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Media Media Planning and Buying

Brands are still panning for the right way to measure the CTV gold rush

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

March 16, 2022 | 8 min read

Linear TV viewers are wandering into VOD, digital and social TV environments – domains that once-trusted stalwarts such as Nielsen can’t yet fully comprehend. Big-spending brands are becoming frustrated, unsure how they should measure audiences in these spaces. The Drum tasks its Future of TV Advisory Council with answering the question.

There are more places to find audiences on the biggest screen in the house than ever. It’s been described as a TV renaissance. That coupled with a production boom and the emergence of more ad-funded TV platforms than you could name marks an exciting time for advertisers. But for many platforms, the proof still isn’t in the pudding. Brands are having a tough time comparing their apples and oranges.

Panning

How can brands strike gold when venturing into CTV?

When linear TV was how most people consumed TV, organizations including Nielsen and Barb (in the UK) set up representative research panels of thousands of households to estimate the ratings of top shows. When there were fewer devices and platforms to consume TV, this made sense as a way of tracking how many people saw the ads. But even broadcasters pushed into video on demand (VOD) and are serving addressable ads, targeted based on demographics and interests to viewers. In short, the old way of measuring becomes less effective as linear declines. But what replaces the panels? Barb has started bundling in social video and subscription video on demand (SVOD) figures, but there’s still a long way to go.

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Simon Thomas has been buying TV at GroupM for 18 years now. He explains the importance of rigorous measurement. “It is the basis of all planning, strategic comms, tactics, optimization. It’s a currency that we use as an industry to trade. If you take measurement out, you end up basically with no foundation.”

The great viewership shift into VOD is getting clients “seriously frustrated” about a lack of common currency between platforms. “Anything we can do to bring measurement up the agenda, and get some of the issues fixed and solved, is vital.”

Tal Chalozin, chief tech officer and co-founder at Innovid, is excited by the wealth of data that could inform the next measurement currency. He says: “More data can be generated and a lot more endpoints can be connected together. Marketers would like to see other forms of measurement, more than just panels, more like a census into website traffic or app downloads.” It will be “additive.”

But even these means are threatened. IP addresses are currently generating the “lion’s share” of graph data in CTV. Could it go the way of device IDs and third-party tracking cookies and become more difficult to implement, Chalozin asks? “It’s fairly obvious it will.”

It’s not the most solid foundation to build a new currency for TV – although it is clear whoever runs the operating system on the device will have an advantage.

Sean Cunningham, president and chief executive at the VAB, reflects on the fall of Nielsen, for years the big player in TV measurement. In a seemingly short time, it lost its Media Rating Council accreditation, rebranded its offering and is now apparently up for sale.

Cunningham says: “The major migrations that we’ve seen have come after the mounds of data prove the obvious. [In TV measurement] we have been staging a tournament every year, but with only one player. We now have an open with multiple players.

Of these new players, iSpot.TV’s one is using automated content recognition (ACR) via smart TVs to get a feel for ratings. It’s not yet accredited. Many more have multiple clients and case studies for scores of campaigns.

Cunningham adds: “This change in behavior is going to really force them to the metrics beyond audience measurement and verification into business lifts and net effects. They could give the marketer the kind of data that they’re currently getting from Google or Facebook.”

But what could this measurement look like?

Cunningham believes it is vital to calculate the quality of content the ad appears next to against the duration it is viewable. Context should be a prime consideration – a better environment and better content should carry a higher fee, just as it did in linear. It’s not something the open web has cracked yet.

Ashwini Karandikar, 4A’s executive vice-president of media, tech and data, points out that Nielsen has been taking a lot of heat in recent years in the industry. “There is not a better horizontal structure as of yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be replaced.”

She points out that a lot of the measurement in the digital ecosystem is already flawed, and it would be disastrous to bring it into TV.

“No one knew why they wanted an attribution model. And if it told you that search ads drove all your sales, would you stop your TV ads? No. And 100% viewability is not 100% sales by any stretch, so who cares?”

The measurement question has “a trillion answers depending on what you’re trying to get to at the end of it.”

GroupM’s Simon Thomas adds: “We’ve got a hell of a lot of clients in different categories. And I can see an enormous amount of difference in what they want. There is no one solution.”

So it comes back to what the client wants. Sam Taylor, head of customer value at Direct Line Group, believes we are at the very start of the measurement question. “How do I most effectively reach my audience with the attention that TV brings?” [Linear used to do more of this].

Under current measurements, VOD investment might look “reasonably inefficient,” but he puts that down to the trickle-down of a pre-existing over-investment in TV. But he says that’s happened for good reason. He points to the investment of D2C, or what TV body Thinkbox calls “online-born” brands in the TV advertising they were once famed for growing without.

“D2C is investing in TV because they’ve just realized that digital’s not working. It’s not because they’ve suddenly realized that TV works. Digital alone isn’t working and they’ve not been measuring correctly from an attribution point of view.”

Lindsey Clay, chief executive of ThinkBox, points out that for upstart brands, new into TV, their creative tends to have a direct response element as well as a brand-building effort. They have to explain what they are, what they do and how they are unique.

“Their brand work, and their transactional work, blend together. The more successful they become, this approach actually becomes less appropriate.” Are they measuring these two streams properly? As Clay points out, as they mature, they should be investing more in the long-term brand building that will sustain their place. Will they have the data to encourage that, however?

Finally, a leading buyer sums up the debate. “Measurement is all about ascribing value to something in order to make a comparison. It is no longer one TV universe. People value different things in different ways. And that is the root of the issue.”

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