GroupM Enlists VAB In Move to New Currency

Even as Nielsen works to get its Total Content Ratings metric accepted, a leading media agency is working with one of the industry’s key trade groups to create a new currency that can be used to buy and sell advertising.

Total Content Ratings is designed to tell how many people are watching a show, but GroupM, one of the biggest TV buyers, is proposing a system that will generate the kind of average commercial minute rating the industry uses now, while also taking in viewing on additional platforms and devices. It is working with the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) to get the entire industry to understand and ultimately adopt the new system—dubbed “Unified C7.”

As more consumers watch content on iPads and smartphones, networks want that viewing counted. Media buyers and their clients want an accurate picture of who is watching what and where, so they can reach potential customers effectively. A decision to change the currency used to negotiate and buy media would impact the $70 billion in TV ad spending, and affect how TV stacks up against its digital competition for ad dollars.

Lyle Schwartz, who had been GroupM’s research chief before being named president of investment last year, says he’s hoping that the metric will be designed in a way that it can be reported by both Nielsen and comScore.

“What you do is you create a scenario where you have competition, which then leads to greater innovation and better servicing for everybody and hopefully more efficient and effective research,” Schwartz says. “I think the technical capability is there, but there’s always a devil in the details.”

It’s worth nothing that GroupM is part of agency holding company WPP, which holds a big stake in comScore.

Getting the Right Total

Nielsen’s Total Content Ratings was in the news earlier this month because the networks asked Nielsen to restrict media agency access to the data in electronic form. NBCUniversal in particular last month complained that TCR’s reports didn’t provide good numbers for over-the-top viewing, video-on-demand and out-of-home audiences and that it wasn’t ready for release.

Nielsen planned to release syndicated TCR data in March. It now plans to meet with clients at the end of the month to determine its timetable.

But Schwartz notes that Total Content Ratings is not what networks and media agencies will use to sell and buy advertising.

“What they’re doing in the marketplace right now is confusing. There’s a lot of stuff going on with content,” Schwartz says. “While it might be useful to the network to value their programming for sales to Netflix and other third parties, relative to what I need to accomplish in the marketplace, it’s neither here nor there.”

Schwartz says GroupM wants a measurement that reflects how consumers are consuming content, but also needs to measure how client messages are getting conveyed. “It will go beyond what we’re measuring now, which is C3 and C7 on programs on a linear network.”

In 2007, GroupM was a leader in changing the currency from live program ratings to C3 commercial ratings.

“I think this has got to be an industry-led initiative. But we definitely have some ideas and have done some work. And we’ll present it over there probably in the next several weeks,” Schwartz says.

Nielsen says it is open to ideas from clients. “Flexibility is at the core of our total audience measurement system, which has the ability to capture linear and non-linear advertising exposure,” a Nielsen spokesperson says. “We are actively engaged in discussions with both our agency and broadcast clients, and flexibility is central in these conversations. Working with our clients, we are responding to the demand to bring this data together into a consistent metric that serves the needs of both the buy and sell side. These conversations are ongoing, and allow us to understand the requirements to include additional viewing that falls outside of the traditional C3/C7 crediting rules.”

GroupM is working with the VAB to get industry buy-in.

VAB CEO Sean Cunningham called GroupM’s idea “a unique way to think about our next iteration in currency that’s got some potential.” The VAB will put it through its paces, get questions answered and try to get people comfortable with the concept.

The GroupM metric is different from Nielsen’s Total Content Ratings, says Danielle DeLauro, senior VP, strategic sales insights at the VAB. It is also different from Nielsen’s Total Ad Ratings, she adds.

The biggest difference is that Nielsen’s TAR measures impressions and reach that’s unduplicated across platforms. But it does not give a rating, which also takes into account the amount of time spent viewing.

Finding a Measure That Rates

Like C7, unified C7 won’t measure the viewership of individual commercials, but will get an average of the number of people watching commercial minutes during individual shows.

One key hurdle to overcome is accounting for the fact that the same program can have different sized ad pods on different platforms and even different ads. DeLauro said GroupM has come up with an idea to solve that, but she declined to share details.

DeLauro says it would be difficult to get this metric in shape in time for the 2017-18 upfront. “I think next year’s upfront would be more realistic,” she says.

TV executives feel that part of the reason why digital advertising sales are growing while TV is flat is because their measurement systems are not comparable. That’s why a consistent system that includes all video viewing is critical. CBS has said it wants to use a total audience measurement in this year’s upfront.

“There’s real urgency,” VAB CEO Cunningham says. “But it’s still more important to get it right than just get it fast.”

(Photo via Pictures of Money's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 9, 2016 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

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.