Wolk: TV Measurement Reaches the Crossroads

Crossroads sign
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

TV measurement is at a crossroads.

Viewers are watching TV (or TV-like content) in more places than ever before: traditional linear TV, streaming TV, VOD, and on social platforms too, where premium video—everything from originals to clips of The Tonight Show—constitutes an increasingly expanding piece of the pie.

Alan Wolk

(Image credit: Alan Wolk)

For the brands and agencies that service them, this has created a conundrum: There are more places to reach their audiences with high emotional impact video ads than ever before. It’s just that doing any sort of measurement is tricky.

The problem stems from the fact that linear TV, streaming TV and social TV have all traditionally been measured by very different standards and systems ranging from panels (linear) to self-reported views (streaming).

This is not of any real use to anyone, and if anything, it holds the industry back, as brands do not want to spend money on platforms when they can’t accurately determine the ROI of their investments.

Nielsen, the industry default for measurement, has struggled for years to try and figure out the new digital-based ecosystem without much success. That’s why the industry is now turning its attention to a new group of up-and-coming players who are making strides to bridge the gap between the various platforms while improving the quality of the data, the usefulness of the metrics and the level of privacy compliance.

And if that sounds like a difficult task, that’s because it is, and the number of successful companies in the space is gradually being winnowed down to a select few, three of which had major announcements this past month.

First up is Tubular Labs, which has made its name measuring video on Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms. Tubular just announced that it will be rolling out its own version of the Gross Rating Point or GRP, which wast designed specifically for social video.

The goal is to allow advertisers and their agencies to do more of an apples to apples comparison of their buys on social video versus the same target audience on other publishers as well as on TV.

While social video may call to mind cute cats and puppies, platforms like YouTube and Facebook have become major outlets for premium video content from the major TV networks. (Think of all the Saturday Night Live clips you’ve watched on YouTube.)  

Advertisers like social video because it’s very easy to target specific audiences on the platforms and because they are unable to reach those viewers elsewhere in the TV universe. With Tubular Labs’ new GRP ratings, they will finally be able to measure the effectiveness of their spend against those audiences in a way that makes it easy to compare both publishers and platforms. 

The need to be able to measure video across a range of platforms using a range of inputs is why VideoAmp, another of the new breed of measurement companies, received a sizable cash infusion this month, in the form of a $275 million Series F fund raise based on a $1.4 billion evaluation.

VideoAmp measures viewing across a range of sources—linear TV, streaming TV and social—and is one of the companies that have been attracting attention as the industry is looking at alternatives to Nielsen’s traditional panel-based measurement. VideoAmp and other up and coming players pull their data from a much broader pool of inputs, including ACR (automatic content recognition) data from smart TVs, set top box data from MVPDs along with Experian and other data that allows them to track attribution.

Speaking of which, attribution was no doubt a key factor in Viant’s decision to partner with iSpot, another prominent member of the new breed of measurement companies. 

iSpot, whose focus is on real-time ad attribution and measurement, will be providing reach, frequency and business outcome/attribution insights for Viant’s Adelphic DSP (demand side platform) on linear and CTV campaigns, including second-by-second viewership data for commercials.

Attribution, or multi-touch attribution in particular, is increasingly important to brands as it allows them to understand the role different campaigns and different platforms play in moving consumers through the sales funnel.

All three announcements represent positive signs that the greater television industry is realizing that in order to grow it will need to drastically change the way it approaches measurement in the digital era.

The goal, many TV executives have told me, is to make TV data every bit as useful and granular as digital data, which will eliminate the advantage that digital display advertising has long had over TV in terms of the type of reporting brands and agencies were able to get. 

At which point, they feel, the greater emotional impact of the sight, sound and motion offered by video advertising will win out.

Or to quote an oft used adage, “People remember TV commercials they saw twenty years ago. They don’t remember banner ads they saw twenty minutes ago.”

Which is not to say that everything is sunbeams and unicorns.

The industry will need to overcome a tangled web of walled gardens and incompatible and often out of date data sets, the lack of a universal data pool and a rapidly growing host of privacy concerns.

And that’s before tackling the issue that TV viewing is often a group activity that is measured by households and the difficulty of translating those “households” into “persons.”

That is why it’s heartening to see both increased innovation, increased partnership agreements and, of course, increased infusions of cash, all three of which are necessary to solve the industry’s measurement conundrum. 

Alan Wolk

Alan Wolk is the co-founder and lead analyst for media consultancy TV[R]EV