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The battle for cross-platform measurement has created the perfect storm

April 14, 2022 | By Charlotte Ricca – Independent Media Reporter @Charlotte_Ricca

Measuring viewing habits is nothing new in the media industry. However, the shift from traditional TV to streaming has sent the U.S. industry into a tail spin, with 86% of buyers demanding cross-platform measurement. The only thing that everyone can agree on, it seems, is that everyone is confused.

According to Innovid CEO Tal Chalozin, “the biggest frustration in cross-platform measurement is that it’s so hard to understand.” This, from the man who whose company was the first to receive Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for its OTT ad impression tracking in 2018.

The problem is that there are multiple new currencies and measurement tools emerging, as the TV industry attempts to blend media platforms and devices, and provide a comprehensive and deduplicated view of media consumption.

Jon Watts, managing director of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), describes the industry’s current situation as “messy, but exciting”.

”The biggest change in measurement is that we no longer just use panel data as currency,” explains Watts. “Most TV is consumed in a connected environment and those devices create data about viewing habits, which compliment what panels do. Setting up a currency based on a representative panel is complex enough. But it has got more complex due to the increasingly fragmented audience.”

A storm is brewing

The shift from traditional TV to streaming was accelerated by Covid-19. OTT media revenue is expected to reach over $210bn by 2026, more than double the $106bn generated in 2020. As a result, ad spend on CTV in also on the rise  and predicted to hit $19.10 bn in 2022, accounting for 5.6% of total media ad spend.

With the growth of streaming came the inevitable rise in providers. These days, 49% of US households subscribe to at least three streaming services.

“This fragmentation of audiences combined with big data and changing market dynamics has created the perfect storm of craziness,” says Nathalie Bordes, EVP Measurement for Marketers at Association of National Advertisers (ANA). “Traditional measurements are being challenged, so there is room for innovations and new approaches.”

These innovations come amidst criticism of Nielsen (rececntly acquired for $16bn) over its inability to adapt to consumers’ shift to streaming.

“Some would argue it’s a lazy monopolist, who has not done enough to evolve their measurement services,” states Watts. “For at least 15 years the industry has been trying to encourage competition and dislodge Nielsen from the market.”

However, complaints about Nielsen’s measurements aren’t limited to streaming. Confidence in its legacy TV measurements has also been shaken due to accusations of undercounted audiences during the pandemic. As a result, the MRC pulled its accreditation of Nielsen’s national and local TV ratings, which has opened the door for new solutions:

“Nipping at their heals are a new breed of providers, which are slowly gaining traction with alternative approaches to measurements based on TV data,” says Watts.

Measurement independence

Nielson’s counterattack is Nielson One, which is due to launch December 2022. Meanwhile, NBCU has taken a clear stance against Nielsen’s ratings monopoly and has been working with the industry in a bid to create “measurement independence.”

NBCU selected iSpot as its partner in January and they teamed up for a test run at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and Super Bowl LVI. In addition, the media giant has struck up a number of partnerships with the likes of Comscore, DoubleVerify, and Innovid. NBCU also plans to use iSpot’s data as its national currency for ad buys at this year’s upfronts.

“We must move away from how things have historically been and move towards a future of optionality and interoperability,” Kelly Abcarian, NBCU executive vice president of measurement and impact, told Ad Exchanger.

iSpot claims it can measure audiences for streaming and linear on a second-by-second basis and in real-time. Measurements include ad impressions, incremental reach/frequency and deduplication. Abcarian, who joined NBCU in 2021 after nearly 16 years at Nielsen, says these new metrics will give advertisers more accurate and effective data about their campaigns.

Greater transparency

Deduplication is another challenge of cross-platform measurement as big data provides information on what was watched, but not by who. Simulmedia’s CEO Dave Morgan alleges that 90% of what is claimed in the market about deduplicating audiences isn’t true. However, Morgan cites NBCU as one of the companies “doing really well,” alongside ViacomCBS and Disney. He also has high hopes for Nielsen One and Comscore.

One of the key problems is that media measurement continues to be siloed by different platforms and metrics. A more transparent system is needed, where advertisers can see where their dollars are being spent – and where they can be saved. According to research by TVSquared, more than 90% of U.S. buyers said transparency of metrics across linear and streaming channels was critical in order to devote ad spend to converged TV.

“We need an apples to apples comparison, so we can compare the same person watching on one platform or another,” says Chalozin.

This is what the entrepreneur is hoping to achieve following Innovid’s acquisition of TVSquared. The Scottish company tracks more than 100 million households around the world and more than 75 CTV platforms. Chalozin says TVSquared adds linear TV capabilities to their arsenal, which will provide a complete view of consumer viewing habits, with a currency-grade measurement.

Aside from technological issues, a cultural shift needs to happen in which broadcasters, platforms and marketers work together. This seems to be what NBCU is trying encourage by working with the industry to create a measurement framework for all.

NBCU is not the only major media brand creating collaborations. Disney has been testing new measurement solutions with nearly 100 vendors, and recently named Samba TV as its first official measurement partner. WarnerMedia is also testing with iSpot.tv, Comscore, and VideoAmp.

No single currency

Nielsen has been the industry standard for decades, allowing networks to see how they stacked up against one another. Without a single agreed-upon currency, it is more difficult for advertisers to decide where to allocate their budgets, and for networks to prove their worth.

CIMM is doing their bit to help the industry navigate their way through these turbulent times. The coalition is conducting a deep dive study into the different methodologies of currency-grade provider to find the most effective solutions.

Bordes believes multiple currencies can work, as long as they are fully transparent and the measurement solutions are accredited. “Measurement systems needs to be reformed and there needs to be innovation,” he says. “But the processes must be validated in order to create transparency. We want measurements that go beyond the silo.”

Accreditation throws up yet another challenge in the industry. In 2019, the MRC produced cross-platform measurement standards, but three years later no providers have been accredited using the guidelines. There are companies in the audit process, including Videoamp and ComScore, but as Chalozin states, “people need to believe that you do what you say you do”.

Test and learn

According to Chalozin, another essential cog in the wheel of cross-platform measurement is the buyer. The industry needs their approval – and money.

“Solutions are coming in, but we can’t yet define success,” he says. “In order to say a measurement works we need our customers to agree on a chosen currency and trust how it’s measured. We need to have money flowing on both sides.”

“NBCU put their money where their mouth is by creating a new framework. But the Olympics was a test event, and not as large scale as full blown TV. We have yet to see a solution that can conduct business at a large scale.”

The pros of different currencies is that it has created a more competitive environment which stimulates innovation and drives down profit margins. The downside is, with no established truth state, the industry is in a state of flux as new providers and partnerships barter over solutions. Until cross-platform measurement is solved, the true revenue potential of today’s multiplatform viewing will not be realized. The opportunity is there, as is the level of experimentation.

“We are in test and learn stage,” says Watts. “Come back in five years’ time, when things have settled down. I believe there will be small number of large providers, offering slightly different, but effective, cross-platform measurements.”

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