In Audience Measurement

Last week, I was delighted to participate in the TV of Tomorrow conference in San Francisco for the first time. I addressed the future of TV measurement as part of a panel discussion led by Chris Pizzurro (Canoe) that also included John Gee (Alphonso), Sean Muller (, and Andre Swanston (Tru Optik).

While I was working in the telecom industry in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was a common adage that said that regulators were always two steps behind the industry players. Similarly, in today’s world of TV and video measurement, consumers are two steps ahead of the industry’s measurement players; when mainstream consumers shifted from cross-platform video consumption to a more pervasive video experience, mixing traditional live TV with on-demand video streaming services, in-app video, and social video, traditional measurement companies took several years to recognize the importance of measuring cross-platform video.

At Verto, we view the evolution of the TV as a spectrum:

Cross-Platform is a Challenge

From our perspective, there are several challenges in developing a perfect solution for cross-platform currency:

  • Single-source panels can provide integrity, but not scale.
  • Big data helps in terms of analytics and census data, but it does not follow the actual consumer.
  • Many video streaming services are proprietary; as a third-party measurement company, how can we measure in-app video and obtain the required granularity for measurement data?
  • How can we compel the industry to accept one solution as the new currency? It is no longer just a concern for advertisers and TV networks as the ecosystem now includes internet companies, mobile apps, entertainment providers, original content creators, agencies, and a new generation of adtech companies, all of whom need measurement data.
  • Most fundamentally, consumer behavior is changing quickly. By the time the Media Rating Council accepts a new measurement currency with market approval, consumer behavior will have already evolved beyond the existing measurement standards. Can industry bodies, joint industry committees, and coalitions of customers remain up-to-date and be responsive enough to support innovation with vendors?

A Call for Standardization

It’s clear that TV measurement needs standardization. Existing examples show that key industry players have each adopted their own standards for viewership measurement, underscoring the necessity to develop some form of comparability and validation. But with this comes its own obstacles: for example, it is not easy to compare the time that a consumer spends watching linear, live TV on ESPN since their attention is likely divided across multiple other activities – versus another consumer who spends 35 seconds of undivided attention on Twitter watching a football game on a smartphone screen. We need to find a solution to measure attention and engagement across all platforms and channels, and we need to have deep capabilities to track all video consumption, even in-app video, to help the industry really understand consumers’ video consumption.

While many new digital services already offer built-in analytics, these are not developed using independent data sources, and so an overall industry comparison isn’t possible. Video services themselves will always have some bias in their measurement practices, and again – they only build a picture of the consumer around that one service. While this may be sufficient in cases where the consumer is only spending his/her time on that one service, Verto data and industry trends show that today’s consumers are not locked into one specific service or device.

Numbers Are Not Enough

Attractive audience reach and engagement numbers are an asset to any media company, but they’re not enough. We also need data that offers deep granularity, so that we can explore complex consumer behavior – for example, being able to identify the segment of consumers who watched the same program on multiple devices. This is the problem with today’s “fusion” methodologies: they do not provide such levels of data deep-dives or breakdowns.

If we restrict ourselves to consumer insights (as opposed to audience ratings or third-party validation), there are many ways for media companies to leverage new data collection and analysis techniques. For example, today’s data management platforms can offer demographic data on top of audience numbers, and some analytics solutions are sophisticated enough to provide detailed clickstream behaviors even within mobile video apps. And new technologies, like ATSC 3.0, make video distribution easier and more flexible. But new distribution mechanisms will also add noise and complexity to the ways people consume video. At best, it will provide lots of census data at scale, but there is still a need for third party audience measurement to build a consumer-centric, fully comprehensive view of video consumption.

From Verto’s perspective, the key lies in a developing a careful balance of high quality, projectable, single-source panels, and merging that with high-quality census datasets – with the entire solution being transparent and available for customers and the industry’s scrutiny and due diligence. And from their end, media companies must adopt strong internal analytics, and have an open-minded “audience insights” function that explores and leverages the best of breed solutions to fulfill the gaps.


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