Counting Viewers: The Search for Cross-Platform Measurement

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“Metadata from hundreds of data points is processed by software based on 20 years of neuroscience,” says cofounder Matt Celuszak. “We are not tracking the person—they remain anonymous—but facial movement to detect how people respond to content by attributes like surprise, fear, sadness and disgust. “

Incubated by BBC Worldwide Labs and tested on Top Gear, CrowdEmotion’s aim is to build the world’s largest database of emotional response signals.

“Some of these technologies give you a better idea of the context of viewing and of audience appreciation for content,” says C4’s Bala. “It’s not just raw viewing statistics and consolidated figures but how people feel about content and how we are able to influence emotions which is important.”

Overcoming Doubt

Of course more data does not necessarily translate to better insights and doubts are being cast on the validity of online data.

The share price of AIM-listed online ad company Blinx fell dramatically in February 2014 when allegations were made in a blog about irregularities inflating Blinx ad view figures. Although the allegations were proved themselves to be grossly inflated, if not outright false, Blinx attributed a stock warning in July to more general “industrywide issues of efficiency and effectiveness” compounded by the accusations.

Enders’ Hind identified concerns about the quality of digital inventory and the transparency of online ad campaigns as blocks to the growth of online video advertising.

“Online has huge a challenge to reach its true potential,” she says. “As viewing and money moves away from the TV set it is incredibly important that both broadcasters and advertisers get to understand their overall audience and how effective their campaigns are.”

Agencies are also wary. “Currency is a representation of the truth, not the whole picture perfectly formed,” Turner says. “I am not selling to a device. I am selling to people, and I want to connect what is happening across those devices in a practical, comparative way. So let’s keep it in perspective. TV is not dead and digital is an illusion of precision.”

Cross-Platform Challenges Nielsen

Antitrust concern in the U.S. has meant there is no joint industry initiative such as BARB to commission a currency for cross-platform measurement.

“There are a number of different footprints from cable and TV operators, but the industry faces a real challenge in putting them together for a nationally representative measure,” says Jane Clarke, managing director of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM). “We even have problems defining a day, a week, or a month across media. There are no common standards for GRPs, TRPs (gross and target ratings points).”

CIMM aims to change that. Its members include major broadcast and cable networks Viacom, Scripps, Discovery, News Corp, Walt Disney, TimeWarner, and Universal, along with large media buying holding companies Carat, Omnicon, and Publicis, as well as major advertisers such as P&G.

Its initiatives include Blueprint, a pilot project run by ComScore involving 10 media companies, including ESPN, that will record and evaluate text-based, video, and audio interaction from TV panel metres and tablets, phone, and PC.

The aim is to create a new cross-platform TV measurement, which Clarke admits is controversial. “Nielsen is taking a different approach,” she says. “It is not using a hybrid. They have a method of enlarging their sample using a variety of techniques, but it’s still primarily a sample-based endeavour.”

A second CIMM project is to develop an open standard for identifying content and ads. With EIDR and AD-ID, the respective standards for identifying entertainment and ad content, and with the backing of Rovi and Movielabs, as well as the American Association of Advertising Agencies, it is working with SMPTE to bind the asset identifiers using the asset itself, probably using watermarking.

Benefits will, Clarke says, include increased speed, transparency, and accountability in video content and ad measurement; lower barriers to deploying cross platform dynamic ad insertion; and improved second screen integration.

“Nielsen has made it clear they do not want part of the open standard,” she says. “Yet CIMM members are Nielsen’s biggest clients.”

Viacom is a CIMM member, and in November it seemed to blame Nielsen for a tumble in its Q3 ratings, which reportedly led to a decline in ad sales. Viacom claimed that the research firm is outdated because the ratings do not consider digital viewing methods.

Nielsen may be wanting to preserve its business, but it’s disingenuous to suggest its focus remains trained on panels.

This month it began to measure ratings of programmes streamed on subscription online video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. Using audio detection, Nielsen will identify which shows are being streamed, a new measurement capability that does not require the approval of the streaming services. The data could impact how business is conducted between the services and the studios that license content.

