UK Online TV Measurement Put to the Test

Last year the UK became the first major economy where online advertising spend exceeded that of both TV and print. The 5.7% growth in UK online ad spend in 2009 is predicted to rise by a further 7% in 2010, bringing spending up to £3.79 ($6.04) billion, according to eMarketer. Yet online video represents a relatively small proportion of viewing, with estimates suggesting a range between 1-4% of total viewing. Media agencies and broadcasters operating in this nascent sector are demanding a universally accepted online TV measurement which can unlock greater marcoms budgets.

"Advertisers and agencies urgently want to assess total reach and frequency of their broadcast TV campaign in relation to minutes viewed of the online TV element," says David Brennan, research and strategy director, at commercial TV marketing body Thinkbox. "Eventually we will need a metric that measures how online TV viewing leads to all types of online and offline activity and one that measure's how effective it is as an advertising medium in business terms, both stand-alone and integrated with other media."

Multi-platform broadcasters require a credible video audience metric which gives advertisers the confidence to invest in online video.

"Multiplatform measurement is becoming increasingly urgent as more and more audience embrace new devices, and particularly for younger audiences where the proportion of content viewed online and on mobile is more significant," says Julian Dobinson, Research Director at Sky. "The availability of Sky on the likes of the Xbox, iPhone, and iPad plays to a younger demographic, and one which is increasingly likely to demand access to content where and when they choose. Ideally, multiplatform broadcasters need a metric that can give a single view of viewing behaviour across all platforms and which can also identify the individual contribution of each platform."

Sue Gray, Channel 4's head of corporate & commercial research, agrees: "We need to understand the relationship between on-demand and linear broadcast viewing-to what extent is it incremental and to what extent is it substitutional. Our simultaneous need for detailed online audience data coupled with cross platform contextual insight is highly challenging to the traditional gold standard audience research approach."

BARB's panel-based method for TV viewing has become that gold standard, serving the TV industry in the UK with a trusted panel-based audience ratings service on which commissions and advertising campaigns have been built for two decades.

It has begun to evolve in line with a rapidly changing TV market-recent examples being changes introduced to cope with PVRs and video-on-demand. By the end of this year viewing on TV screens via games consoles and PCs could also be incorporated into BARB data.

It is also addressing the issue of online TV viewing head-on by trialing the possibility of integrating PCs and laptops into its main TV panel. It is using a technique based on audio sampling to identify content, and URL capture to identify the source of content in a temporary group of 75 households over six months ending November. This represents the first such trial anywhere in the world.

"The aim is that the software meter will be relatively unobtrusive, and that the respondents' task will mimic the task for TV viewing-i.e. the meter will automatically collect the data it has been constructed to capture, and will only require an interaction with users to register presence when at the PC, through an on-screen emulation of the BARB handset," explains BARB chief executive Bjarne Thelin. "We believe that the technical issues have been uncovered and confronted in the prototypes and development, but part of what we wish to probe in the test is whether there are particular circumstances where we have difficulty in retrieving data.

BARB has been testing various iterations of this particular software meter concept for almost two years. It needs to understand whether there are issues with respondent willingness to have PCs monitored and additionally whether there is anything about the proposed technique which is an irritant or barrier to continued participation, or if there are situations not yet considered such as the configurations of a wider range of PCs and the way that people actually choose to access content on them.

However it is concentrating on reporting online views of longform TV content, "to keep the measurement of TV together"-a range which is being challenged as too limited.

"The initial aim is to measure TV content, not all online video, but the technique BARB is testing also has the wider potential to report overall usage of audiovisual material online, " clarifies Thelin. "The measurement of TV content would be across all websites, not just a restricted selection, but when reporting data there would be the ability to report only for specified websites if that was the industry-preferred route.

"As penetration of devices grow so the volume of consumption online could grow dramatically. However, there seems to be an increasing expectation that the 'best screen' will usually be used to view wherever possible-this is consistent with the idea that the medium is television and online is the method of distribution.

