Why Initial Standard Will Be Two Steps Forward For Out-of-Home

When the Media Rating Council recently issued finalized standards for an initial phase of out-of-home measurement dealing only with impressions-based metrics, the council received a heap of criticism from some vocal industry experts who saw it as a step backward for the medium.

In the following Q&A, CEO and Executive Director George Ivie explains why it will ultimately lead to two steps forward, enabling out-of-home media measurement to be both more credible as well as comparable with other major media -- something he believes will put the long undervalued ad medium on more of an even footing with the rest of the advertising marketplace.

MediaPost: Can you explain to readers why the out-of-home standard was broken into two phases, and why the first phase had to deal with impressions?



George Ivie: Because we start with the lowest common denominator of measurement and we work up to more difficult and more high-value orientation in measurement. This is an object lesson we took from digital, where we started with served impressions. Then we went to viewable impressions, clicks, audiences, and now we’ve even done outcomes and cross-media.

We work up the chain, essentially, from lowest-value metrics -- and the widest capture -- to narrow funnels with higher-value metrics.

That’s the way our standards-setting process works.

So with out-of-home, we started with impressions and the next step will be audience.

The goal is to create a standard, which aligns with our other standards-setting processes, so that it interlocks with our cross-media measurement standards. That’s why we’re using terminology like impressions and audiences.

Because even though the VAC, for example, is a very high-value metric, it’s not industry terminology if you look outside of out-of-home. It’s a good metric, but we need to use terminology and equalize these things so that they can interlock and out-of-home can be in a cross-media buy, seamlessly.

MediaPost: There is a parallel movement going on with attention metrics that could conceivably correlate with things like VAC. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a common standard for attention paid?

Ivie: There is, and we’ve already started work on that. Attention in a strange way is a little bit like “viewability.” Viewability is not an end-point metric. It has nothing to do with people, first of all. It’s about a device state.

It’s about an ad appearing on the viewable part of a browser for a certain amount of time, meeting certain parameters, so that you can say there was an opportunity to possibly see that ad. But you don’t even know if there was a person in front of the browser. You just know that the ad appeared and was viewable.

Attention is the same thing. Attention isn’t an end point. An end point is an outcome: Did someone like something, did someone buy something, was it a sale, was their brand lift associated with it? Those are end points.

Attention is just another metric that gives you a better sense of whether someone is receptive to it and whether they noticed it, etc.

Along those lines, there are two different methods of attention that we’ve been looking at.

One is what we call “proxy measure of attention.” A proxy measure of attention is not direct, but it’s gathering information around the context of the ad to increase the likelihood that somebody paid attention. Were they hitting keystrokes? Were they moving the cursor? Did they click on something? Did they minimize something or maximize something? These are passive signals that give you a couple of things: 1) Is the user there; and 2) were they active during the ad play?

MediaPost: So heuristics?

Ivie: Yes, they’re heuristics. They’re not attention, but they’re proxy measures that increase your confidence that there is possible attention. And in our outcomes measurement standard, we’ve got a lot about that already, because we can measure that. We already have standards in tech that can measure that. And we already have a vendor – DoubleVerify – that has that kind of a proxy metric accredited by us.

Then there is another type that I would call more direct measures of attention. Things like biometric measures: eye-tracking, facial coding, galvanic skin response, brain waves, etc. MRC has written a tiny bit about that in our standards, but we really haven’t made an effort to standardize that side, because we’re still learning more about it ourselves. We don’t set standards if we don’t know enough about something. It’s something we’re undertaking and I’m not ashamed to admit it, but it’s something we need to spend more time with.

But there are two sides to attention metrics and both of these sides have a problem.

The problem with the heuristics side is that it’s not an actual measurement of attention. You can assemble all the heuristics you want and you won’t know if someone is paying attention. It’s only a likelihood of attention.

The direct measures side is not scalable and it’s expensive. You can measure a small group of people as to what their brainwaves were, but you can’t measure an entire campaign. It’s not something you can measure at a wide scale.

They both have issues. What we think the industry is going to migrate to, is hybrid methods between these two, in which I somehow use the proxy metric to understand what types of proxy metrics are usually there when there is attention from the direct measures. Then I can project.

MediaPost: It’s like a calibration panel?

Ivie: Yes. We think that might be an evolution for attention measures. And there are vendors out there doing things like that. They’re doing very clever stuff, combining some of these approaches. We think that probably is the thing that has legs.

We’re probably going to codify more of the direct measures and this hybrid approach, but we haven’t done that yet.

MediaPost: I didn’t mean to digress into attention metrics, but wanted to understand if other media might someday elevant to the standard out-of-home had with likelihood-to-see.

Ivie: Yes. I think it’s very likely that we will be elevating it. And we’ve already started that process by pushing more people towards audience measurement and likelihood-to-see across other media types, particularly in digital.

