VAB Takes on YouTube in Battle Over Whether Content Quality Matters in Measurement

Sean Cunningham VAB
VAB CEO Sean Cunningham (Image credit: VAB)

As the TV industry tries to set new standards for cross-platform measurement, YouTube, the streaming leader, wants in and the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB), representing programmers, is pushing back.

At issue could be whether programmers can afford all those scripted dramas and comedies if they have to compete in a market flooded with viewers of user-generated content.

Also Read: Premium Predicament: What’s Being Measured Is As Important Than Who Measures It

The rumble comes after programmers and media-agency executives, working as part of a programmer-funded Joint Industry Committee on Monday put forward a list of standards they want measurement companies to meet in order to get certified. 

The programmers originally wanted to standard to apply to the measurement of “premium video.” They don't want The Bear lumped in with Mr. Beast. Premium video proved difficult to define, so the standards apply to “long-form video.”

YouTube was having none of that. On Wednesday, YouTube published a blog post by Kate Alessi, managing director, YouTube/Video Global Solutions, which essentially argued that in cross-platform measurement, an impression is an impression.

“As an industry, we’ve arrived at a crossroads,“ she said. ”We have the opportunity to come together to solve cross-media measurement for marketers, agencies and consumers or we can head down a path of creating new measurement silos, inconsistent standards and unnecessary complexity.” 

Alessi proposed five principles. The first states that “measurement must provide a unified view of audiences across TV, CTV and online platforms” and the second calls on the industry to use the Media Rating Council’s viewable impression as the basis for counting impressions, reach and frequency and report other metrics, such as duration, separately. 

Also: NBCU Trying To Quantify Quality Amid Debate on Measurement

The MRC’s definition of a viewable impression is 100% of pixels shown for 2 seconds.

Some agencies, including GroupM, hold out for a higher standard.

YouTube said it would enable the MRC version of viewable impressions in its third-party measurement integrations.

Alessi said in the future of measurement there should be no new silos. “Audience is king, so measure it on a fair and comparable basis,“ she said. “Don’t silo video inventory based on arbitrary concepts like production value or curation. And yes, we believe our product will speak for themselves if we’re counted accurately and compared fairly in this environment.”

Don’t silo video inventory based on arbitrary concepts like production value or curation."

— Kate Alessi, YouTube

In a statement, VAB CEO Sean Cunningham skewered the idea that marketers win when “comparative impressions calculations default to the lowest common denominator.”

“It’s fair to say that the only entities that ‘win’ by that approach of hollowing out all factors of impression source, quality and impact are the entities with the largest supply of comparatively hollow, low/no investment impressions,” he said. “There is no other reason for a ‘principle’ that calls for a race to the bottom (lowest common denominator impressions) on a global scale.”

Cunningham notes that the TV business spends over $110 billion on content designed to engage consumers for advertisers. He adds that there are myriad studies showing that ads in professionally produced, long-form, multiscreen TV content yield superior impact with consumers.

He jabs YouTube by noting that the platform has spent $226 million on TV advertising for itself over the past five years. 

“While there may be ‘wins; somewhere in a principle defaulting to impression homogeneity and lowest common denominator — they are not marketer wins,” Cunningham concluded.

YouTube pointed to quotes from marketing industry leaders supporting its point of view.

“Marketers of all sizes insist on a measurement system that is objective, independent, transparent, neutral, and third-party verified and accredited by MRC,” said Bill Tucker, group executive VP at the Association of National Advertisers. “ANA’s CMM is based on these north star principles, and we support YouTube’s approach to aligning and advocating for these principles.”

Said Luis Di Como, global head of media at Unilever: “Unilever has long been committed to driving the adoption of a robust and transparent cross-media measurement system across the industry to offer brands more transparency in terms of their investment and better online experience for consumers. It’s encouraging to see YouTube aligns its principles for measurement by adopting industry standards and collaborating with the wider ecosystem." 

“Quality content is determined by the consumer and no one else,“ Bharad Ramesh, executive director, research and investment analytics, GroupM, said. “With viewers consuming content across many platforms, channels and screens, all that our clients and media partners can do is determine a fair value for quality — and it starts with measurement. It’s important that, as an industry, we collaborate to make an accurate and sustainable environment with standardized measurement capabilities to help make advertising work better for our clients and consumers.” 

“Advertisers have expressed their ‘North Star’ needs from cross-media measurement,“ World Federation of Advertisers CEO Stephan Loerke said. “The WFA is working with the ANA and ISBA to translate this into real-world technology solutions available globally. Whether this approach or another is adopted by a market, naturally it makes sense to align around advertiser needs. Innovation in measurement is key, but not at the expense of being useful and accurate.” ■

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.