“Our clients will be able to look at their programmes and understand: is putting content on Netflix impacting the viewership on linear and traditional VOD?” Brian Fuhrer, senior vice president of national & cross-platform product leader for Nielsen, told The Wall Street Journal.

Its initiatives include an alliance with Adobe to deliver “the industry’s first comprehensive, cross-platform system for measuring online TV, video, and other digital content across the web and apps.”

The collaboration will integrate Nielsen’s digital audience measurement products with Adobe Analytics and Adobe Primetime. Both companies will jointly market Nielsen’s Digital Content Ratings, supported by Adobe census data.

Nielsen says the integration is expected to accelerate the adoption of a digital ratings currency. In a press release, Brad Rencher, senior vice president of digital marketing at Adobe, says, “Once complete, our partnership with Nielsen will provide analytics tied with ratings—benefitting advertisers, media companies, and consumers alike.”

Nielsen is a step ahead of BARB in recognising the impact of Twitter, although its findings are similar. It launched Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings (NTTR) in October 2013 and in an announcement the next year attested to the fact that exposure to TV tweets drives consumers to view programmes.

“We all know that social media has value, but quantifying that still remains a mystery,” Judit Nagy, vice president of analytics for Fox, said in a statement. “These findings get us one step closer to fully understanding the relationship between social activity and TV ratings and enabling us to take better advantage of social media as a platform that can drive viewership.”

Nielsen is also working with New York-based ad tech company Simulmedia to take data from 19 million STBs, combined with programming data from TV channels and with purchasing data, to correlate spots viewed against buying decisions.

“In the big data world, everything can be correlated. We are able to connect viewing to actual purchasing,” says Pravin Chandiramani, senior vice president of business development for Simulmedia.

ComScore has been working to address the issue from the other direction. Its Video Metrix has been limited to desktop and laptop viewing, but in a white paper issued midyear the company says it is supporting a “Total Video” method of measuring all broadcast and online viewing.

This would be a single, unduplicated audience metric with unified demographics across platforms, both granular and scalable, and flexibility for future advertising models. The white paper gave no details as to how this was to be achieved but quoted John Muszynski, chief investment officer at Spark SMG, as saying “Making this measurement system a reality requires the collective efforts of the media industry with folks on both sides of the table playing a role and agreeing on common ground.”

A year ago Rovi launched Ad Optimizer and Promo Optimizer, two new components to its existing suite of Rovi Analytics. Rovi says it is open to applying the technology with TV networks and broadcasters in Europe.

“We saw a need for a platform that was truly data agnostic, with the ability to integrate data from a range of sources—STBs, panels and external third parties—to not only help the industry better manage and implement advertising and promotional campaigns but to understand device viewership, analyse audiences, and use this data to inform future strategy,” Hoctor says.

Rovi declined to discuss how large its panel base was or which broadcasters have signed to these services. Nor, it seems, do these products accommodate data from mobile devices, although Rovi states that it continues to monitor this area.

“Not only will predictive analytics play a key role in the future of ad targeting, it owns the potential to optimise entertainment discovery with increasingly intelligent search and recommendations capabilities,” Hoctor says. “With future boosts from analytics, search and recommendations could make suggestions based on your prior viewing habits and similar viewers’ choices, and even incorporate your social networks’ recommendations.”

Portland, Ore.-based measurement firm Rentrak, backed by investor Mark Cuban, has steadily bulked up its content everywhere and TV business to compete with Nielsen. In partnership with new pacts with Fox, ABC, and CBS, it acquired the U.S. measurement business of Kantar Media for $98 million. Rentrak makes much of its ability to marry demographic information with consumer-purchase behaviour and is supported in this by GroupM, whose U.S. clients include Subway and Unilever.

So what’s next for audience measurement? Here’s one thing we know for sure: with billions of dollars at stake, consumers are going to find their viewing habits inspected like never before, resulting in more revenue for content owners and better targeted programming for the people watching.

This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of Streaming Media European Edition as "Cross-Platform Measurement Challenges.”

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