Media Panels Media Measurement

Is it time that panels were finally given the respect they deserve?

By Joanna Drews | cC-founder and chief exec

February 12, 2021 | 6 min read

In a world dazzled by smart TV and set-top box data measurements, panels have been overshadowed and misunderstood. Without them, however, the industry won’t be able to create individualized or targeted experiences for audiences, says HyphaMetrics co-founder Joanna Drews.


Nothing like a global pandemic to bring advertising’s dirty secret out into the open. Accelerated use and consumption of in-home media from the coronavirus has significantly increased the big black hole of data for advertisers: there is currently no single source of information that breaks down exactly how people are behaving and what their consumption looks like across linear TV, VOD, video gaming, streamed activity and secondary devices. Even media-buying legend Rino Scanzoni told Variety: “Everyone is afraid.”

The only way for the industry to properly and accurately address this consumption behavior is with the inclusion and acceptance of modern panels. Historically, panels have been treated like skeletons in the closet. The odds of hearing the word ’panel’ spoken at any video advertising conferences and events are less than chances of the Kardashians launching a science series on PBS.

Media trading news highlights tend to be smitten with the pizzazz of smart TV and set-top box data, while the underlying panel mechanism is often unfairly overlooked. Why don’t they get the respect that they deserve? Ironically, when executives use these figures for targeting, attribution and analytics, more often than not they don’t even realize panels are an integral part of the equation. Without panels, the role of big data itself in the ecosystem is weakened. They should be viewed as complementary to one another. The industry needs to bring them together and use them consistently for the benefit of all parties.

With the proliferation of walled gardens, the industry is unable to see usage across experiences. It is already clearly impacting the industry with the rise of CPMs in certain areas of traditional media, like linear TV. The antidote to both problems? Single-source panels.

Almost a year of living and working from home has practically pushed the panel discussion out into the open: viewing habits have changed forever, pricing inventory still confounds the buy and sell sides, and there is an urgent need to break all that viewing data down to the individual/persons level at home.

The four myths about panels

Why have panels been shown no love? Just like within any industry, some components can fall victim to myths and hearsay. It’s time to dispel those folktales to finally give panels the respect to that they deserve while giving the industry what it desperately needs to operate in this new environment:

Myth1: Panels are the old way of doing things.

Reality: Panels are the only way of obtaining granular and neutral data simply because we get permission directly from the individuals within the household. There is limited data extraction and usefulness from behind OTT walled gardens or any media company that is incentivized to show skewed results.

Myth 2: Panels are expensive.

Reality: General technological innovation like machine learning has greatly reduced the cost of technology and accelerated innovation. However, its adoption by the measurement space has been slow. According to Juniper Research, chatbots alone will save companies over $8bn annually by 2022, up from $20m in 2017. From a purely economic point of view, the deal can’t be beat: the return that media buyers and sellers and marketers receive for more accurate and effective targeting far outweighs the cost of the panel data. Panels shouldn’t be stuck in a tug-of-war of necessity versus cost because you can’t trade media without them.

Myth 3: The data that panels produce is too small of a sample for it to be truly representative or reflective of people’s behaviors.

Reality: Not true. If you learn the correct methodologies of people recruitment and use the right guiding lights – such as US census data in order to be reflective of the larger population – your sample will be the most accurate representation of people’s behaviors. The methodology is sound when done right and meets the expectations of expert statisticians and data scientists thus garnering market acceptance.

Myth 4: We can get all the information that we need from census data sources.

Reality: The industry cannot move forward on just cable box and smart TV data alone because all they provide is ’device delivery data’. We know it was delivered to the set-top box, but we don’t know who was watching that TV. We don’t even know if that TV was on. We don’t know if they switched to a video game or streamed something afterwards. It gives you scale, you can see general usage patterns within those various wall gardens. But they cannot tell you ’who’ or ’what’ the behaviors look like inside other walled gardens, what the overlap is and how it all comes together.

‘Here’s my data strategy’ isn’t good enough any more

Frankly, the industry needs to become far more educated about data in the general marketplace in order to evolve to the next level of metrics, targeting and ’Here’s my data strategy and my data sources’ is not good enough any more.

Look under the hood by asking data providers ’How is the individualized data created?’ and ’Where is your panel data, if at all, within your methodology or trading practices?’ You’ll likely find multiple stitched-together data sources that have created gaps. A panel fills that gap by providing a single source for stitching gluing it all together.

The writing is on the wall for 2021 to be the year of the panel. Last fall, the World Federation of Advertisers issued a technical proposal for a new cross-media measurement and the first key component is panels. A year from now, panels could go from dirty secret to the lynchpin for entire individualized and targeted audience experiences.

Joanna Drews is co-founder and chief exec of HyphaMetrics

Media Panels Media Measurement

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