This year’s ARF RE:THINK conference showed the industry how far research has come in impacting the overall media business model. In the days of spots and dots and proxy demographic targets, research played more of a report card role asking the eternal question: How well did we do within our limited universe of influence? But now, thanks to digital video across devices, big data, technological advances such as machine learning and qual/quant hybrid measurements such as neuroscience, we find that the business advancements of programmatic, cross platform and advanced TV require a strong, visionary research department role.

And the race is on.

Gayle Fuguitt, CEO of the ARF, noted at the conference that, “Our tech solutions haven't kept up with the consumer.” So beyond the usual reportage of how a company is performing, researchers now grapple with issues that emanate from unanticipated sources. What follows are a few that were discussed at RE:THINK.

Data Analytics and Integration

Stan Sthanunathan, Senoir Vice President, Consumer and Market Insights at Unilever, summed it up when he said there are “50 billion devices all throwing off data. But it's not about the data. It's about what we do with it.”

We have all of this great data at our fingertips and there is more and more big data coming at us from many sources. Of course not all data is valuable and much of it is silo-ed. But how will we know what drives our insights and what doesn’t if we cannot easily and efficiently bring it all together to analyze?

As CBS’ Chief Research Officer David Poltrack noted, “Big data analytics is an emerging field.” Emerging yes, but still diffuse.

Bruce Friend, Vision Critical’s President of Media and Entertainment, believes that data integration is a priority. “More and more of our clients are looking inwards towards their own dataset, trying to integrate that with the other research information they are collecting and unfortunately there is no elegant way of doing that right now,” he said.

The Business Stress of Cross Platform

The migration of video across a multitude of platforms not only has measurement challenges, it is also changing the entire business model including sales, marketing and branding. Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever, cited the full compendium when he said that we are going from “TV centric to content everywhere, linear to multi-touch and mass marketing to hyper- targeted marketing.”

According to Joan FitzGerald, Senior Vice President, Television and Cross-Media Services at comScore, we talk about a “decline in live TV viewing, but viewing is fragmenting across viewing opportunities. 87% of the total US Internet population watches online video. Millennials lead the way in online video viewing. 60% watch smartphones in a month. 15% watch every day. It is a big driver of change in our business.”

Havas CEO Lori Hiltz concurred. “Cognitive thinking, applied analytics, social insights, mobile distribution, cloud computing are all impacting the business today,” she said. “Mobile is driving everything we do. Facebook bypasses the model of working through agencies. This resets the way we access insights.”

View-ability

View-ability is a crucial challenge for all types of media businesses -- not just cross platform but also with digitally placed based media outside the home. So while the solution for view-ability -- whether a piece of content can actually be viewed on a screen -- will benefit many types of content and advertising platforms, we currently lack standard measures. Fred Leach, head of measurement research and partnerships for Facebook, suggested that we “need accreditation for ad servers.”

But it is more than that. It is a bit of the Wild West out there, as Nathalie Bordes, Senior Director, Emerging Platforms Research at ESPN, noted “There are technological challenges for premium publishers. There are standards now for desk top and mobile browser, but we need to be platform agnostic. There are also many vendors and different metrics.”

Non-Human Traffic

A sibling issue to View-ability is non-human (or invalid) traffic of search bots, scrapers and hacking tools. According to Incapsula, in 2013 61.5 percent of traffic on the Web was non-human. It seems high, but even if that were halved, it is still a large percentage of internet traffic. Josh Chasin, Chief Research Officer for comScore, is focused on this issue. "Non-human traffic is more frustrating for publishers,” he said. “ComScore has seen that one of the biggest drivers of the variance in reported view-ability across the different vendors is treatment of non-human traffic and fraud. If reported view-ability is unrealistically high, you are probably paying for fraud.”

Adding to all of the above is the age-old challenge of measurement -- from cross platform to engagement to ROI. Do we create new metrics or do we retro-fit current industry standards? Some, like Unilever’s Sthanunathan, believe that we “need to get insights that we can't get from a traditional approach.” But the foundation of the business is built on metrics developed decades ago.

No matter what direction the industry takes, it is nice to know that research and its ability to mine insights will be at the center of all the action.

Interviews conducted by Charlene Weisler, Weisler Media LLC. She can be reached through herCharlene Weisler research blog www.WeislerMedia.blogspot.com or at WeislerMedia@yahoo.com. Full disclosure: Charlene hosts a street art blog on The Starry Eye blog community.

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