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Media Adtech Future of TV

IAB CEO David Cohen on the TV and video measurement gold rush

By David Cohen | Chief executive officer

May 13, 2022 | 6 min read

As video and TV ad measurement reaches a tipping point, IAB's chief executive officer David Cohen shares five predictions for where the industry is headed.

Hands panning for gold in a river

/ Adobe Stock

The California Gold Rush started in 1848 and peaked in 1852. The amount of energy and change unleashed in those four short years — arguably the most consequential years of the century — was enormous.

In just one year, the non-native population went from less than 1,000 to 100,000. The native population never recovered. A lucky few 49ers made fortunes. The rest broke their picks trying. The two billion dollars of gold that were extracted reinvigorated America’s economy.

Something similar is happening in media measurement. Call it the measurement gold rush.

The digital ecosystem, for better or worse, has always been a multi-currency world. There were competing sources of truth and buyers chose to transact on a set of agreed-upon metrics. In the video world, inclusive of linear television, Nielsen has long been the dominant player.

With increasing marketplace complexity and the pandemic introducing new challenges, the gold rush is on. All signs indicate that Nielsen will not continue as the only currency. The company's agreement to be acquired by a private equity group for $16bn marks the end of a remarkable era and has set off a new race to define measurement in the 21st century. Here are my predictions for what lies ahead:

1. There probably won’t be a “new Nielsen”

Already NBCUniversal, WarnerBros., Discovery, Paramount, Disney and others have begun working with multiple measurement vendors to create alternate currencies. Whatever happens, the days of combining digital (viewable, bot- and fraud-free ad impressions against a discrete audience) impressions with average commercial audiences is coming to a rapid close — as it should.

We’re in for an intense period of discovery. Odds are that there will be a few big winners and not just one. And don’t count Nielsen out. Going private gives the firm far more flexibility to reinvent itself than it ever had as a publicly-traded company.

2. Some combination of panel data and big data seems likely

Measurement is complex, with many dimensions to explore and many ways to explore these dimensions. Both panel data and big data will be required to arrive at an industry solution that works across an increasingly complex media landscape.

There’s no one right way to measure. What really matters is learning what works reliably enough to guide investment decisions — and understanding how legacy measurement and delivery data compares to the new paradigm.

3. Marketers will seek reliable solutions to measure digital and linear in the same way

Recent data from eMarketer reveals that weekly time spent streaming video increased 18% year-over-year. A Nielsen survey, meanwhile, found that 93% of consumers plan to either add another paid streaming service or make no changes to existing subscriptions. All in all, it's clear that digital video streaming is here to stay.

But there’s no clear standard yet for how to combine digital and linear. As it stands, there are different yardsticks used in each ecosystem, with little ability to easily translate measurements. The race to define what a hybrid model looks like is well underway, but there are years of effort ahead. The sooner everyone pushes ahead, the better.

4. The industry will shift from counting to value assessment

Various measurement companies are vying to be the new standard for how to measure attention, eyes on screen, ad viewership's impact on search activity and beyond. But they’ll all need agency and marketer partners to improve and refine their solutions — at scale and over time. It’s far too early to pick winners or losers, and stakeholders will need to test and learn with a variety of partners.

This period of discovery is vital because choice matters, and measurement has always been more dimensional than just a single number. Perhaps first we should align on a universal way to count impressions across screens, and then we can turn our attention to attention, delivering business outcomes and other priorities.

5. Yet, this year’s marketplace won’t be much different from last year's

Given how much money is at stake, we’d be foolish to imagine that major changes will happen overnight. However, unlike the conversations that happened over the past decade around measurement, which amounted to fool’s gold, we are finally at an inflection point to institute real change.

All the changes in measurement are very real. With that said, it's likely that this year's upfronts and NewFront season won’t be materially different from the years preceding it. The majority of video inventory purchased will still be guaranteed on a Nielsen demographic audience.

Agencies, marketers, and their measurement partners will spend the next several years hard at work, mining for digital gold. It will take time for consensus to emerge about what’s real gold and what’s fool’s gold.

Who will strike true gold is yet to be determined. But it will be an amazing — and consequential — period in the history of our industry.

David Cohen is chief executive officer at IAB.

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