Local media measurement is too complicated and inadequate for its own good. In many ways it is like a city with an interstate cut through its center that sections it into impractical and disconnected parts. It may make sense for the nation but has done little to improve the functionality of the local market. But just as multidiscipline planning designs tackle obstacles to improve the interconnectedness of local cities, the same principles can be applied to modernize the local media measurement infrastructure. To be successful, it will require dedicated commitment and multilateral support for new approaches that put local market audiences at the center of all development. And local media channels have the most to lose without it.
Bigger than the Sum of Its Parts
Advertising revenue across all local media channels will top $146 billion (BIA Kelsey) in 2016. Unlike the national marketplace, this spending is spread across thousands of local media channels and millions of small campaign transactions. Despite this investment, the local advertising marketplace has been hindered by years of retrofitting national composite measurement methods that do little to distinguish or represent the value and diversity of local audiences.
And yet, local media channels are intrinsically woven into daily life and considered a trusted voice for the communities they serve. They are dedicated to localism which is why most are exceptionally regulated to insure the content is relevant to individual communities. The main challenge is that there is no organized or consistent measure to demonstrate this value to advertisers.
Local Channel Centric Leaders Need a Fixer
For local, current channel-centric measurement solutions favor a national composite adjustment that rarely addresses the unique way these channels work within a market. As media use expands, and content providers distribute across multiple devices, it has fractured connections and made it more urgent to understand the similarities and differences of these actions within and across U.S. markets. Rapid change has left many local channels wary of advancement and complacent in hope that a formidable solution will be provided to the market.
Data and technology options have encouraged investors to fund innovative products but many of these investments have been limited to one channel or a small group of owners with the promise others will partner at a later date. While this is a positive development, it does little to bring unity to the marketplace. Channel solutions are still necessary, but efforts will be much more effective if supported by an overarching guide that standardizes local audience collection and measurement methods.
The Benefits of Consistent Local Categorization
Blueprints and roadmaps play important roles in helping inform direction and provide functional clarity and unified understanding. Without these guides, it can create imbalance and chaos that slows progress and defers innovation. So little focus has been given to the categorization of local market characteristics and media audiences over the years that it now increases the need to advance a framework more compatible to the unique nature of local markets.
Data access is a clear benefit to enabling localized and targeted audience matching to media usage. However, much of the analysis of this behavior and attribution is against algorithms developed through broader data cells that are aggregated nationally. One of the long term consequences of this action may unknowingly disregard the contextual differences taking place in each market. Establishing building blocks at the local level will enable standard structures that are more relevant to local market needs as well as market to market comparability and national aggregation validation.
Transparent Framework Can Diffuse Inquiries
Traditional local media has been legislated for years and has had little defense from current media measurement methodologies in demonstrating the impact the changing media landscape has on local communities. Simultaneously, the rise of data collection and consumer privacy issues will likely dominate legislative focus in the coming years. Both of these challenges can be turned to opportunities by developing more transparent guidance at the local level.
Local cities and governments are already utilizing local data and collectively working to adopt some standardization to insure compliance with privacy needs. A system of measurement that enables a broader comparative view of the media interactions within a market as well as across markets will do much to inform discussions.
How to Bring This Idea to Formation
Local media measurement methods need some common guardrails to facilitate development of modern techniques that value local audiences equally. The ideas shared in this article deserve consideration and discussion. So many local media companies are already spending considerable time and money working on different initiatives that may fall short without broader support. It is likely that many solutions and varied measurement approaches will be necessary to satisfy the market, but it will also require more partnership and data sharing to be effective. It is for this reason a local media measurement framework is so critical.
The proposal in its simplest form is to create a designated commission dedicated to developing a framework for local media measurement that centers on local market audiences. The objective is to provide a structure for analysis that enables every channel to compare current measurement and audience collection to a future forward blueprint. It will encourage a better flow of ideas while creating an open forum for discussing today's capabilities with tomorrow's opportunity.
Success will depend on multi-lateral support from all local media channels. Unlike agencies, or measurement providers, local channels have the most to gain from proactively advancing this effort. It will require funding to support a dedicated team that can initiate industry study and informed scholarly input to address key questions/challenges. Local media is at a pivotal point to influence the trajectory path of local media measurement and synchronize development with data and technology advancements. All it takes is coming together and turning a vision into reality.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated bloggers.