When was the last time you saw a 60-second ad on TV? I bet it’s been a while. While the media industry has debated the most effective ad length for decades, we know the answer — at least generally speaking — isn’t a full minute. Today, 15 seconds is most common for TV, according to Nielsen Ad Intel from Jan. 1-Nov. 29, 2021. comparably, ads on the internet can be as short as a single second. For brand advertisers, that means that regardless of platform, every second matters.
As the media industry embraces digital and consumers adopt streaming-first mentalities, brands need platform-agnostic measurement. Audiences across traditional and digital media are converging, and the industry’s move to impressions-based buying and selling is already underway.
Linear TV measurement has always been continuous, but it has struggled to provide brands with the level of granularity needed to compare ad performance with digital platforms and models. On the digital side, measurement has historically focused on individual campaign performance, hindering comparability with traditional TV ad performance. Today, comparability across platforms should be table stakes for measurement providers.
There are likely few in the industry who would lobby against the premise of comparability, and many might say the industry is late to address the issue in light of shifting media consumption trends. Premise, however, is much different from reality, and measurement technologies and methodologies have a long history of being channel- and platform-specific. Transformative change requires precision, attention to market needs, and a focus on the future.
It’s easy to say that providers are late in adjusting, consolidating and marrying their measurement capabilities. When change is needed, few would say they can wait to allow ample time to develop, test and implement. Outside of a pandemic, perhaps the need might not have been as magnified. Today, however, 32% of total time spent with TV involves content from connected devices.
When we look at primary TV programming options (broadcast, cable, streaming), streaming now accounts for more than one-quarter of total viewership. In October, time spent with streaming was equal to time spent watching broadcast television, as reported in The Gauge, Nielsen’s total TV and streaming viewing snapshot. Given the blurring lines between traditional and digital, measurement capabilities can no longer be focused on specific platforms or channels. Not only do measurement methodologies need to be consistent to address shifting media consumption behavior, the metrics they produce need to be analogous to provide brands with true comparability.
That brings us to the importance of measuring beyond that 60-second threshold. That’s the key to comparability when an ad runs on television. Measurement at the minute level has been the standard for decades, and it generally provides networks with enough granularity to determine overall audience engagement. That’s not the case for advertisers and agencies, given that ads grace the same screens, but for much less time.
In today’s media mix, there is no shortage of options and variety for consumers to choose from. And regardless of platform, any minute a consumer spends with content is a minute of that person’s time. We also know that ad avoidance remains a key challenge—no matter how inspiring a message may be. Through that lens, media buyers and sellers have grown increasingly focused on their media mix and spend to ensure it’s efficient and effective. In today’s market, TV buyers and sellers need individual commercial metrics—complemented by insight into what actions a brand’s message inspires—to make those determinations. Subminute reporting, with individual commercial metrics, also cancels the premise of “winning the minute.”
Obviously, it takes more than words on a page to bring measurement into the 21st century. It’s a bigger remit than any single organization can take on and deliver. For our part, we’re introducing updated content watermark and signature technology to facilitate individual measurement of content and advertisements. And to expand our coverage, we’ve partnered with Extreme Reach, a global leader in creative logistics, to scale the watermarking in advertising to cover a vast majority of national linear ads on TV.
Importantly, measurement needs to be flexible and relevant to all parties. That’s why Nielsen will continue providing average commercial minute ratings as a transitional complement to the more granular measurement to allow the ecosystem to adapt to new metrics. And by streamlining our crediting systems and migrating them to the cloud, we’ll be able to deliver currency-grade measurement as we know it today and subminute reporting that is fundamental for Nielsen One. ■
Kim Gilberti is senior VP of product management at Nielsen.
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