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Fall TV 2020: Comscore CEO Bill Livek on the Impressions-Based Future

Comscore CEO and EVP Bill Livek.
(Image credit: Comscore)

Bill Livek has been in the business of measuring consumer behavior for 40 years, beginning his career at a time when a typical TV station was home to three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), PBS and one to three independent stations. Today, of course, is the era of “Peak TV,” where over 500 scripted series this year are expected to compete for a piece of the audience through a growing multitude of outlets as streaming continues to make inroads.

Now, of course, is the era of COVID-19, and its aftermath, when the consumer particularly hungry for options has access to more programs – and outlets -- than ever before. While no one knows for sure what lies ahead, Livek predicts a landscape, and the way we measure it, to be vastly different from what we once knew.

Ahead of his opening keynote at the Audience Measurement Summit on Tuesday, Sept. 29, part of Future's virtual Fall TV 2020, We spoke to Bill Livek about how Comscore is preparing to tackle this unchartered time in the media world.

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Q.: What are you looking forward to most out of this conversation? Where are you expecting the conversation to go, and what would you hope audiences will glean from it? 

Bill Livek: TV will never be the same, nor will its currency as a result of COVID-19. But things, of course, have been evolving for a long period of time, and I think we have taken long-term trends and compressed them into a rather short of time. We are going to see the death of traditional TV ratings and the birth of impressions as we see in digital. 

Comscore has built its business in the impression currency across digital and TV; who those impressions are; what products the people in the households behind those impressions purchase; the kind of cars are they dream about buying and where they are in that cycle, for example…things like that. We are seeing a whole revaluing of the TV ecosystem, not to mention a vastly different airline model, video communications like Zoom in place of in-person gatherings, and so many other business models that are changing. So, we will have to take an innovative approach about lies ahead.

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Q.: How is TV/video audience measurement changing in this evolving landscape? 

B.L.: What we have today, in this type of fractionalization, are samples that are only producing a response rate in the single digits. So, you are basically guessing what the 90 percent of people that you can’t measure are watching. Some people are trying to find the patchwork solutions, like measuring a number of different methods. We’ve approached this problem by measuring every minute in every impression that you can within the census. Every connected home that you have, via cable, satellite or Telco company, or a smart TV set to augment needs to be addressed. Every impression counts. 

Q.: What are the key takeaways from tackling coronavirus these last six months?

B.L.: With COVID, we’ve learned that people are watching and binge-watching a great deal of non-ad-supported TV; Netflix or Amazon or any of the streaming services. One of the great needs is to show an advertiser, and to show the media companies – TV stations and TV networks – that households who watch most of their viewing on non-ad-supported platforms might also watch ad-supported content. You need to have a system that addresses what the ad-supported programs are and how to reach them. That inventory becomes exponentially more valuable when you know the purchasing patterns of the people watching. 

This is certainly not a new concept after COVID, but it magnifies the importance of understanding the audience and how to best reach them with an ad impression. As people resume more outdoor activity, we will see less available minutes of the increased consumption.

I do think some of this change is permanent and believe that consumers will be watching their dollars more carefully. Every time we have an economic disruption, the consumers put their hands in their pockets on certain items and I think they are going to do that on TV as well. Spending an accelerated amount of money on all these different streaming services is not something everyone is going to do. I think we will see the value of the cable bundle, and I believe the ad platform will become more important.

Q.: What are the key initiatives at Comscore. Has it changed with COVID?

B.L.: In 2019, we reached a decision that our cost structure was out of whack where the world was going. So, we restructured to focus around a world that is cross-platform impression based before COVID hit. What we worry about is fully integrating the content information into all of our data sects, which is what he faced before COVID and at present now.

As TV will never be the same, its currency won’t be the same as well and we are going to pivot quickly to impressions on cross-platforms.

Q. Where do you see the future in terms of linear versus digital consumption?

B.L.: Content is king; it always has been and always will be. We are somehow confusing the discussion of linear or AVOD or SVOD, which is not the central issue. It is not about where you watch it; it’s about what is available. And that comes down to the content itself. COVID or no COVID, that will never change. 

For more about Fall TV 2020 -- with the virtual Advanced Advertising Summit, Hispanic Television Summit, Streaming TV Summit and Audience Measurement Summit coming Sept. 8 to Oct. 2 -- visit falltvevents.com