BARB he stresses is not seeking to provide a generic "online" measurement. "We have no ambition to simply replicate what service providers can already get themselves, but to offer something that takes measurement forward. We believe that we have both challenged research providers to develop approaches, and strongly contributed to a definition of what should be being pursued."

Where viewed via a TV set, BARB would expect to be able to measure and report content consumption regardless of the route into the TV. To this end it has made representations to the Digital Television Group (which is currently drawing up a set of UK-wide specifications for connected-TVs)-and "hopes that the opportunity will be taken by them, and by manufacturers in its implementation." (Digital Television Group director general Richard Lindsay-Davies will be moderating a session called "Understanding Connected TV" at this year's Streaming Media Europe in London, 14-15 October.)

Thelin admits that its greatest limitations are sample size and the logistics of monitoring thousands of content assets, but notes too that the alternatives aren't perfect either.

"Census analytics have an inability to gather people information such as who, if, how many are watching) nor can it be sure what is being tracked, plus there's an inability to cover offline playback," he says. "There is also the issue of who holds the data and whether measurement is fragmented or kept together. If a way can be found to effectively make the two approaches work together the result is likely to be far more beneficial. That is BARB's vision and strategy."

Harmonising the two data sets is arguably the hardest task facing the industry and there are those that believe it can't be achieved without compromise.

For example Matt Rennie, Commercial Director at VoD service SeeSaw believes that mixing TV with online data will only deliver a metric that plays "to the lowest common denominator."

Unsurprisingly major UK broadcasters, who own BARB, have been reluctant to cast aside a metric that lends weight to traditional TV ratings. Moreover there are suggestions that many airtime decision makers would welcome a BARB endorsed online measurement tool.

"BARB is well positioned to be able to provide a comprehensive measurement of all viewing as it already provides the gold standard for TV measurement," confirms Sky's Dobinson.

However fellow BARB stakeholder C4 says it does not expect BARB's pilot to result in a wholly satisfactory conclusion.

"If rolled out to the whole BARB panel, BARB would be in a position to provide single source cross platform viewing data at a top line summary," says Gray adding that the level of detail advertisers require will never be available solely from BARB. "As an industry we need to evolve our approach to industry research. The cross platform video currency of the future must be relevant to a wide range of organisations with video streaming capabilities," she argues. "We are moving towards a more complex, multiple source solution in which panel based research plays a part but is not the entire answer."

UKOM's launch of a video audience planning system (Video Census) scheduled for late 2010 is part of that answer. Backed by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and administered by Nielsen, Video Census will combine panel data from over 50,000 internet users across home and work with census data on inventory that signatories (e.g broadcasters) wish to tag.

"In our experience convergence panel data can provide valuable insight into how audiences use platforms together and in total," says Louise Ainsworth, Nielsen's Managing Director, EMEA for online and advertiser solutions divisions. "The ideal portfolio of metrics would include reach and audience composition, the contribution of the media context, and the impact of the advertising in terms of changed attitudes, perceptions and behaviour.

"While cross platform insight into audience behaviour is important for allocation and planning, trading is likely to continue in silos for a while. This is particularly true because of the different contribution of each medium."

If BARB does roll out PC/ laptop measurement across its whole panel then it is best positioned as a core high quality audience metric to be fused with other more detailed online video panel data to provide the level of cross platform detail advertisers require.

Hybridisation is another solution in which panel research provides estimates of online audience reach and demographic profiles whilst server or set top box data supplies the details of actual online behaviour.

Broadcasters are also forging their own initiatives to evolve audience relationships via registration. "A by-product of a registered panel is accurate audience profile information about the most engaged part of the online audience," says Gray. "At Channel 4 we are pursuing all three of these options in our efforts to understand the online audience in detail as well as put their viewing in to an overall cross platform context."

The ultimate gold standard solution will be influenced both by technology and market developments but the debate remains open as to the one that will persuade ad budgets to follow.

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