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It’s Audience Measurement Groundhog Day, Again

As reported yesterday by AdWeek, Linda Yaccarino from NBC Universal had her invitation-only meeting about shaking up the legacy approach to video measurement. Going by the AdWeek report, as well as several other stories in other publications, it seems the meeting which promised “a meaningful plan for action and follow” didn’t provide the industry with very much in specifics or general guidance.

Ever since this meeting was announced with much fanfare, it seemed a questionable endeavor. Giving NBCU the benefit of the doubt that this was a sincere attempt rather than a stunt, what exactly did Yaccarino hope to accomplish in a day that the Council for Research Excellence (CRE), Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), the Media Ratings Council (MRC) – among others – have spent the last decade or more exploring?

Ever since I started my second career in media research in 1994, there have been calls to revise legacy measurement, generally centered around perceived shortcomings of Nielsen. In the ’90s, it was the always entertaining, if cringe-inducing, public excoriations of Nielsen by NBC’s Nick Schiavone. By the early 2000s, it was issues around DVRs. Then in the late 2000s, C3/C7 ratings. Now, how to come up with a single integrated measure of video across all platforms.

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

If Bill Murray was in media research, maybe this is how his Groundhog Day would go. He’s destined to wake up every day until Nielsen, ComScore, or someone else manages to measure all his viewing across TV, phone, and tablet.

Despite these repeated bouts of conscience, the truth is meaningful change won’t happen until media companies on both sides of the table are ready to withhold their cash from the currencies – but they won’t have cash if they don’t have a currency to buy and sell on.

Structural issues

Also from past experience, there are “structural” issues that stand in the way of progress, quite aside from the ability to evolve a solves-all solution…

— Nielsen will exploit its monopoly power (yes, the US courts found it’s a monopoly but that it’s OK) and rapid improvements generally only come as a result of potential competitors

— the barrier to entry is now so high that only the most deep-pocketed, risk-friendly firms would even be tempted (Alphabet, are you listening?)

— on the network side, there will almost certainly be a reluctance to fund two parallel measurements (most past models of competitive roll-out assume that the new entrant would have to run parallel with Nielsen for at least some period)

— also, network sales people will prefer to sell under a Nielsen currency because of the prestige of the name. (this I know from personal experience, because my team lost two small audience measures simply because another company had a bigger name than we did)

— getting agencies to buy into a network-led development is also problematic (the assumption is that a method led by the sellers will disadvantage the buyers)

Rrringgg!

Poor Bill the media researcher. Once today’s issues are resolved, the complaints about measuring 5G mobile or ATSC 3.0 TV sets will start to roll in… time to wake up again!

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