Optimism in the Face of Change at the ARF Audience x Science Conference

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For those of us who work in the media measurement space, the annual ARF Audience x Science measurement conference has always been a must-attend.  This year, topics ranged from the standardization of cross platform metrics, ad length, attribution and privacy to the uses of new technology like artificial intelligence to facilitate data insights.

My impression is that measurement evolution is finally gaining traction with more collaboration between competing companies (Think: OpenAP), more efforts to create new standardized metrics and data labeling (CIMM and the IAB) and the end of business-as-usual constraints (ad lengths that vary from six-plus seconds).

Three Big Trends

According to Scott McDonald, President and CEO, ARF, there are three major trends advancing in the industry.  The first is "making progress with cross-platform audience measurement that is keeping up with technology and consumers -- and, if not, what the impediments are and how we can up our game," he said.

The second trend is breaking out of ad length constraints so as to more fully leverage platform and device-viewing behaviors.  The implementation of short-form ads, some as short as six seconds, is one possible solution.  "But there are still questions around their effectiveness, how to best deploy them and how they may affect the consumer's frustration with ad clutter," McDonald averred.

The third trend concerns privacy.  "Marketing has been in a headlong race toward ever-more-precise targeting, fueled by the rise of big data, data analytics and multi-touch attribution," he noted.  "Now, however, targeting is a risk with signs of consumer mistrust in how data is being used (from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its follow-on effects) and the continued impact of the rollout of GDPR, an EU law with global implications." 

However, McDonald said he cannot predict how the concern over privacy will unfold, how it could impact the media ecosystem, or whether there will be regulatory restrictions on data-driven targeting.  "The industry has to evaluate whether it has gone too far in its zeal for targeting -- so much so as to diminish advertising ROI and damage relations with consumers," he concluded.

Changing the Current Metrics to Better Measure Cross Platform

There are those who believe that it is time to find a new standard metric for media that goes beyond age and gender.  There is so much useful data out there that can craft a more nuanced and targeted audience measurement that we only need to come together as an industry and craft a more appropriate cross platform metric.  But in reality it is not that easy.

For some, Nielsen is and will remain at the forefront.  "Nielsen will be the gold standard of TV measurement well into the future," said Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan.  But he expects an evolution, with "core panel ratings enhanced with much more granular measurements that capture much deeper characteristics of audiences reached at the person/impression level and also real attribution to the delivery of desired business outcomes."  He added that we are already seeing some of this enhanced measurement in the marketplace and he expects to see it become a very significant part of the measurement mix by the end of 2020.

For others, the reason why the industry moves slowly is that there are different crediting qualifiers for the same measurements on different platforms. Consensus on which rules should be used for all platforms is an important next step.  Josh Chasin, Chief Research Officer, comScore explained that for Live TV/DVR/TV VOD and OOH, credit for the full minute is given based off of who has the plurality of seconds in a given minute.  Linear Mobile and Computer has a 30-second qualifier where credit is given only after a full 30 seconds of viewing has occurred.  Dynamic Mobile and Computer currently has no qualifier but the MRC standard is two seconds with 50% of the ad viewable.  How can these be reconciled and equated?

Consumers Continue to Rule

"We're seeing a huge shift in viewing habits," said Dan Robbins, Roku's head of ad research.  "Recent research of our cord-cutting users shows that 78 percent think cable is too expensive, 57 percent believe there are too many channels, while 80 percent still watch as much TV as they did before they cut the cord.  Streaming has become mainstream."

But Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising and Client Partnerships, NBCUniversal, believes in the power of television because it offers premium content that is an unbeatable draw for audiences and advertisers.  All of this talk about the power of digital is a false narrative, she asserted.  When advertisers are enticed by cheap CPMs for lower quality content, they fail to understand "the relative value of content they are getting," she said.

Could it all be semantics?  For Megan Clarken, President, Watch, Nielsen, it is all video no matter what device is being used.  She explained that "from a measurement perspective, our job is to find comparable measurement across video," placing TV as "part of the digital industry."

Despite the continuing upheaval and viewer erosion on certain platforms, "I am extremely optimistic about the future," Yaccarino stated.  "We need to challenge legacy.  It is impacting all of our businesses all around.  Why are we afraid of change?  We have permission to change."

Change is certainly in the air.  Now it is time to take a big breath and move decisively forward.

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