Nielsen Tackles Inertia In Multiscreen Ad Space

Shelly Palmer, managing director, Advanced Media Ventures Group

Shelly Palmer, managing director, Advanced Media Ventures Group

January 30, 2012 – There’s new hope the systemic gridlock that has silo’d online video and television advertising to the great detriment of premium TV Everywhere and over-the-top strategies alike will finally be broken. But it could be a long time coming.
Several initiatives are coming together to raise these possibilities. These include early execution on plans outlined last year by the advertising industry’s Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) project and a fast-moving push on the part of Nielsen toward “total video” measurements that marry TV with online viewing by mixing input from traditional panel methods and data gathered by third parties.

None of this is easy, notes advertising guru Shelley Palmer, who heads up the Advanced Media Ventures Group and hosts a variety of syndicated TV and radio shows devoted to digital culture. “TV Everywhere is awesome; measurement everywhere is mythology,” Palmer says.

Or, as Needham & Co. senior analyst Laura Martin puts it, the metrics that dominate ad purchasing in video are those tied to TV, not the Internet. “It’s something called a currency, and it is Nielsen,” Martin says. “I hand you my ratings; you hand me the cash.”

In contrast, she adds, when it comes to buying ads for video online “we are all going to sit there and fight about what the discount is, what does it really mean, is it really representative of the sample. We spend hours fighting over the data and how much I should pay you for the data.”

The 3MS initiative, backed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, is meant to overcome the problem of inconsistent online metrics by establishing a uniform approach to online audience measurement. The group hopes to set parameters that will achieve five goals, namely: to specify viewable versus served impressions, which is to say, impressions actually seen on a Web page; to categorize ad types; to count audience (unique individual impressions) rather than gross impressions; to standardize metrics in accord with their relevance to various brand goals, and to allow apples-to-apples integration of online measurements with metrics used in other media.

This is a slow-moving process, which has seen the outlining of goals and operating principles accomplished over the past year along with preparations for the first pilot tests, which are aimed at resolving the viewable impressions issue in time for a fourth-quarter launch. The group is still working on test schedules for the other parameters with no word on timing for completion of the whole set of specifications.

Meanwhile, Nielsen is pursuing a wide range of measures that could accelerate the ability of media buyers to engineer multiscreen video campaigns far more efficiently than has been possible up to now. “We’re trying to put out a kind of newer metric, if you will, a metric that we would call total video,” says Scott Brown, senior vice president for digital platforms at Nielsen.

“Total video is unconstrained,” Brown says. “It’s not video from your television, from your DVR, from your mobile phone. It’s video from all available sources that we need to aggregate and put together as one fixed number.”

A big step in this direction is the Media Rating Council’s accreditation of the Nielsen Online Campaign (OCR) as meeting MRC’s Minimum Standards for Media Rating Research, marking the first time the agency has accredited an Internet measurement system that provides demographic ratings for online campaigns. The Nielsen system employs a patent-pending process combining traditional Nielsen TV and online panel data with aggregated, anonymous demographic information from participating online data providers to provide overnight audience reach, frequency and Gross Rating Points (GRPs) for Internet display and video advertising.

Nielsen reports that early tests showed OCR could track 42 percent of impressions of a given ad, whereas its traditional panel sample online ad tracking methodology typically tracks three percent. Company officials say emergence of ORC as an industry-blessed component of the metric currency means that advertisers will be able to see how many people saw their campaign in three dimensions – only on television, only online and on both – on the same interface and in the same format.

Many leading players are now engaged in various stages of using the platform in their campaigns, including Disney/ABC, Proctor & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, Starcom MediaVest and GroupM. O CR “helps build trust between buyers and sellers on a broad scale,” says Ted McConnell, executive vice president of digital for the Advertising Research Foundation. “Having something this technically complex validated by a third party like the MRC is especially important for the industry and will help buyers sleep better.”

Kate Sirkin, executive vice president for global research at Starcom MediaVest Group, agrees. The platform ‘provides both agencies and advertisers with the confidence that their campaigns are reaching their desired audience,” Sirkin says. “And it delivers appropriate metrics for post campaign analysis to understand how the campaigns worked to drive sales or other valuable brand behaviors.”

It’s a good start, but it’s just a start, Brown acknowledges. “We move about as fast as the industry allows us to move, because half of our clients unwittingly will tell us we’re moving too fast and the other half say we’re too slow,” he says.