MediaPost: So what is out-of-home’s next phase roadmap and timeframe like?

Ivie: We’re looking to start the project within two weeks and start having meetings. The good news is we’ve already written audience measurement standards in other media types. And I’m not going to name names, but there already are vendors who have reasonable audience measurement out-of-home structures.

Combining that means we essentially already have a roadmap. We have some things in the MRC staff’s minds, but we need to write it and put it in front of the committees to seek general agreement. And I’m not going to underestimate that timeframe, because in the out-of-home space, getting general agreement is really difficult. On a scale of 1 to 10 difficulty, it’s like an 8.5. It’s really hard. A lot of people in the out-of-home industry don’t agree on some of these approaches. That’s why the first phase took five years. The second phase will be a lot quicker than that.

MediaPost: Conceivably, how soon could you have a draft of that?

Ivie: A year.

MediaPost: Well, I do think there’s a lot of emotion in the out-of-home industry, because it has long veen and under-valued medium. And it’s been largely under-valued, because of the metrics.

Ivie: We have some issues to solve. People can say out-of-home has great metrics, but the problem is they are isolated metrics. We want to solve that problem. And not do harm to the good stuff.

MediaPost: Last question. Like all other media – especially digital – new technologies are rapidly changing the way we define them. That true of out-of-home too when you think about things like augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, projected holograms at some point. You can have QR codes on a static billboard that launch a multi-dimensional experience. Is that going to create new issues for standardizing out-of-home measurement, because what is even out-of-home media in that context?

Ivie: We’re on the tail of just having issued augmented reality standards with the IAB and also completely updating our in-game standards. So we’ve been working on that.

The hardest issue is classification. Would you call all of these things “out-of-home?” Those lines are getting very blurry to me. At MRC we have committees to deal with each medium. We have a TV committee, a radio committee, out-of-home, print, data quality, and an international committee. The problem is, sometimes when we get audits we have trouble figuring out what committee it goes into. So we end up combining comitttees.

I think it’s the same issue the broader industry is having, which is, “What do you call this stuff?” The key issue is do you measure it well, which is why we always break things down and have the same approach: what are the lowest common denominators and how do we codify that. And then we build up to higher and higher metrics.

It doesn’t matter if it’s augmented reality or out-of-home.

10 comments about "Why Initial Standard Will Be Two Steps Forward For Out-of-Home".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 7, 2024 at 1:20 p.m.

    It seems to me that in the case of predominantly visual media--TV/video, OOH, print----that all of these building blocks aren't needed. What's wrong with simply determining by an obsrvational method what happens when a device is in use and content is on-screen ( TV/video ) or a person passes by a sign ( OOH ) or a person "reads/looks into" a page in a printed publication ( magazines/newspapers)? If the person thus "exposed" to the medium when an ad is shown or displayed looks at the ad for a certain amount of time, that's an "audience" measurement for the ad---which can be augmented or refined by a dwell time analysis.

    OK, so we don't know how to get this for printed magazines or newspapers  and audio poses another set of problems,  the capability certainly is there for TV/video and OOH. Why are we digressing into other ways --- but not  quantifiable measurements ---that go to attentiveness via cursor movements, clicks, ,etc. when we know that these are only directionally indicative hints that attention---to some extent---has been attained.

    What I fear---unless there is rapid follow through---which I don't see happening---is that the sellers will pounce on the "impression"  definitions and lock them in as their buying/selling "currrencies" and this will tend to preclude the adoption of far superior "audience" metrics ---once these are defined properly and offered as an improvement. Why not get to "audience" first, using already existing "impression" data as a base?

  2. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, May 7, 2024 at 5:09 p.m.

    Ed: Spot on as always.  Deterministic (machine measurement of a device/surface) which does not reveal a "REAL OTS" (per Euan Mackay, Route UK) but is relatively inexpensive versus person-based survey data, does not serve advertisers and their brands with meaningful target audience exposure data. Of course, MRC had the both the starting and virtually the "two steps forward" end point for OOH measurement & metrics with the World Out-of-Home Organization's, Global OOH Audience Measurement Guidelines from May 2022 which it refused to embrace! I would suggest that this response to my Media Post Op Ed, "In Dissent" fails to understand the value that Eyes-On or "contacts" metrics, detailed in the WOO Guidelines and used by OOH for 20+ years, brought to OOH versus other media.
    But there is so so much more to this saga than meets the eye or is that Eyes-On? For those that want to follow this discourse two LinkedIn posts will be insightful.

  3. Kym Frank from Motionworks, May 8, 2024 at 9:06 a.m.

    So, will organizations that have measurement solutions accredited under the "lowest common denominator" standards, as George put it, have it denoted that way when the new standards come out in 12 months? Will they lose accreditation? Or will they have to reapply under the new standards? Given your timeline and how long it takes to go through the accreditation process, this means that the new standards may be published midway through a company's accreditation.

