab setting as an added guarantee. Indeed, we will guarantee that our shows exceed this company's normative brainwave findings by 10%. Fine, but it's likely that the seller has already determined that this is usually the outcome when its shows are measured in this manner so it's not really taking much of a risk.The buyer would have gotten that result anyyway. And once again, the buyer has no way of knowing how rival sellers might perform using the same metric, relative to their CPM pricing.

    That's why I have such a problem with the use of the term "currency" in this ongoing debate. Qualitative add-ons---sure, but optional "currencies"---I don't think so.

  7. John Grono from GAP Research, February 1, 2024 at 7:09 p.m.

    I concur with Matthew, Ed & Gerard.

    The principal concern of the myriad stand-alone 'data' providers is that there is no independent verification of the data, nor its comparability to other providers playing in the same sand-pit.   And of course the client will opt for the supplier with the biggest 'audience' for them as long as it is at a competitive cost.

    But the biggest concern is how to meld the numerous data suppliers into a feasible piece of research.   De-duplicating the numerous sources available is critical.  I have too often seen the reach of a campaign exceeding 100% ... in fact, one large internet company was touting 143% in a week.   Yikes!

    Here in AU we pool the agreed verified data, de-duplicate it with the other media, and produce usable and acceptable audience data, reach etc. for sales and media agencies.  At the moment it is video - e.g. TV with digital - to get ratings at a content level that is tradeable.   We have a long way to go to include audio, outdoor and cinema but the design allows that.

    If I was in the US, I'd look into starting to create a broad consortium across all media businesses and then have it buy out the businesses providing the 'verticals' (medium by medium) and the techos providing the maths and software (the 'horizontals) to provide a robust model of what is really going on.

    One other thing to be aware of is that each medium tends to use different time frames.  For example, TV is primarily overnights, while digital tends to be monthly.   Comparing 'audience' for a TV program (based on a single day and reporting average minute) with the digital 'audience' (impressions across a month) is farcical.

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