comScore Moves Fast, But Change May Be Slow

While comScore is in a hurry to provide new cross-platform ratings before upfront season starts in April, a top buyer says the way media buying is done isn’t likely to change till at least the 2017-18 season.

GroupM, one of the biggest media buyers, is switching to comScore local TV ratings from Nielsen in markets where Nielsen is using paper diaries to gather viewer information, according to Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at GroupM.

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Scanzoni says the change will affect local TV markets No. 51 and smaller. “That’s really where we are looking to see if we can convert over, given the obvious deficiencies of a diary system,” he said. "That’s really where we’re going to take that first step.”

He said the change will not affect people-meter markets, nor markets with set-top meters, which sounds like less of a change than was laid out by comScore executives during Wednesday’s earning call, where they said 90% of GroupM’s local trading would be based on the comScore Rentrak numbers.

GroupM is part of WPP, which owns a large stake in Rentrak.

"The endorsement by GroupM, we believe will significantly increase our local TV market share," said Rentrak CEO Bill Livek on the call. "It makes it easier for these television stations to use comScore local TV as their primary currency and as you know for a long time that’s been our point of view as in this world of basket of currencies, we want to be used as the primary currency ... We think the adoption rate will continue to pick up in 2016."

As far as that national side, where comScore is promising to have a syndicated cross-platform ratings system delivering daily numbers for the fall, Scanzoni says that while welcome, change will come more slowly.

Scanzoni says the current systems, which includes only live linear viewing, DVR playback and VOD usage is inadequate to count all the ways people are consuming the TV shows his clients want to advertise on. But networks might not have incentive to change because in some cases, they’re selling their digital and mobile impressions at higher prices that linear.

“My view has always been that I believe the best value for us and our clients, as well as for the content providers, is to go to an aggregation model,” Scanzoni said. "The good news is I think at least what’s being done now, which is positive, is at least they’re measuring the program content, so people can look at the audience aggregation without switching over to a constant commercial load..”

Nielsen includes non-live viewing in its ratings only if the commercials in the show are the same as on broadcast.

But Scanzoni says comScore’s new ratings will eventually help the cause.

“You’ve got to get over that hump. I think this is a good first step because at least you’ll be able to measure it on a program level basis,” he said. “That’s where it got to go. To base [buying] only on linear platforms and DVR playback and VOD, isn’t enough. We have to embrace all the other sources this content is playing in and aggregate it up to continue to make television viable.”

Scanzoni said, “We’ll get there, but I don’t see any trading metric changes. I think the earliest that would happen, and I’m being optimistic, is more 2017-18 than 16-17.”

On the comScore’s conference call comScore CEO Serge Matta laid out the company’s plans and described how the company, having completed its acquisition of Rentrak, would thrive in the new media environment. By being able to measure TV, comScore is looking at a measurement market worth $2 billion.

“We're aggressively going after this expanded opportunity with the new approach for our market need that has yet to be fulfilled, cross-platform measurement. Now contrary to what many of you may have heard, this is a new market category where no one truly has market share. comScore is focused on being number one in this new category,” Matta said.

Better information means new currencies that allow media companies to properly value their complete cross-screen audience. Better information also means that the media companies no longer sell themselves short, because of lack of measurement on all the screens their audiences use. This measurement has to be complete and include viewing over linear TV, VOD, over-the-top, mobile or the desktop; and it must measure all of the programs that are available, not just a sampling of them, and they have to be in all markets.

Nielsen said in a statement, Nielsen said it delivers Total Audience Measurement now. The dominant ratings provider said it welcomes competition, but remains the gold standard in the industry.

A big part of comScore’s plan involves building what it calls its Total Home Panel. comScore will measure in-home media consumption on a broad range of digital devices in those homes.

Matta said expanding that panel will cost about $10 million to $15 million this year.

comScore will also be working to get its new measurements accredited by the Media Rating Council.

“We are as a joint company more than ever committed to the MRC and to transparency and we will continue doing that,” Matta said. “We have to be realistic again with ourselves. These things don’t happen overnight. We have to start the process. We have to get these cross-platform products out the door and then start the process, but believe me we are extremely committed to the MRC.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.