    This makes a difference when companies are considering undergoing a process that requires a significant investment of time, talent, and money.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 8, 2024 at 9:17 a.m.

    To Kym's question and a point I raised in my post, what happens when the sellers use "impressions" as a substitute for "audience" and buyers lock these in for "trending" purposes? The perceived need for consistent trending is one of the reasons why many buyers will be using the old Nielsen people meter "small data" ratings for next years national TVupfront and, I assume scatter buys. Which means that the sellers' delivery will be monitored in a way that will be "consistent" with the past. Fine!. But won't this delay the switch to Nielsen's new and "better" , "big data" service which will provide somewhat different ratings?

  5. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., May 8, 2024 at 10:52 a.m.

    @Kym Frank: That's a question for the MRC, but I imagine it would look similar to how they do it for other media. Go to, click the "sevices by metric" tab, click "expand all," and you can see all the footnoting there.

  6. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., May 8, 2024 at 10:56 a.m.

    @Ed Papazian: What buyers and sellers agree to use for making their deals may or may not have anything to do with MRC accreditation and/or standards. Ultimately, it's between the buyers and the sellers.

  7. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, May 8, 2024 at 1:04 p.m.

    Kym: As you understand, this farrago stems from the significant differences in media consumption across media plus their different means of delivering the content & ads to the  consumer.  The consequent research complexities and innovations required to measure actual exposure by real people are necessarily different by medium but some agree that an Eyes/Ears-On measurement for all media would provide a truly meaningful basis for cross-media comparisons. 
    OOH was the first medium to really solve this measurement goal 20+ years ago. Geopath (with which you are familiar!!) reflects that media metrics leadership for OOH in the US along with OOH JICs worldwide.  
    As I posited, based not only my own knowledge but also reflecting other OOH research experts I checked with globally plus Ed's comment regarding "audience first" which produces a REAL OTS, "... this MRC document is considered not only flawed, but out-of-step with audience measurement and metrics for other media including TV, Cinema, Print, audio, etc. (It also contradicts the WOO Global Guidelines which GeoPath participated in.)  As such, any accreditations earned based on these standards [sic] would be specious, i.e., B.S."
    In short, using content-rendered-counts aka "viewable impressions" (per George Ivie, "nothing to do with people") or any "lowest common denominator", has limited value for advertisers or their media agencies albeit is critical for subsequent Proof-of-Posting/Play for any campaign and its ultimate billling & paying.  Meanwhile the media agencies have embraced attention -  Eyes/Ears-On - adjustments across media in their planning & buying despite the higher aaCPMs. 
    As you have already suggested elsewhere, ignoring the fundamantal differentation in value across billboards (its not all digital!!) or panels that Eyes-On or Visibility Adjusted Contacts, VACs, provides buyers and sellers will increase OOH's "Numbers" and decrease its CPMs.  However, I agree that ultimately it will hurt this Eyes-On, reach medium and its unique abilities to generate creative and consequent brand impacts. 

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 8, 2024 at 2:35 p.m.

    Joe, of course it's up to the two parties---buyer and seller--to determine the audience "currency" to be used, however if everyone can use whatever they  want---with only limited scrutiny as to following acceptable research practice--- why bother with the MRC at all? And if any seller can make a deal with any buyer using any agreed upon "currency" how is the buyer going to know if the desired GRPs were bought ---unless the buy was made with only a single seller.  Virtually all TV ad campaigns I am familiar with involve multiple sellers.   Without a common or standard currency for comparative purposes you will have chaos and  without that currency being fairly vetted you may be deluding yourself as to what was really bought---and sold.

  9. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., May 8, 2024 at 2:43 p.m.

    @Ed Papazian: These are good questions. I've been aksing many of them myself vis a vis the U.S. JIC's push to certify multiple new alternative, but non-MRC accredted currencies to do exactly that: "Why bother"..."chaos"...etc. But that is exactly what is happening.

    With the exception of Comscore, none of the certified alternative currencies are MRC accredited for audience measurement.

  10. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, May 8, 2024 at 3:05 p.m.

    As a reminder, one of "The Ten Cornerstones to JIC's" originally and gratefully published by Media Post and subsequently by ESOMAR V 1.04, is that they develop and manage a single "industry agreed" audience currency for the medium.  To Ed's point, it avoids chaos and delivers metrics very cost efficiently as JIC's are also highly specialized and non-profit.  However, use of a JIC currency does not preclude the use of anciliary databases in any way to "enhance" the agreed single common currency whether a buyer or seller. 
    As JICs consistently and transparently monitor the research and executional quality of their deliverables via a fully professional independent management team, overseen by their tri-partite industry members, the relevance of a body like an MRC for any JIC comes into question.  

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