Getting Cross-Platform Measurement Off the Sidelines

By Jessica Hogue Nielsen Archives

In media, we’re fond of applying sports analogies and axioms.  We characterize measurement as a “team sport” and then debate how far along the game has progressed.  When it comes to metrics, all corners of the media ecosystem are crying foul.  Marketers demand transparency. Buyers need simplicity and comparability.  Media owners and platforms require new ways to position themselves amid a broader landscape. 

The problem is not a lack of quality, reliable measurement for the different elements in the media mix.  The challenge lies in the complexity of putting the pieces together in a cross platform view and getting the players to agree on the formulas used to compare them.  It’s easy to see why. There has been no shortage of fumbled attempts at simple cross-platform comparisons. Beginning in 2015, headlines compared TV to digital video using average minute audience for TV (how many viewers there are to an average minute of content) and digital views (the gross number of times a video is viewed).  Today, a key part of the industry debate hinges on how many seconds or minutes a person should view a piece of content for it to be counted and then, importantly, compared to a different type of content.

This challenge of comparing unlike things is not unique to media.  With the World Series in play, it’s timely to look at baseball’s sabermetrics for inspiration (or caution).  The metric WAR (wins above replacement) facilitates comparisons of players of different positions and skills by summing up their total contribution to the game.  It integrates hitting, pitching, defense or running bases. WAR isn’t a precise metric.  It suffers from vagaries, error rates and lots of teeth-gnashing about how to improve.

But let’s apply this construct to how an advertiser might evaluate media content for a cross- platform campaign.  Imagine the “players” are TV/cable networks (or stations), digital video platforms (or newsfeeds), web publishers and audio stations.  Each medium has different “skills,” like ability to deliver reach, engagement and ability to trigger an immediate response.  Today, these skills are measured by different KPIs -- clicks, views, average minute and so on.  It’s conceivable that a WAR-like metric for media could harmonize all of these elements into a single metric to facilitate comparisons.

Here's the reality: Marketers don’t want more data or opaque metrics.  The calls for viewability are a vote for consistency and transparency.  As we look forward into 2018, buyers and sellers need a practical, simple framework for comparisons they can have confidence in, and we need to collectively step forward and use the information we already have.

A better starting place is a set of metrics built on the fundamental pillars of reach (how many) and time (how long), applied consistently to all the players in the media mix.  These are the keys to activating cross-platform measurement, and the only reliable way to eliminate duplication across each screen and media property -- a crucial input for understanding cross-platform reach.

How do we get there?  The crediting rules used today for streaming video and linear television are different.  Digital video measures accrue the moment content renders on the screen.  For linear TV, viewers must watch the majority of a given minute for credit to count.  This means that reach and time yield different results, making the comparison inaccurate.  While there may not be a WAR-like metric today (at least not yet) or consensus on a single definition, we are innovating to be able to adjust the duration and viewability criteria we apply to study the comparisons between TV and digital video.  At Nielsen, we’re building flexibility into our Total Content Ratings measurement to allow the industry to do just this.  Our objective is not to replace existing metrics, but to build a heuristic -- standardized and transparent -- that enables a broader interpretation of the marketplace. 

It is important to underscore that comparable reach and time spent metrics are not the answer to quantifying marketing effectiveness.  They won’t tell an advertiser what drove a consumer into their store or how they increased brand loyalty.  But without a standardized enumeration, all other analyses lack context.  Without context, there is no confidence.

Cross-media measurement and metrics have come a long way.  Measurement is more sophisticated today than it ever has been.  We now have the tools to allow all forms of media to compete fairly for advertisers’ attention and a common terminology to compare players with very different strengths and skills.  The ultimate goal of cross-media measurement has long been to level the playing field.  Now it’s time to play ball.

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