In Dissent

On April 22, a Media Rating Council (MRC) out-of-home (OOH) media measurement working group – of which I am a member in dissent – approved a final version of Phase 1 of the council’s “OOH Measurement Standards - Exclusive of Audience” with some additional inadequate changes.  

“Exclusive of audience?” In 2024? You read that correctly. Bizarre, right?

Developed over the past five years, first, it is unequivocally not a standard. It has had an extremely stormy passage from the working group, which is comprised of OOH advertising and media research “experts, from whom the MRC requests confidentiality.  It was released late Friday.  

Media research experts advised that this MRC standard turns the medium’s metrics upside down and inside out and takes OOH measurement back more than 20 years, because it fails to embrace the recognized “Global Audience Measurement Guidelines” established by the World Out-of-Home Organization (WOO), 2022.



Geopath, and its soon-to-be former President Dylan Mabin, was part of the international group that developed the WOO’s guidelines, which were based on ESOMAR’s (European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research) 2009 “Global Guidelines for OOH Audience Measurement." I was a member of that group.

This MRC standard essentially takes OOH back to the days of using distribution/circulation and very basic opportunity-to-see, OTS, data for planning and buying the medium, using definitions and derivations that are ill-defined, confused, contradictory and inconsistent.  

It also ignores OOH’s globally-accepted currency: visibility adjusted contacts (VAC) or eyes-on based on real audience measurement, which is planned to be part of the MRC’s Phase 2.  To be delivered in another five years?  

Consequently, this MRC document is considered not only flawed, but out-of-step with measurement and metrics for other media including TV, Cinema, Print, audio, etc.  

As such, any accreditations earned based on these standards would be specious, i.e., B.S.

Full disclosure: my company, Olympic Media Consultancy, requested to be explicitly recognized in the document under the heading, “In Dissent.”

This entire MRC process points to the prospect of multiple OOH currencies – possibly on either viewable impressions (no OTS), or opportunity-to-see, or even likelihood-to-see – but all “exclusive of audience."  Is this undercurrent aimed at replicating the U.S. TV/video JIC’s (so called) push to certify multiple currencies and the chaos and confusion it has created? 

Is this move by the MRC due to its ignorance, notably regarding OOH media research, or is it part of another palace coup by the Out-of-home Advertising Association of America (OAAA).

After five years, why the shameful rush to approve this latest bizarre version of the MRC OOH standard?

One: The OAAA annual conference opens today, and it provides a unique opportunity to conveniently fast-track a flawed, brutally confusing, inconsistent and misguided measurement standard for the OOH industry.  

Two: Larger numbers will drive out smaller numbers (eyes-on) for the sellers despite the significantly higher value of eyes-on metrics and their critical value to media buyers and advertisers.  

OOH has led the media industry with its eyes-on metric, a prerequisite (pre-processing requirement) for attention, for more than 20 years. The medium’s measurement and metrics leadership were lauded by none other than Lumen Research CEO Mike Follett.

Euan McKay, Chief Strategy Officer of the U.K.’s Route Research Ltd., in my opinion correctly, castigated the MRC in several opinion pieces over the past couple of years.

Use of Geopath’s eyes-on metrics has helped emphasize the real value of OOH advertising from the low CPMs generated by the distribution/circulation and basic opportunity-to-see data used by OOH media buyers 20 years ago which incurred heavy discounting.  Such discounting by the media agencies will surely return based on these new MRC standards.  

Eyes-on versus some “content rendered impression” measure has never been so important for OOH in the current era of attention metrics now being used for other major media to estimate actual ad exposure by a brand’s target group.  

If the industry embraces the MRC standard, I believe it will adversely affect any chance of OOH increasing its current 4% share of ad spend in the US.  

Sadly, it comes at a time of exciting new OOH digital and format innovations and creativity being delivered by this incredible, eyes-on, advertising reach medium.

6 comments about "In Dissent".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 29, 2024 at 9:35 a.m.

    Tony, what is really surprising is the fact that attentiveness studies for OOH media generally show that they are higher than comparable findings for TV commercials in terms of gaining eyes-on ad exposure. Of course, this does not necessarily equate with ad impact---but that's a decision that  advertisers must make independently---based on what they hope  to  accompliseh with OOH ads, what their role is in the media mix, etc. So what are they---the OOH sellers ----afraid of and why did they revolt against Geopath several years ago? Do they really think that "boxcar"  traffic stats ---which have long been ridiculed by media planners----are the path towards higher ad revenues?

