The state of television, for as long as it has matured as a medium, has always hinged on the strength of one thing: how well networks have been able to measure the number of people that tune into programming.
Nielsen has not only been the first name that comes to mind, but the only name in television metrics—and has unavoidably been affected by the disruption caused by streaming services and the fragmentation of the medium itself.
Mark Gorman, chief executive of media-industry software company Matrix Solutions, believes that it’s hard to know what could be going on within Nielsen’s walls: “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” he quoted.
Nielsen, for its part, has attempted to adapt and retool itself to accommodate cord-cutters, cord-shavers, and cord-nevers over the past few months, including a strategic partnership with IPG Mediabrands in February and an added ability to measure smart TV users earlier this month. Recently, SpotX announced that it has become the first SSP to utilize Nielsen's analytics to measure connected TV audiences and further measure them against linear TV statistics.
And also, Hulu and Nielsen announced its own partnership, where the streaming service's OTT inventory can now be measured across devices through Nielsen's services.
Amanda Tarpey, senior vice president of digital product leadership at Nielsen said of this partnership: “Our work with Hulu has been a collaborative effort to further expand Nielsen Total Audience measurement across connected devices, and we’re excited to include Hulu in Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings given its position in the market and connection with the consumer.”
However, Nielsen has recognized that media buyers, who have struggled to keep up with splintered audiences, have decided to make transactions based off of cost instead of finding a demographic.
Imran Hirani, Nielsen's vice president of client consulting, said in an interview with PhocusWire: "In the last few years, There's been a shift in the industry to focus media buying on the basis of 'what is the cheapest available media within a day part of ad length,' and away from how well it delivers to a desired audience."
These 'failures' he added, which were based off of an overreliance of media agencies to reach each platform, will result in reaching a point of diminishing returns for marketing effectiveness, all of which has added pressure on budgets due to the increase of platforms and of media costs.
As Nielsen continues its efforts to truly grasp the bifurcated and fragmented methods Americans are viewing TV programming (via linear TV, OTT devices, and more), the search for a new standard currency has been a major point of contention across the media ecosystem. Networks, agencies, and distributors alike have all attempted to create their own methods to measure across devices, which have further hurt advertisers abilities to properly allocate funds to the medium.
Artie Bulgrin, the former research chief at ESPN called this search admirable, but said: “The devil’s in the details.” The benefits to that metric are clear, Bulgrin added: simplicity over complexity, consistency and transparency that will counter a lot of the issues many of the proprietary metrics created by agencies and less media-agnostic bodies.
However, it’s worth questioning what the metric is measuring for. Bulgrin posed this question to the attendees of February’s CIMM conference: “How do we account for different qualities of exposure by platform?” and added: “The idea of one metric is a fool's errand. Exposure is just the beginning. Business outcome may have to become part of the measurement process.” Adjusting to the new systems also poses a challenge for all involved, as well as a fear of the unknown, especially with publishers keen to keeping proprietary measures as a selling point for advertisers.
Gorman agreed and added that solving the current fragmentation issues may result in Nielsen becoming one of potentially four modes of audience measurement that will emerge in the short term. However, he added: “It may very well lose out if it holds onto the its past too long and don’t seek to innovate its approach to measurement and today’s cross-screen consumption trends.”
One of the vying competitors in the space, and seemingly very public in intention, has been Comcast and NBCUniversal. Earlier this year, the conglomerate launched CFlight, a bespoke metric combining Nielsen analytics with data for digital platforms to hopefully have its own end-to-end system of knowing what customers are viewing and how many. NBCUniversal also joined Viacom, Fox and Turner in the OpenAP consortium to better measure advanced TV viewership.
Additionally, the strength of Comcast and its 25-plus million TV and internet subscribers inked a partnership with Cox and Charter Communications, the number-two and three names in cable and internet provisions, to fortify a pipeline for advanced TV measurement.
Gorman said: “Clearly the benefit wouldn’t just be for NBCU, but all the sales that Comcast does. They’re playing to be the standard bearer to their advantage.”
However, that Comcast-created and backed standards has its share of detractors, and additional hurdles to go with it. One of the questions asked, posited Gorman: “Is it a standard that all brands and agencies will accept?” The other, very much a by-product of the growing duopoly of Google and Facebook in the digital media space, but the continued fragmentation overall: “Will this standard be short-lived or futureproofed?”
The pending mergers and government inquiries into Disney-ABC bid into 21st Century Fox and AT&T and Time Warner have surely given Comcast/NBCUniversal time to strike first for a measurement method. Facebook and Google have forced that hand, said Gorman: “It’ll become essential. The deals that are going on in traditional media are a response to today’s digital media duopoly, a continued push to expand into content and distribution powerhouses.”
For the first time in years, advertisers may have at least one proper way of measuring the audiences of the future, but Gorman believes that measurement’s future has two potential outcomes. He said: “Either one will win over the industry, or there will be a combining of them into something that is close and exchangeable with digital, which itself will likely start to shift, as measurement and fraud are addressed.”
That single standard that many are reaching towards has its benefits, Bulgrin said, if the industry can achieve it. He said: “It could introduce simplicity and efficiency and I think that measurement of reach should be a unifying goal.”
It’ll be a process with many steps, Bulgrin added, one that involves education of the new standard, establishing a research program to understand what qualities work for measurement, and then consensus and implementation amongst invested vendors. This means we may not see a clear-cut standard for some time, but for the first time in years, pipelines are being built from modern viewers’ eyeballs to advertising dollars.
NBCUniversal will participate in The Drum's Video Futures event, hosted in New York City on May 8, along with representatives from Diageo, GroupM and Telaria. Attendance is free, click here to register