Throw Out The Bums! – Web Trackers Can’t Measure Web’s Primetime

“Play ball” cries the ump at the beginning of every baseball game. For many, that’s still a relief. The idea of the game being reformatted to fit the clock so that network TV programmers could count on a more certain game time end would change, if not reduce baseball’s special, slow, rhythmic and pastoral quality.

It’s still questionable whether “instant replay” will ever be brought into our national pastime, for as much as Americans enjoy and appreciate technology, the idea of umpires standing relaxed over a TV screen debating a call at home plate isn’t quite as good a replacement for the drama of seeing a player or manager get thrown out of the game by the ump, particularly after a blood-vessel-popping, passionate post-call exchange. It’s a hoot.

Though not as fun, the online media community has equally mixed feelings about improving work-based audience measurement technology, which results in bad calls being made relative to online at-work reach and frequency, during the Internet’s prime time.



The 3rd party servers tell us that 1PM EST is when online usage is at its highest. That’s when the western coast has logged on at work, joining their east coast friends and competitors. Yet panel-based measurement tools like Jupiter Media Metrix and Nielsen NetRatings, the Internet’s “demographic umpires” have woefully bad vision in this most important daypart, the biggest game time of the medium.

Few of us have screamed, “throw out the bums” to date. While we wouldn’t allow little league or Triple AAA baseball umpires to call a World Series game, the industry has been very mild-mannered in placing any real pressure on these two companies to improve their at-work measurement.

This was brought up at the ARF meeting recently by Gian Fulgoni of comScore, who’s panel size for at-work is roughly 10 times larger than the other databases for this most important daypart.

How many fowl ball calls are being called fair during 9 to 5, when America is online? What impact has this poor vision had on our industry’s growth? Would the TV industry be as reserved and accept Nielsen as much if Early/Late Fringe were in actuality the most highly viewed time periods? Would advertisers be willing to pay premiums for prime time if they thought viewership as measured by Nielsen was much lower? I don’t think so.

Few advertisers would ever agree to an ROS schedule on TV. To those in the know, that would be a sucker’s schedule. ROS in TV or radio most likely means the bulk of your spots will run between 12 midnight to 6AM, or skewed away from the all important prime/drive times. Yet we often buy that way online, thinking nothing of it.

The ARF’s recent call to put more umps on the field and utilize a combination of user-centric measurements (UCM) and server-centric measurements (SCM) is a wise one. With the exception of comScore, this industry still can’t get on first base relative to “owning” at-work, the Internet primetime.

The good news, of course, is that the bulk of ROS impressions are skewed to the workplace time zone, as that’s when the highest page views are being served. But, how many marketers are also placing their trade media schedules in the appropriate trade sites, which mirror the trade magazine industry? Should you be up at bat planning your client’s trade media schedule, Bill Furlong’s will put you on base, once online media becomes the norm on trade media plan flowcharts.

Is it because we have philosophical differences about selling to people while they’re on the job? Is our brand management community highly moralistic about America’s productivity being jeopardized, or lowered somewhat if people were distracted and leaned in for a personal brand message while on the job? Naahhh.

Or perhaps it’s because people aren’t open to personal messages at work, similar to the argument buff books such as Popular Photography or Car & Driver make about “being in the zone” when readers come to their publications vs. running a camera or automotive ad say, in Newsweek.

To this pitcher, it has much more to do with the fact that there’s still too little understanding of how the Internet has become integrated into our at-work lives. Long before the Internet was born, statistics indicated Americans were spending much higher amounts of time and attention at work. After the laid-back 70’s, 1980’s Yuppiedom made having a career cool again. The early 90’s were all about improving productivity, doing more with less. Computers were supposed to make our lives easier, remember?

However, the issue of where our mindset is when we’re at work is something behavioral scientists have not quite understood yet. SCM data would suggest that Americans have much more on their minds than their job. I’m not so sure UCM does. That’s why you need both.

We have yet to philosophically understand how to use “Internet Prime.” That’s because marketers haven’t yet adapted to the fact that people can, as my English Teacher used to say, “chew gum and suck air straight” at the same time. One might even speculate today that the most productive workers are the ones who can multi-task @work. Of course, there are some slackers who are too obvious, who close down the gaming screen every time their boss comes by, who assume their supervisors were born yesterday and didn’t notice.

However, for those of us who are lucky enough to still be employed right now, spending inordinate amounts of time away from home in the office (mentally or physically), those marketers who understand our complex lives, who are sensitive to this 21st century bewildering lifestyle and reach us with personal messages within the at-work context, might actually find themselves being well received.

The Internet, like Baseball, is a game that is won by having the right players in the right positions with the right strategy. For as much as Major League Baseball and many of our employers will continue to resist allowing instant replay technology or online audience tracking into their workspace, it does not necessarily mean that strategically-based at-work-sensitive executions mean extra innings.

Other than Anheuser-Busch’s breakthrough work with CBS MarketWatch, how many other campaigns are using at-work as a tactic? Marketing consumer products and services in the workplace could be the killer double play app. In this 24/7 “always on” mentality we now live in, it’s a philosophy worth trying. The difference could be more successful interactive campaigns. After all, those millionaires playing ball on the field are working too, aren’t they?

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