  2. George Ivie from MRC, April 29, 2024 at 10:55 a.m.

    Tony Jarvis -- MRC is administering the standard development process and cleared a two-phase process directly with the working group during 2023. We are trying to complete difficult (hotly debated) guidance and issue that guidance when it’s prepared. This is not unlike what we have done in digital media with standards based on various types of impression counting (rendered, viewable, etc.) as well as separate standards on higher-value builds such as audience, cross-media video and outcomes. As I responded to earlier comments on MediaPost’s original article: Phase 2 of the OOH standard development process will cover audience measurement; the Phase 1 standard is not intended to be anti-audience measurement or anti-Geopath. MRC believes strongly in the merit of audience measurement.

  3. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, April 29, 2024 at 1:33 p.m.

    George: Ignoring the "higher value builds", i.e., "Eyes-On" audience measurement that OOH embraced over 20 years ago, plus the WOO "Global Audience Measurement Guidelines" 2022,  as well as the counsel of recognised expert members of the secret Working Group may destroy any equity that MRC has left with the global OOH research community.
    I respectfully suggest those factors alone indicate both the "anti-audience" nature of this Guideline (or is it some general misunderstanding of audience and gross impression measurement for media?) as well as the extensive anti-GeoPath implications of its framework.  As stated, it is simply out-of-step and out-of-date, especially for OOH. 
    For full transparancy, the MRC needs to include the names and companies of the Working Group involved with this project in the document as requested at the meeting notably to officialy recognize any, "In Dissent".  MRC should also publish the names and companies of: the MRC Member OOH Committee; the MRC Member Standards Committee; and the MRC Executive Committee.  The latter two Committees should have officially approved this release if I understand MRC proceedures corectly?
    These Guidelines, they are no more, actually include audience references and measures.  As already mentioned with reference to this atrociously written, confusing and flawed document, the definition of Gross Impressions used, as an example: "The number of individuals over a period of time with Presence in the defined Display Exposure Zone while the Display is functional" reflects a measure of people and consequently their OTS whether for a classic display or a digital panel (OOH displays are not all digital!!).  Gross Impressions, which have been equivalent to OTS forever in media, whether for classic or digital displays and however crude, are a measure of audience.  It is fully understood that the content rendered on classic or digital display panels or on any device or surface should fulfill viewability requirements and be indpendently verified that it is the correct/required purchased ad content/creative.  That is the Proof-of-Posting, Proof-of-Play, Proof-of-Printing, etc. arena which could be executed at the same time as the OTS is measured but is independent of it and often is checked later during the billing and paying process of viewable, verified content delivered with an OTS (at a minimum). 

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, May 5, 2024 at 5:39 p.m.

    If little old AU could develop and launch MOVE over almost 15 years ago based on LTS "eyes on", then follow it up with MOVE 1.5 to cater for digital billboards, and will release MOVE 2.0 (and ensuring that it can smoothly integrate into third-party planning and buying for vendors and agencies) this year, I am flabbergasted with the US market's approach to sinking to the bottom of the bottle of barrel of Lowest Common Denominator.

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 6, 2024 at 8:14 a.m.

    John, it's not a case of the "U.S. market" making these decisions as the advertisers ---whose dollars are at stake---don't care about OOH media buying issues or for that matter, those involved with most media---even their favorite---"TV". And, consequently,  the fee-squeezed agencies have no incentive to wage war on this subject on their time and at their expense. So the sellers are in complete control---and they mistakenly believe tha bigger---albeit meaningless---numbers promote the medium and their ad sales. Not so as the magazine folks learned the hard way. A lot more is involved beyond BS "impression" stats.

  6. John Grono from GAP Research, May 6, 2024 at 8:30 a.m.

    Good points Ed.   In AU the majority of media groups (seller and buyer) haven't fallen into the "big number" trap ... though recently one has just broken away.   Also just last week the Audit Bureau for Newspaper and Magazines closed as the major publishers had withdrawn quite some time ago.   But a large number of small publishers are now meeting to try to generate an alternate - but fair - measurement system.   We did the inverse around the same time to get usage data for small regional radio stations (which are very valuable and powerful in small markets) awhich had no measurement at all, and it has been an expanding success.

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