It has taken a long time for the online upstarts to recognize they needed Nielsen and for Nielsen to take the online video side of the consumer experience seriously enough to move beyond its mode of operations in the traditional TV measurement business. As Brown notes, “The advertising community expected that digital media would be much easier to measure, because of the nature of the devices supplying the content, the signals, the information and the entertainment. But, in effect, what they found is that it’s just the opposite, that the digital media has been harder to monetize, harder to estimate, harder to get their hands around and understand, and particularly to understand the flow of media dollars, whether it goes from traditional media to digital media, whether digital media is purely an additive.”

Now Nielsen is bringing credibility that was missing, says Needham’s Martin. “Over the last 30 years [Nielsen ratings have] become a currency over which the TV ecosystem has bonded,” she says. The upshot is “the best chance the OTT guys have of monetizing [is] the day Nielsen arrives.”

In the year ahead Nielsen will partner with Tremor Video, a leading provider of in-stream Internet video advertising solutions, to give clients of Tremor’s VideoHub access to OCR’s GRP data. VideoHub allows advertisers to understand how audiences respond to campaigns and to identify key signals driving performance metrics like engagement and brand lift. With Nielsen’s GRPs, those advertisers will now see what demographic audiences their campaigns are reaching, says Kelly McEttrick, director of platform strategy for VideoHub.

In other words, McEttrick says, the collaboration gives advertisers a single metric for their gross reach – the total number of people exposed to an ad – and effective reach – more granular insight into the quality of the ad exposure and actual performance across all screens. “Debate over whether the GRP is good or bad for the digital space has gone on for years, but those days are coming to an end,” she says. “Advertisers can now look at their demographic reach, and then evaluate how their campaign performed within each audience segment.”

To advance the total video strategy Nielsen has also expanded its data-gathering efforts on the TV side, including engagements with a growing number of set-top data sources, which began in 2008 with a deal involving collection of anonymous set-top data from 330,000 households in the Los Angeles area. Last summer Nielsen announced an agreement with Kantar Media to use data from DirecTV devices in its ratings reports, and now it’s bringing other, unnamed sources into the fold.

Nielsen is also working with unnamed media companies to measure Time Warner Cable and Cablevision subscribers’ viewing habits on the iPad. The R&D project is using the small piece of code on the iPad known as ID3 tags in conjunction with server-side software to measure viewing.

Brown also reports Nielsen, working with forensic watermarking developer Digimarc, is introducing a new audio watermarking system for TV advertisements, complementing the watermarking system used for augmenting viewing metrics on TV programs that has been in operation for several years. “We’re ushering in an era where Nielsen is sort of separating out the program from the commercial inventory and being able to measure the pieces individually,” Brown says. “It puts in [advertisers’] hands the power to really help the industry move the ball forward from C3 [the time-shifted TV ad measurement platform] to the next evolution of measurement.

“I don’t know what that the next evolution might be,” he adds. “It might be an improvement upon C3. It might be a movement toward branded commercial ratings, which many in the industry have asked for.”

These are obviously big steps forward, but the question remains whether the inertia surrounding the way advertisers do business can be changed. Major brands often come to the table with six agencies, “minimally,” Palmer notes, including the buying agency, a planning agency, a creative agency, a digital agency, an outdoor group and a PR group. When it comes to a multiscreen type of buy, “the problem is each of their POVs (points of view) has to be, no, because it’s not inside their agenda, and they make money differently from the way the enterprise makes money,” he says.

“What we are lacking desperately is unified metrics, standardization so that you can bring this product to the advertisers and all six of their agencies, including their marketing departments and the merchants inside the organization, and say, look, you can buy this efficaciously and it will make you money by driving velocity at retail,” Palmer adds. And, once those agreed-on-metrics and agreed-on modes of driving velocity at retail are in place, successful execution of the TV Everywhere advertising model will require that “creative agencies and buying and planning groups come together and become whole agencies again where they can actually look at a problem and go solve it.”

That won’t be easy, notes Tim McAtee, research director at MAGNA-GLOBAL and IPG Media Labs. “I think the big problem we’re all facing is procurement offices,” McAtee says. “As long as procurement offices are trying to get the cheapest everything out of everybody, you’re always going to be battling each other and it’s never going to any sort of coherent strategy.”