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Quick takes from ARF 2018 AudienceXScience conference

ARF LogoLast week, I attended the ARF’s AudienceXScience (AxS) conference in Jersey City. A new incarnation of the former Audience Measurement conference, it’s one of my two favorite conferences of the year. Here are some highlights from the main keynotes, plus an observation about the conference itself.

The Future of TV’s Currency and Measurement
Linda Yaccarino (NBCU), Dave Morgan (Simulmedia)
Sound bite: The opening salvo in the recurring theme of traditional television being a better value versus digital. Traditional television needs to counter the narrative being driven by digital. The TV industry should not be tied to legacy audience measures or back office systems if they are not in step with the changes occurring in the industry.

Nielsen’s View on Media Measurement
Megan Clarken (Nielsen),  Scott McDonald (ARF)
Sound bite: Continued Nielsen’s recent themes of being open to new approaches and new partnerships to deal with business issues – without necessarily committing to either.

The Future of Media: An Epic Battle
Laura Martin (Needham & Company)

Sound bite: Despite advantages in many business KPIs, the FAANGs will not “defeat” legacy television because of the need for storytelling excellence and creating emotional connections. Their only path to success is acquiring a legacy media company and let it do its thing.

An Evolving Arena: Program Currency and Measurement
Lisa Heimann (NBCU), ‎James Petretti (Sony), Will Kreth (EIDR)

Sound bite: Cross-platform is important for program development and promotion just as it is for advertising sales. But a big part of the puzzle continues to be missing due to some streaming partners refusing to cooperate and share data.

An Agency Perspective: The State of Media
Lyle Schwartz (GroupM), Joe Mandese (MediaPost)

Sound bite: GroupM is asking more from the data but extracting less; research has not evolved to match consumer and business changes. Need to get to a seamless “device-agnostic” measurement, but to do so, marketers will have to reformulate their device-centric planning and viewpoints.

Reach & Frequency Balance: How to Get it Right in the World of Advanced Television
David F. Poltrack (CBS), Radha Subramanyam (CBS)
Sound bite: Ad buyers have always traded off between reach and frequency, but recent years have moved from a focus on reach to a focus on efficiency. This leads to less reach and more frequency, and undervaluing of television. Excess exposures have no value, so advertisers should be converting those exposures to new exposures via TV.

How to Use 6’s – ARF 2018 Primary Research
Paul Donato (ARF), Dan Schiffman (TVision)

Sound bite: Linear TV 6 second ads seem to work at present, but have had some advantages such as being placed in premium primetime content, in short pods, or in favorable pod positions. There are a lot of areas still to explore as these 6s become more prevalent.

Consumers, Cross-Platform & Trust
Bryan Wiener (comScore), Jason Lynch (Adweek)

Sound bite: Wiener sees the audience measurement space as open for innovation, but he did not seem to want to be held back by legacy expectations of quality or accreditation before releasing new products.

Oxford Style Debate: Has Marketing Taken Targeting Too Far?
Arguing for: Gian Fulgoni (former comScore), Radha Subramanyam, (CBS)

Arguing against: Dave Morgan (Simulmedia), Yin Woon Rani (Campbell Soup)
Sound bite: A new format for the conference, and it went pretty well – although it seemed too long since many of the same arguments kept being made. Those arguing “For” focused on the bad experience retargeting gives consumers, and that narrowing the base of consumers exposed to your brand can have a negative long-term impact. Those arguing “Against” said not to condemn a whole concept because of bad implementation; in the long-term, targeting is the right way to go as problems get corrected. As for the result of the debate, a fairly even split in the audience before the debate was converted into a clear win for the “Against” team after the debate.

How Far Can You Go? (before government steps in, that is)
Tim Wu (Columbia Law School)

Sound bite: The European model of GDPR with regards to data privacy is unlikely to gain traction in the USA. Instead, we may see more stringent fiduciary duty defined for those who collect or use consumer data.

Thoughts on the conference itself

The ARF AxS (or AM) conference series has been fighting a battle to maintain relevance over the past few years. Perhaps most notably, its usual dates are now used by both the TV of Tomorrow conference in San Francisco and the VideoNuze Online Ad Summit, siphoning off potential speakers from important digital media firms. Even among the core group of past AM participants (media companies built around TV networks), it seems attendance is down. Media consolidation doesn’t help, and neither do changes in budget or leadership priorities, but…

I often joke about seeing the “same cast of characters” at ARF conferences over the 20+ years I’ve been going to them, but perhaps it’s not so funny. I am a firm believer in the ARF and its mission, but I’m sure the ARF can appear to younger people as a crotchety old uncle trying to enforce dedication to methodological rigor and quality established by the generation of researchers who came up to lead the industry in the 1960s and 1970s. Not that rigor and quality are bad things, but I’m sure it sounds preachy at times, especially to younger industry members who are in companies founded on disruption.

The ARF has made strides in recent years in outreach to younger generations of researchers (Young Pros, for example). Under new leadership, it has refocused its overall efforts in the past year to be more relevant. And I’m sure the ARF tries to get its digital members to participate in AxS.

I Love You ARF, But…

But judging by AxS, the ARF still has a way to go to reflect the diversity in our industry – not only by demographics but also in types of firms that show up for its conferences. If it continues to be mostly older white guys talking about television-centric topics (I’m guilty on all counts, by the way), AxS will continue to lose ground to competitive conferences in the near term — and the ARF its relevance to the next generation of advertising researchers in the long term.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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