Last fall Nielsen announced it would provide gross rating points (GRPs) for online ads to mixed reviews. Most of the criticism focused on the problem of comparing a 30-second TV commercial to a static online banner ad. Not an apples-to-apples comparison. It didn't seem like Nielsen had really found the Holy Grail of media comparability, at least for media buying and planning purposes.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Nielsen announced a partnership with TubeMogul to provide GRPs for online video ads. Were digital video GRPs now the Holy Grail? Were there any winners or losers?

Because the Nielson/TubeMogul announcement comes about a month before the TV upfront market breaks, we can assume that the timing of the announcement was not random, but a strategic maneuver to influence the upfront and attempt to give media planners and buyers a defensible reason to move budgets from TV, continuing to suffer from declining audiences, to online video, which is growing like Topsy, and now measurable in GRPs.

Who gains the most by the introduction of digital video GRPs? Obviously, the biggest winner is Nielsen, which now has more data to sell. The second biggest winner (and purchasers of the data) will be internet sites and apps that serve video, which can now try to get GRP-obsessed media planners at the large media agencies to switch money from TV to online.

The losers will be TV and print. Poor print; digital video GRPs are just another nail in print's coffin, as though it needed any more nails. Radio won't suffer much, because its terrestrial revenue seems to be rising – slowly, but on an upswing – and radio's biggest upside is in digital, which is on the verge of substantial growth.

And, if media agencies and planners put too much emphasis on GRPs, another group of losers will marketers because a GRP (or a CPM) never went into a store or online and bought anything. What marketers care most about is selling the most stuff for the least amount of money – ROI. Return on investment is the Holy Grail for marketers, and you can't get reliable and valid ROI metrics from multiple-source and panel data such as Nielsen supplies. Solid ROI metrics can only come from single-source data.

There is one media agency that is trying to take advantage of marketers' focus on ROI. This week ZenithOptimedia Group announced that it is:

... is refreshing its marketplace branding with the new addition of a "Live ROI" tagline to underscore the shop's real-time ROI accounting capabilities. The Publicis Groupe-owned media agency network is also sprucing up its logo and redesigning the logos of its specialty units to present a uniform corporate look.

The agency network, comprised of media shops Zenith and Optimedia along with several specialty operations, has been positioned as "The ROI Agency" for the last decade. That overarching descriptor will remain in place.

Is the notion of "Live ROI," "refreshing" its branding that has been in place for 10 years, and "sprucing up its logo" a new approach for ZenithOptimedia or is it merely a PR push for an old idea that has been dusted off to take advantage of the questions that markets are bound to ask about what good digital video GRPs will do them?

So, it will be interesting to watch the upcoming TV and internet upfront markets to see if money is shifted from TV to the internet, and where ZenithOptimedia places the majority of its media investments, in GRP-measured TV or in more ROI-accountable online and mobile (not they'd tell anyone, but it will be fun to guess).

Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at

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