Researchers Tackle Cross- Platform Measurement

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Nielsen, comScore and others are working toward fall launches of new audience products

9/15/2014 08:00:00 AM Eastern

After years of discussion and work, this fall will see a number of major advances in technologies and systems for measuring viewing of TV programs across multiple platforms—TV, VOD, PC, smartphones and tablets.

Sometime in the fourth quarter Also in the fall, a second phase of Project Blueprint, which is being backed by the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), will begin releasing the first data for combined usage of TV, radio, online, smartphones and tablets., Nielsen is expected to premiere national ratings that will include viewing from tablets and smartphones.

And not to be outdone, Rentrak, and TiVo Research and Analytics, are separately working on major cross-platform initiatives set to hit the market in the coming months.

To say the new  numbers are welcome is quite the understatement. Programmers have long complained that Nielsen’s inability to measure tablets and smartphones has cost them heavily in lower ratings and lost advertising revenue. While such viewing remains small compared to overall TV numbers, 114 million Americans watched video on a smartphone at least once a month in the second quarter of 2014, according to Nielsen, which also reports that about 39% of U.S. homes have a tablet.

Coding for Measurement

To develop its cross-platform measurement system, Nielsen settled on creating SDKs—software development kits—that clients can insert into their video players and apps. Nielsen then uses third-party providers such as Facebook to assign demos to the viewing.

That approach allows the rollout of three new components of Nielsen’s cross-platform measurement solution in 2014, and two parts have already been completed.

The first was to add smartphone and tablet measurement to its Digital Program Ratings, or DPR. “The idea was to enable clients—who have episodic TV that they make available online— to get audience measurement that is comparable to TV,” says Eric Solomon, senior VP of global product leadership, Nielsen.

This allows programmers to figure out the audience they have to sell for online campaigns in order to make impression guarantees using their Online Campaign Ratings (OCR) offering, Solomon explains. This will also provide a cross-platform rating by combining the average audience for a particular episode on TV with DPR data, Solomon adds.

The second improvement was the addition of smartphone and tablet measurement for OCR on July 1.

While the first two moves were designed for the digital world dominated by targeted digital ad insertion, this same architecture will allow Nielsen to begin adding the new viewing numbers to the current TV ratings.

“We have some data coming through the system now and when we reach a critical mass of apps, we will hopefully be able to start crediting the data to the national TV ratings and, followed closely, into the local TV ratings,” he says.

Soon after that, Solomon believes, they will be able to start adding viewing from smartphones and tablets to local TV ratings in the top 25 markets.

Researchers caution, however, that it will take time for the industry to digest the new data sources, and there are many complex issues relating to how this data will eventually be used to buy and sell inventory. “These things always take longer than expected because it is a big change and will require an industry adjustment,” says Jane Clarke, managing director of CIMM.

Cross-Platform Complexities

While the launch of new measurement systems is encouraging, researchers note that a number of complex issues remain.

These include debates over the merits of panels vs. more census-type approaches; the best mix of measurement technologies; standardization of the different terms used on various platforms; melding the different ways inventory is sold and ads are inserted in different platforms; the best way to obtain demographics and non-duplicated viewing levels; the different currencies that are used in the digital and TV worlds; analytics for programmatic ad platforms; and emerging measurement technologies.

Clarke notes that a number of industry groups, including CIMM, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4As), the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Media Ratings Council (MRC) are looking to standardize terminology.

“There are a lot of definitions that need to line up,” Clarke says. “As ridiculous as it may seem, when you look across digital, TV and radio none of them currently define a ‘day,’ a ‘week,’ a ‘month’ or even an ‘impression’ the same way.”

Another important issue involves the right mix of different tools and the role that panels and census measurement tools will play in the future of cross-platform measurement.

Most agrees that the fragmentation of audiences in the digital world makes traditional panel approaches difficult or impossible to use. “Most CIMM members don’t think you can create a single source sample across all media,” Clarke says. “You just can’t get big enough of a panel to go across five platforms, or even four if you leave out radio.”

As a result, census data, which tracks all the online and mobile usage of connected devices, has long been the standard for digital platforms. Unfortunately, that data doesn’t have the demographic information provided by a panel, which has forced companies to match the usage to outside providers. Nielsen, for example, draws on adjusted Facebook data to obtain demographic numbers.

To obtain census data for TV viewing, some providers have been using information gleaned from set-top boxes, which can also be matched to demographics using systems to protect the viewer’s privacy. But the amount of data has historically been limited, with both Comcast and Time Warner Cable refusing to release data from their systems.

To overcome that problem, Rentrak has been working to expand the amount of set-top box data it has. Chris Wilson, president of national television at Rentrak reports that they have inked several new deals with operators that will raise the number of homes providing data to them from 13.5 million currently to as many as 26 million. “We will have one in four homes and data for 60 million TVs,” Wilson says. “That will give us the granularity and ability to measure very small audiences and to build out new services.”

This expanding data set will also give them access to viewing data from the operators for tablets and smartphones that could be combined with their existing TV and VOD set-top box numbers. These homes will be added into the sample through the end of the year and into the first part of 2015. “It will allow us to stitch together a complete view of content consumption in those homes,” he says.

Tying Viewing To Ads and Purchases

Wilson also stresses that the 26 million homes providing TV viewing data would allow them to match that viewing to data showing actual purchases. “It would allow programmers to show the results from ad exposure,” he says. “I think that is the kind of accountability and measurement we’ll see developing in the next few years.”

Creating cross-platform measurement systems that could more closely tie viewing of ads to actual purchases is also a major priority for TiVo.

Jonathan Steuer, chief research officer at TiVo explains that they have been working with Symphony Advanced Media to create a cross-platform solution.

As part of the agreement, TiVo Research has licensed Symphony’s mobile and online app technology, which passively captures media usage for television, mobile phone, tablet and PC and then melds that data with TiVo’s set-top box data.

Steuer explains that the Symphony app, which is installed on devices, passively picks up whatever media the person has been exposed to.

They are recruiting information from the 250,000 TiVo Research panel and when that is completed, they can “match media exposure with shopping and other behavior, including TV and Internet ad exposure,” he says, to offer a comprehensive view of media consumption and its impact on purchase behavior.


This fall will see the first public data from Project Blueprint backed by the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement. After ESPN funded the first phase of Project Blueprint, CIMM agreed to fund the second phase, with the participation of major programmers and agencies.

Measurement systems include comScore’s quantifying of desktop, smartphones and tablets, set-top box data from more than 5 million homes and Portable People Meter technology, originally obtained from Arbitron and now licensed from Nielsen Audio.

Member companies are currently going through the data, with CIMM managing director Jane Clarke hoping that the first set of numbers can be made public this fall. “I would hope that by next year’s upfront people would start to use it,” Clarke says. “People are very welcoming that the vendors are working to develop tools.”



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